A key objective that multicultural and later on anti-racist education attempted to address focused on the question: How do different kinds of students experience the education on offer as relevant, useful , and enabling?
What we now call multicultural education originated in Britain in the 1970s, preceded by policies of integration and assimilation in the sixties and seventies. The policies and underlying ideas of assimilation had lost credibility among many, and were subjected to unprecedented challenges by oppositional black groups influenced by the Civil Rights Movement in the US. Subsequently, the ascendancy of multicultural education over the last three decades, has intermittently attracted much controversy from the media as it became an evermore contentious and politicised battleground. In the midst of such controversy, there has been little agreement on a precise conceptualisation of what multicultural education is. In fact, multiculturalism is often conflated with anti-racism, and whilst there exists some overlap, this difficulty is compounded further, by the prevailing public policy zeitgeist, which is as equally vague, in defining what constitutes ‘inclusive education’.
As McCarthy (1990) has pointed out, policy discourse on multicultural education has consistently identified the variable of culture as the vehicle for addressing racial inequality and racial conflict in schooling. Unlike the earlier liberal concept of assimilation that was preoccupied with cultural deprivation, multicultural advocates were more inclined towards emphasising the positive qualities of minority cultural heritage (for example, Bullivant 1981; Gibson 1976; Jeffcoate 1975; Verma and Bagley 1975). The Swann Report illustrates this position well. Instead of viewing black children as the ‘problem’, the review team of the Swann Committee chose to consider what kind of education was appropriate for a multi-ethnic society for all children.
However, Gillborn (1995) argues that the notion of ‘liberal pluralism’ falls flat on its face on account of its belief in a common framework of values, which offer the criteria for the selection of knowledge.” The interchangeable view of cultural pluralism and cultural diversity, Bhaba 1990) argues, function then, as a bedrock of multicultural education policy in the UK. Moreover, while cultural diversity is encouraged, he continues, there is also a “corresponding containment of it” ( Ibid, p. 208).
More recently, a growing body of literature focusing on critical anti-racist pedagogy, has sought to rethink how the curriculum is delivered through an analysis of ‘difference’ and indigenous knowledge.
From its inception―starting in the 1960s Supplementary school movement, there have been various iterations of anti-racist pedagogical practice, aimed at challenging racist ideology and its impact on black and minority ethnic children in schools. In the main, they have been concerned with changing teacher’s attitudes towards black children and eradicating racism from the curriculum. A review of the literature shows, the generation of ‘positive images ‘ that emerged from both popular and professional anti-racist practice, embodies the assumption “that anti-racism may be best on the level of consciousness: that to change how people feel about others and themselves is tantamount to changing society (Bonnett 2000, p.95). This strategy implies the need for members of society to be educated in such a manner that they would reject all forms of prejudice and racism. Such a perspective has its roots in what Bonnett refers to as “psychological anti-racism” and what others in the social sciences, have also referred to as moral anti-racism (for example see, Gilroy 1987; Macdonald et al 1989; Rattansi 1992).
Interestingly, an earlier study by Maureen Stone, The Education of The Black Child, addressed the tension between black parents and educationalists demands for a focus on addressing low self-concept through cultural understanding of African-Caribbean pupils and their academic achievement. In her review of three self-help and four officially funded supplementary schools in London, Stone identifies a strong emphasis amongst black parents and black teachers who staff the project on teaching basic skills. Where Stone found aspects of the ‘Black Studies’ approach, this was usually relegated to being of secondary importance to the principal aim of ensuring that black children advance their reading, writing and mathematical skills.
The empirical research led Stone to refute the fashionable idea that poor self-concept is the cause for lower rates of academic achievement among pupils of Caribbean origin. In her concluding argument, she asserts, “The central recommendation of this study is for the use of more formal methods of teaching West Indian children throughout primary and secondary schools” (Stone 1981 p.242). Stone’s critique of multicultural education, serves as a timely reminder for the need to move beyond the simplistic equation, that the solution for so-called low self-concept amongst Afro-Caribbean pupils cannot rely alone on positive role models and multi-racial education projects, such as Black Studies. Concurring with Stone, Troyna (1992) also demonstrated the inadequacy of a ‘cultural understanding’ model approach, which focuses on the lifestyles of black pupils, thus reducing them to cultural artefacts―a notion often associated with the “3Ss” (Saris, Samosas, and Steel bands) interpretation of multicultural education. Earlier studies such as Coard (1971) and Milner (1975) had pointed towards the need to reassess the “…alleged negative self-image of black pupils and underachievement in education, alongside concern about emergent resistance to racist forms of education by black pupils and their parents” (Troyna 1992, p.68).
Unlike Stone, whose research had led her to conclude that pedagogical strategies developed to enhance black pupils ‘self-concept’ were unlikely to affect exam achievements, others like Troyna contended that an approach more akin to the neo-Marxist Brazilian educationalist, Paulo Freire’s notion of political conscientization, offered up possibilities, yet to be explored.
Another ethnographic study conducted by Wright in 1985, focusing on the experiences of fourth and fifth year African-Caribbean pupils from two schools in the North of England, found: “To the West Indian, the school seemed to be seen as a “battleground” a hostile environment insofar as it rejects their colour and their identities (cited in Dove 1995, p.352). Wright found that students perceived that their academic performance was affected by their white teachers’ attitudes, behaviours, and low expectations of them. In another study, that took place in four inner city primary schools (1988-198) and was published in 1992, Wright’s ethnographic research produced similar findings, suggesting: teachers were also insensitive to the fact that many students would have been victims of racism. Concurring with Wright’s study, Gillborn and Gipps (1996), in a review of qualitative research into ethnic minority pupil’s interaction with teachers in schools, found: that the level of teacher/pupil conflict in research conducted in schools was such that, as a group, black pupils experiences of school were far more conflictual and less positive than their peers, regardless of ‘ability’ and gender.
Debates about Supplementary schools and black history have been a source of great interest, but little research has been conducted, and it is worth noting, the studies discussed here have been conducted by black African-Caribbean scholars in a field (for example, Carr 2005; Dove 1995; Sewell 1997; Stone; 1981; Wright 1992), ironically, dominated by white academics, who have been extremely influential in shaping the discourse on educational policy
Given some of the bleak narratives on the experience of black pupils and schooling, it seems inevitable that alternative strategies such as supplementary schools and black history have not only been considered within black communities as a viable option, but also present themselves as the most promising solutions on offer to combat anti-black racism.
For educational activist and author of How The West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-Normal in the British School System (1971), Bernard Coard, “pride and confidence” were the best form of response against the prejudice and humiliating experience black pupils faced in the education system and wider society. Moreover, as Graham (2001) notes, “…it is within this context that African-Centred ways of knowing became relevant to educational discourse. Doves study found that supplementary schools were popular with black parents because they wanted their children to receive a “black perspective, cultural understanding, black historical information, a positive black image, positive role models, a better learning environment, and the company of other black children.” Dove further observed that the increase in supplementary schools in the United kingdom, may well reflect other forms of resistance to state public schooling that have taken place in the United States. Graham and Dove both argue, that an “African-Centred’ approach challenges the hegemonic scholarship that has pervaded European-centred educational systems from the conquest of Egypt by the Greek.” An African-centred curriculum and pedagogical methods, she argues, “can help children to decipher lies and develop inquiring scholarly minds” (ibid, p.357).
Unlike some of the assumptions based on cultural and ethnic homogeneity central to Doves articulation of blackness and African-Centred pedagogy, Graham (2001), makes more explicit the diversity within black communities, indicating that the terms ‘black’ and ‘African’ are used interchangeably. Some British scholars have pointed out that such formations of Afrocentric discourse appear primarily as an African-American construct (e.g. Gilroy 1993, 2000; Miles 1999).
The feminist philosopher, Nancy Fraser in her critique of identity politics, argues that a politics of recognition reduced to forms of identitarianism, results in an emphasis on demeaning representations, which she suggests, undermines the social-structural underpinnings of inequality. In dislodging the identitarian model for a politics of recognition, and enjoining it with a politics of redistribution, Fraser argues for a view of recognition that would interrogate institutionalised forms of cultural value and the resulting impact on the relative standing of its respective subjects. From this viewpoint, then, she suggests, “misrecognition is neither a psychic deformation nor a free standing cultural harm but an institutionalised relation of subordination” (ibid, 2000, p.113). In this respect, “parity impeding” values―such as a predominantly monocultural curriculum that addresses diversity by centring the persistent “ideological we and usually then simply mentioning the contributions of people of colour, women and others, or by creating a false logic of equivalence… perpetuates existing hierarchies of what counts as official knowledge” (Apple 1996, p.54). Within this analytical framework, anti-black racism in schools, would be an example of what Fraser calls “status subordination,” based on “misrecognition,” which has the impact of non-participation. The outworking of this standpoint in relation to the school curriculum, would be a radical democratisation that enables all students a space to engage “in the cultural politics over the struggle for collective identity and difference” (Miron 1999, p.83). As such, the curriculum becomes what Giroux (1992) and Battaglia (1999) describe as a ‘representational economy”, where students think through the micro-practices of everyday life.
Interestingly, some of the pedagogical approaches discussed above― which at various times, have been rooted in activist scholarship, informed predominantly by Marxist theoretical frameworks and black nationalist orientations ― can be seen in the ideology of the popular African-American movement, Black Lives Matter. Concurrently, a new cannon of critical anti-racist literature suffused with intersectional identitarian epistemologies (also lumped under the banner of Critical Race Theory), and a recycling of the deeply flawed psychological and moral anti-racist approaches, have become widely popular. From Robin DiAngelo’s, White Fragility to Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, the idea of (black) ethnocentric, anti-white/eurocentrism is promoted, which “…attempts to challenge the hegemony of Europe in order to construct another location from which to judge the world, not merely ‘another view’ but a new and different centre, with all the sense of self-worth confidence that the claim implies” (Bonnett 2000 p.98). For blacks engaged in struggles to dismantle racism, this has involved―what movements such as BLM have embraced―a necessary anti-racist racism.
C. Carr (2020) Darker Than Blue: Anti-Racism, a New Theodicy?