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‘People still have low expectations of black boys in the UK'

IT IS deeply saddening that black British Caribbean schoolchildren live up to pre-existing perceptions of being lazy, unruly and not academically gifted by the wider society.

It is even sadder that teachers or parents had no expectations of them to do well at school – how are they supposed to motivate themselves?

“When I was ten years old at primary school my teacher was conducting a research project about ethnicity as part of her PhD and she interviewed me. She asked me lots of questions. One of them was ‘how do you think people see black or mixed-race boys?’ and I told her ‘I think people see us as stupid because of the clothes we wear and the way we talk.’

That was in the late 1980s. Not much has changed. The way a lot of second and third generation Caribbean teenage boys speak (rude boy talk) is the opposite of being intellectual, which also comes from a rejection of authority that incorporates academia.

The reason they reject authority and academia is rooted in their families' attitudes to the British ‘establishment' (as my Jamaican father calls it) and a deep underpinning suspicion about how and why we are being taught things – is this ‘our' history, ‘our' literature, ‘our' geography, music, drama? Or is it ‘theirs’?

British African students perform better because they have more academically disciplined upbringings where more value is placed on achievement, social status, career and earnings and when they are taught, like Asian children, that all of those things are grounded in doing well at school.

The difference in attitude speaks to the difference in the historic colonial relationships. Centuries of slavery in the Caribbean compared with colonisation and Anglici-sation in Africa.

Having spent time in Trinidad and Jamaica I've seen firsthand the difference between Caribbean pupils there and here. Academic excellence is achieved in the Caribbean. Pupils gain scholarships to learn at the best British and American universities. Schools are held in high esteem, the education system is respected, teachers command respect (even fear) unlike British teachers who lean more towards being pushovers than disciplinarians. In Britain there are very few black teachers in the classrooms. Past generations of Caribbean scholars and intellectuals like CLR James and Stuart Hall have passed and there is no younger generation of role models for young kids to aspire to, to read and to discuss. Even if there were; who would they discuss them with? Parents and siblings? Parents seem basically more concerned with their children staying out of trouble with the police than excelling in the classroom.

Aspirations among many Caribbean families in Britain today mirror those of working-class white British families: leave school at 16 and get a job, any job, a trade, it doesn’t matter – don’t get ideas above your station, just bring home the bacon, then have children and repeat the cycle.

Like the government’s drive for more black policemen some years ago, a campaign encouraging black teachers would be hugely helpful for the next generation.

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