My son was chucked out of school; now he is doing fine

A couple of weeks ago, I was commissioned by the Mail on Sunday to write a 1,000-word piece on the disproportionate exclusion of black boys from schools. Diane Abbott had raised the matter in the Observer the week before, and they wanted my take on it. She has, over the years, been speaking out on this rather puzzling phenomenon - I attended a couple of conferences that she organised in the London Borough of Hackney.

Well attended they were, largely by black parents. What had struck me, though, was an absence of young black boys from the audience. I am certain that they were perfectly able to represent themselves if they felt aggrieved.

In the early months of 1981, they had, in their thousands, exploded in an insurrection in every black community in this country. They felt abused and oppressed by the police, and made that wholly clear. In fact, it was the power of their revolt that attracted white society to the issues at large and, as a consequence, we have more black MPs, less of this and much more of that.

I wasn't prepared, I told the Mail on Sunday, to present the young boys as victims of white female teachers, as Diane was propagandising. Nor did I see importing black Caribbean male teachers as a solution. That made clear, I wrote the piece and delivered on time. It was spiked.

I had some experience of the subject. Both my sons were excluded on the same day in the 1980s, along with Mickey, Carl, Tony and three others. Previously, they had all infested my sitting room, attracted to the colour television, to my record collection and to the possibility that they might meet a famous person at my house. But on the day of the exclusion, my sons' friends made themselves scarce. For their part, my sons appeared rather at ease. "Please, Dad, don't start," said the eldest, "we hated school anyway. It was boring; it was crap."

As I explained in the article for the Mail on Sunday, the curriculum and the style of teaching bore no relation to the hinterland from which they came or to the future they saw for themselves. It is the schools, not the black pupils, that have to change. Those who were excluded transformed themselves by leaps and bounds after leaving school. They became literate and numerate. The entire posse who were excluded have since risen to the pinnacle of their chosen profession in the world of leisure, earning more than Abbott.

Their careers show how the education system should proceed. Productive society has disappeared to the Far East, and the leisure industry is where it is at. Young blacks have long been telling us that in so many ways. The wagon train is rolling.

A few days after the rejection of my piece, the Mail published another, the content of which was scandalous to say the least. This told of a young man who was disaffected from school in London. His distraught mother, who had great ambitions for him, sent him to Ghana. In his Ghanaian school, boasted the Mail, he had been caned several times. Bring back the slave whip!

When he arrives at school, he begins the day with a few military manoeuvres. Not another soldier in Africa, was my reaction. And he learns everything by rote. No wonder the Mail on Sunday spiked my piece; I could not possibly deliver such anachronisms to that paper or to anyone else. It is a return to white colonialism in Africa.

Abbott almost falls into the trap. She calls for Caribbean teachers to come here. But first, that would weaken the education system in the Caribbean. And second, only a handful of elite schools there produce any reasonable standard. The rest are full of anarchy and violence. Graduates become the gun-toting soldiers of Kingston.

The solution for black children in our schools does not lie abroad. It is out of the community of young blacks that the solution will come.

By Darcus Howe

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in Revealed: how Labour sees women

2002-02-04