Black-only schools a solution to the ‘identity’ crisis?

On Wednesday night Radio 4’s The Moral Maze programme, picked up on a story from the Evening Standard: Lee Jasper’s call for black-only schools to combat low teacher expectations of black kids (especially boys) in mainstream schools and creative ‘inclusive beacons of black academic excellence’.

This is not the first time Lee Jasper has floated this idea, as a quick browse of the web reveals (see this profile on Black in Britain). Moreover, according to one commentator on Iain Dale’s blog the idea has already been tried in Tottenham and found seriously wanting.

Some interesting points arise for us from this debate.
1) The loose use of the term ‘identity’. Michael Buerk introduced The Moral Maze debate by stating that black-only schools might give young people a ‘sense of identity’. As so often this was posited unequivocally as a social good. But during the debate the speakers were able to construe the same term negatively: a sense of identity was presented a a divisive force, at odds with social cohesion. This for me is further confirmation of the idea that identity, unless very carefully defined, is too ambiguous as an analytic category to be of much use.

2) The lack of empirical evidence. On what is Lee Jasper’s assertion that there is a correlation between taking pride in one’s identity (and it is questionable whether a segregated education system would indeed foster pride…) and academic achievement? If such data existed then it could be used to support the argument for independent black community archives. But where can we find this data? There may be some literature buried in psychology research journals but I have yet to find much (and perhaps I’m not looking in the right places) that really makes this case in a convincing way in mainstream social science. All pointers gratefully received!

3) Where does the supplementary school movement fit in to all of this? Surely that’s a good half-way house? And, more to the point, perhaps community archives and their outreach activities can help generate some of the outcomes Jasper seeks – addressing negative assumptions on the part of teachers ignorant of a history of black achievement in this country, boosting self-esteem and providing role models for young people – without going to the extremes he suggests.


2 Responses to “Black-only schools a solution to the ‘identity’ crisis?”

  1. Young Black Woman Says:

    I for one would like to learn more about my history, instead of constantly being taught about the Vikings and Romans over and over again.

    I would like to find out what positive influences my ancestors had on the planet instead of constantly seeing slave ships and mud huts like that’s all there is in Africa.

    I would like to have teachers that would explain to me why I’ve just been called the N word by the police, why I see my friends constantly arrested and abused by the same people who are suppose to protect us.

    I would like to know why we have something like 600 members of parliament and only 9 or so of them are black.

    I would like to see people who I can relate to teach me about the world – they have to be good at what they do though and up to standards.

    I would like to be inspired by school and made to feel I can do anything I wished to do.

    I went to a mixed school, they taught me a white edited-dictation.

    So far I’ve learnt that the school system does not work for my community or me.

    Black schools may work, they may not, we will never know unless the time, money and effort are put into them properly, not just as a one off project for the here and now, they will need to be nurtured, loved and grown.

  2. Mary Says:

    Thank you for your powerful and heartfelt comment.

    Obviously, the views expressed in this post and comment are mine, rather than the project’s but in short, I’d like to hope that lots of people from all sorts of backgrounds share your vision: an education system that empowers young people, whatever their origins. But personally I’m not convinced that segregation – even with the best of intentions – is the way to achieve this (just as I don’t support single-sex schools, or faith schools). I think if you want to bring people up to live and work together (and not just side by side, without really sharing and communicating) then schools have to reflect the full diversity of society. Which is why I would certainly support more initiatives to tackle institutional racism and to nurture young black people in all the ways you describe (including supporting more black teachers, and more black headteachers) but within (or in addition to, in the case of supplementary schools) an education system committed to educating everyone to respect difference, rather than feeling threatened by it.

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