This blog is not about school exclusions, although readers might want to consider this story in today’s Guardian as background to what follows:
Headteachers admit illegally excluding pupils
Pupils were informally excluded for months or coerced into changing schools, children’s commissioner finds
Today 3Di is focusing on another story in the Guardian, and its implications for the future of education in this country.
Plan B: ‘Find out what kids are good at. It will change their lives’
Last week, rapper and soul star Plan B made an impassioned speech at TEDxObserver, outlining society’s failure to nurture its disadvantaged youth. Here is an extract …
3Di strongly believes it’s the duty of all schools and all teachers to help pupils find what they’re good at, as a matter of the highest priority. The education system as a whole in this country seems to prioritise the preparation of pupils for tests and examinations, and by implication is focused on preparation for higher education and the world of work and careers. We’ve even come across Primary headteachers who seem to believe that their main task or their sole aim is to process pupils towards readiness for the world of work.
Not only is this not in the interests of pupils of all abilities, interests and aptitudes – it’s counter-productive and it’s against the UN Charter on the Rights of the Child. Even pupils of high academic ability have the right to find out at an early age what they’re really good at, where their talents lie, and what fills them with enthusiasm as well as what unleashes their creative potential. Other more enlightened countries seem to understand this, and eventually our society will also come to recognise these essential truths. Every child deserves to find out what really makes them tick, and what will enable them to discover their ‘Element‘.
The papers tell us that [despicable things] happen but they never tell us why they happen. So [my film] “Ill Manors” is trying to get to the bottom of why we have these problems in society with our youth, why we constantly keep on reading negative things about our youth.
The reason I’ve done this is because I got kicked out of school in year 10 and no other schools would take me. I had to go to a pupil referral unit called the Tunmarsh Centre in Plaistow. I was there with other kids from a lot more dysfunctional families than me. They’d been through a lot more than me. And one thing we shared is we didn’t have any respect for authority, whether it be teachers or police.
I think the reason why we didn’t have respect for authority was that we felt that we were ignored by society, that we didn’t belong to it. And so we wouldn’t listen to anyone apart from our favourite rappers. We would let this music raise us and, though most of will never meet those artists in our lives, their words are what guided us.
Unfortunately, some of those words are negative. Within hip-hop there’s some that romanticises street life and being a gangster and selling drugs. But there’s also conscious hip-hop. I was a fan of conscious hip-hop. I was a fan of the hip-hop that was like poetry. It was like reading a book and it changed your life. Just one sentence could change your life. I realised that this was a powerful tool and I wanted to change things; I wanted to change the stuff that I read in the paper or the stuff that I came in direct contact with which I didn’t agree with.
The great thing about Tunmarsh was it was a place where these kids could go and, for the first time in their life, be shown encouragement and motivation and be told that they can make something of their lives. They can come from a negative family environment [but] they only have to bump into one person that can plant one positive seed in their head and in their heart and it can change their life. Tunmarsh was full of these positive teachers. When I left there I went on this journey through hip-hop music and I decided to write an album that tried to reach out to these kids and I tried in some ways, I guess, to be a father figure to these kids because they were parentless.
Plan B then goes on to talk about as issue that’s been festering in Britain since . . . probably forever. Class prejudice.
Back in the early 80s in places like Inner London there were huge efforts, particularly within schools, to tackle racism and sexism. There were piles of documents written and published and distributed. There were thousands of in-service training days. The ILEA took a leading role in all of this, and it also published its intention to put similar efforts into tackling class prejudice and underachievement by working class pupils. Only it never did.
The upshot has been there’s now far less prejudice against girls and ethnic minorities within schools, and much higher achievement for girls and certain minority ethnic groups. Meanwhile, white working class boys are the lowest-achieving group of pupils in inner-city schools, and possibly the most disaffected.
Plan B goes on -
What does the word chav mean? The term may have its origins in the Romany word “chavi”, meaning child. My godfather used to call me chav, but it was affectionate. I used to enjoy it. So what does that word mean now? I believe it stands for “council house and violent”. It’s a word that is used to ridicule and label people who come from a less educated background than the rest of society. For me, it’s no different from similar words used to be prejudiced towards race or sex. The difference is, in this country we openly say the word chav. The papers openly ridicule the poor and less unfortunate. If you did the same thing with race or sex, there’d be public uproar and rightly so. But why is it different with this word?
I believe that there is a demonisation of the youth throughout the media. And people are falling for it, because if you’d had no direct contact with the kids that I’m talking about how the hell can you judge them? Because you’re only judging them based on something you read in a newspaper, aren’t you?
See, this fuels the fire. If you call kids words that are derogatory to them just because they are unlucky enough to be born into a family that couldn’t afford to give them the education that you had, they’re going to hate you. Of course they’re going to hate you and you’re going to hate them because of their actions. And it’s this vicious circle that goes round. By calling these kids these words you push them out of your society and they don’t feel part of it. You beat them into apathy and in the end they just say: “Cool, I don’t care. I don’t want to be part of your society.”
And then the riots happen, right? We’ve got a generation of youths out there on the streets. The weather is hot, it’s nice. They ain’t got nothing to do because all the community centres have been shut down. And all the money that was put into summer projects to keep these kids monitored and occupied [has gone]. Their parents ain’t going to take them out of the country on holiday. You’ve got a whole generation of kids that do not feel that they’re part of this society and they start rioting and looting. And taking the things that society has made them feel are the most important things. Sheldon Thomas [former gang member and mentor] said: “If you ask how we became a society where young people think it’s OK to rob and loot, I respond how did we get to a society that cares more about shops and businesses than lives of young people.” That’s some strong words right there.
This guy, he’s from Forest Gate, comes from a dysfunctional family background like myself, had a bad attitude but [he's] very talented. And I took him on the road with me and I showed him the opportunities that were out there for him. Andrew Curtis was trained by Vidal Sassoon. He was offered a very high-paying job. He said: “No, I don’t want to take your job. I won’t take your money.” He said: “I want to go and start an academy where we teach underprivileged kids how to cut hair.”
And so he did. Him and his girlfriend got this building and they set up this salon. They’re living there and they’re putting their hands in their pockets to pay for the things that these kids need in order to be trained. Because no one is giving them any funding. So he’s got kids who without this would have criminal records, who would go to prison. They’d be going down that path. No one is funding him, no one is backing him to do this. He’s doing this off his own back, just out of love.
Everyone knows one person out there they can help who’s less fortunate than them. And I’m not talking about help financially. I’m talking about knowledge. Plant that seed. Find out what these kids are good at, or what they care about or what they like, and try and draw it out** of them because it will change their lives.
There’s a song by Jacob Miller called “Each One Teach One”. It’s a reggae song. You should listen to that song because that’s all we’ve got to do.
Well it’s not quite all we’ve got to do. Maybe not by a long chalk, so to speak.
The word ‘Education’ has been derived from different words. Latin word ‘E’ and ‘Duco’ means to draw out of the inner qualities of the child. Similarly, ‘educare’ means to nurture and to bring up while ‘educare’ means to draw out the qualities of a child to make a complete man.
Gandhi – “By education I mean an all-round drawing out of the best in man – body, mind and spirit.” **
In the first place we’ve got to start educating all pupils properly and appropriately in our schools, which means offering them a creative education, a voyage of self-discovery, and the opportunity to develop all of their intelligences – personal, social, physical, instinctual and spiritual, as well as their intellects and as well as developing their emotional literacy.
We got to help them to learn how to learn, and we’ve got to foster in them a love of learning for its own sake. We’ve got to help them discover their own creative potential, and help them to become fully evolved human beings – the very best people they can be.
We’ve got to change our entire school system and our approaches to education. We’ve got to consider what education is really for – what are its main aims and objectives?
It’s going to be extremely difficult to get any consensus on this, but those with any conscience must now stand up for children’s rights, and do the right thing.
There are many fine schools in Britain, but without systemic change it won’t be possible to make every school an excellent school that does right by all of its pupils.
Class prejudice causes many well-meaning people, including politicians, to assume that the best way to ensure ‘social mobility’ is to ‘drive up standards’ and enable all pupils from inner-city working-class areas to leave school with a fistful of exam passes – the better to go on to higher education, the professions, higher paid jobs, etc.
Not only is this not realistic, it’s deeply patronising to believe that all working class districts are awful ghettos that any sensible young person would want to leave behind as soon as possible.
3Di insists that the key to success in life is for young people to leave school with all their intelligences and their creative capacities fully developed, and as self-confident, thoughtful and creative individuals to choose whatever future pathways seem relevant and interesting – including becoming well-paid professionals or entrepreneurs if they so desire.
If they have been shown from the outset how to study and learn, how to be literate, and how to be creative thinkers, then there will be no barriers in a country where there are many pathways to lifelong learning and self-development. The keys to social mobility, self-awareness and self-fulfilment are a lot more complicated and sophisticated than having 5 or more GCSE passes at grades A to C, no matter what our politicians and others suppose.
Two more voices from the audience of yesterday’s broadcast of “Any Questions” -
* “We’re browbeating children towards literacy through sheer government arrogance.”
* “Why – when England used to lead the field in education – has our whole sorry situation come about?”
Next blog – Radical Education and the Common School