Winston Bernard Coard was born in Grenada on August 10th 1944. Coard has led an eventful life. At school, he absorbed himself in left-wing political ideals. Along with Maurice Bishop, Coard founded the ‘Grenada Assembly of Youth After Truth’. After his secondary education had ended in Grenada, Coard moved to America where he studied politics and economics at Brandeis University.
Coard then worked as a teacher in England for two years. In 1971, Coard published ‘How the West Indian Child is made educationally subnormal in the British school system.’ In this work Coard examined why certain ethnic groups fail in education when compared to other groups. Coard wrote a scathing report about what he found – one of the most critical ever written of the UK’s educational system. Coard claimed the British education system actually made black children become educationally subnormal by making them feel ‘inferior in every way’. According to his 1971 work, Coard stated that West Indian children were told that their way of speaking was second-rate and unacceptable, the implication being that they themselves were second-rate as human beings.
He continued: the word ‘white’ was associated with good; the word ‘black’ with evil. Coard gave an example of a children’s book in which the ‘white unicorn’ and the ‘white boys’ were able to repel an attack by the violent and evil ‘black pirates’.
According to Coard, the content of the education children received tended to ignore black people. Reading books often contained only white people, and when blacks did feature they were normally shown in subservient social roles such as servants. Coard claimed that the people whose lives were studied and acclaimed (the heroes and figures from history and the then present day) were white. Black culture, music and art were all conspicuous by their absence from the curriculum. Coard wrote: “the black children are therefore made neurotic about their race and culture. Some become behaviour problems as a result. They become resentful and bitter at being told their language is second-rate and their history and culture non-existent; that they hardly exist at all, except by the grace of whites.”
The attitudes to race conveyed in the classroom were reinforced by the pupils outside it. In playground arguments, white children were known to describe West Indian children as ‘black bastards’.
Coard believed these experiences had important consequences for the child. He believed black children developed an ‘inferiority complex’, a ‘low self-image’, and ‘low expectations in life’.
Coard claimed that teachers expected black children to fail, and this produced a self-fulfilling prophecy in which they lived ‘up’ to the expectations once they had been labelled.
Not only were black children frequently placed in lower streams and bands, and in schools for the less able, but they also themselves expected to fail and, as a result, they did.
Coard’s views on the British education system caused considerable controversy. They received both support and criticism at the time by other writers and researchers and even today divide opinion as some claim that many advances forward have been made since Coard wrote his report in 1971. Such was its impact, that the report was reprinted in full in 2005 and issues raised in it are used today to help explain why some young African-Caribbean boys feel that the education system is letting them down.
Coard’s analysis was based upon impressionistic evidence and personal experience, but his argument that teachers hold stereotypical views of ethnic minorities were supported by the research of Elaine Britain (1976).
Based upon a postal questionnaire, using a sample of 510 teachers in primary and secondary schools in the UK, Britain's research found that two-thirds of teachers perceived West Indian children as having low ability and being a disciplinary problem.
More direct evidence that teachers may consciously or unconsciously discriminate against ethnic minorities is provided by a detailed study of primary schools.
Coard’s findings were generally supported by research done by Cecile Wright in 1992. Wright spent two years researching (1988 to 1989) before producing his report in 1992. Wright conducted an ethnographic study of four multi-racial inner-city primary schools. The study involved: classroom observation of a total of 970 pupils and 57 staff; observation outside the classroom; informal interviews with all the observed teachers, some support staff and the four head teachers; interviews with the parent or parents of 38 children; and an examination of test results in three of the schools. Wright found that ‘the vast majority of the staff … seemed genuinely committed to ideals of equality of educational opportunity’. However, despite these ideals, there was considerable discrimination in the classroom.
In nursery units Asian children were largely excluded from group discussion because teachers assumed they would have a poor command of English. When they did involve the Asian pupils, the teachers tended to speak to them in simplistic, childish language. Generally, in all classes, ‘Asian girls seemed invisible to the teachers’. They received less attention than other pupils, and teachers sometimes expressed ‘open disapproval of their customs and traditions’. Wright concluded that comments from teachers made Asian pupils increasingly isolated from other pupils, who picked up on teachers’ comments and became hostile to the Asian children. It led to the Asian pupils themselves being ambivalent towards the school.
Despite the hostility of teachers towards Asian cultural traditions, and their assumptions that Asians would have poor language skills, teachers did expect them to have some academic success. The same was not true of African-Caribbean children. For these children there were ‘expectations of bad behaviour, along with disapproval, punishment and teachers insensitivity to the experience of racism’.
Generally, ‘African-Caribbean boys received a disproportionate amount of teacher’s negative attentions.’ Compared to white boys whose behaviour was the same, they were more likely to be sent out of class, to be sent to see the head teacher or to have privileges withdrawn. African-Caribbean Rastafarian children ‘were seen by some teachers as a particular threat to classroom management’ and were treated even more harshly.
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex