Do black Caribbean boys develop socially and emotionally as their white counterparts?
In 2002 an OFSTED report found that:
The evidence that has been available from individual LEAs has tended to show that
the relative performance of Black Caribbean pupils begins high, starts to decline
in Key Stage 2, tails off badly in Key Stage 3 and is below that of most other ethnic
groups at Key Stage 4. (OFSTED, 2002, p. 1)
New Labour's election chant was 'education, education, education' but its practice, since coming to power, has appeared to favour privileged groups rather than those to whom it was addressed. Although government agenda has focussed on what are termed underprivileged and excluded groups, research undertaken by Gillborn and Mirza (2000) indicates that these policies have had little effect on the educational attainment of black boys.
Despite concerns among the black community and despite government inclusion policies it is arguably the case that boys of Caribbean heritage may not do well in the British education system. Concentrating on primary school pupils from year six, key stage two, this paper will investigate whether black Caribbean boys are as socially and emotionally developed as their white counterparts and if not, whether a lack of this development triggers low educational achievement in later life. The paper will begin with a definition of underachievement and ethnicity as used here, it will then define how children are socialised and assess the social and emotional development of black Caribbean boys against that of their white counterparts. Finally it will consider how social and emotional development may impact on later educational achievement. Underachievement and Ethnicity Debates Gillborn (2002) contends that underachievement is often perceived as related to ability when it is more often a consequence of problematic educational policies and practice that result in pupils failing to reach their potential. Across the board boys are failing to do as well as girls in the educational arena and boys of black Caribbean heritage tend to fare worse than their white counterparts.Britain is an ethnically diverse country, although most ethnic minorities tend to live in crowded inner city areas (Giddens, 2001). The Swann Report of 1985 found significant differences in levels of educational achievement among groups from minority ethnic backgrounds with children from black Caribbean family backgrounds tending to fare worst. This group are under-represented in higher education. Some theorists maintain that debates over underachievement are too deterministic. A positive self concept is necessary to emotional health. In an early study of black Caribbean children in London Stone (1981) found that on the whole these children had a positive self-concept and high self esteem. Most of the children did not get along well with teachers and were unhappy with the school system but this did not interfere with their self-esteem. Failure to do well academically was not necessarily tied to a negative self-concept nor to problems in emotional and social development but with school per se. Demie (2003) maintains that black Caribbean children have been neglected in the education system and their needs have not been addressed therefore black Caribbean boys in particular tend to underachieve across the key stages of education. She contends however, that the statistics relating to the underachievement of black Caribbean boys are not clear cut because of confusion over different ethnic groupings. Policy makers have tended to gloss over ethnic differences and have used the term 'black' to refer to all black people. This not only obscures diverse ethnicities e.g. African, Afro-Caribbean, black Caribbean and black British, it also causes problems in identifying underachievement if one is looking at a particular group. Demie (2003) says in this regard that:
The term 'Black Caribbean' ....makes sense for educational purposes, to statisticians and to the Caribbean and African community, as it clearly differentiates pupils of Caribbean origin from Black Africans, which in the past were often lumped together as African Caribbean or Afro-Caribbean on political grounds. It focuses clearly to address underachievement issues in educational debates and ensures that this focus is not lost or blurred in national policy formulation by providing unambiguous data for policy makers and schools (Demie, 2003:8). Emotional and Social Development An inability to manage our emotions as restricts emotional growth and seriously affects our capacity for learning. Social theorists have commented on the ways in which human emotional and social development is determined by factors in very early childhood. For example, Bowlby (1967) maintained that maternal deprivation in early life could have significant consequences in adolescence and later life. Their early experiences can determine how they relate to the world outside and affect their performance in school. Riding and Fairhurst (2001) maintain that:
Effective learning in the school is dependent to a significant extent on pupils behaving reasonably, and responding appropriately to their teachers and to other pupils. In a class group, poor conduct behaviour by just a few pupils can have a very disruptive effect on the learning performance of the whole class (Riding and Fairhurst, 2001:1).
Children learn how to behave in the home environment. Charlton and George (1993) have argued that there are a number of factors that also contribute to children's behaviour, they may be biological, or they may relate to other social factors such as low income status or to school itself. How children behave may therefore be attributable to a number of different factors. The rate at which young boys develop and the ways in which this is measured are culturally and socially specific rather than universal. Prominent social theorists such as Durkheim and Parsons have contended that all human beings undergo a process of socialisation where they are taught the norms and values of the culture in which they live. The main instrument of this socialisation is the family, and sociologists have called this primary socialisation where along with social norms and values children learn or should learn about self-worth and about their place in the world. Children continue to be socialised (secondary socialisation) into certain roles by agencies such as schools and government. Parsons maintained that the ideal family was nuclear and consisted of two parents and one or two children (Giddens, 2001). However, changes in social structure have meant that many children now grow up in homes with only one parent. It is widely accepted by theorists that this significantly affects a child's social and emotional development.
It is a known fact that by and large black families in Britain tend to be matriarchal. Contrary to the generally held belief that single parent households have a negative influence on black Caribbean boy's emotional and social development, Chamberlain (1999) maintains that the strong family support networks within these families more often results in a stable family home. Reynolds (2003) argues that because black women have such a dominant role in the home they also tend to extend this caring role by working in the community as social workers, care workers etc. This means that black males become marginal to family life and to caring in the wider community. Children need to develop their full emotional potential if they are going to be able to properly cope with life in the wider social arena. Emotional stability is necessary if children are to be able to form relationships and get along with others.
The 'problematisation' of black masculinity has been exacerbated within New Labour policy rhetoric through assumptions that 'race' is only a minority ethnic group issue (Phoenix, 2000) and that the source of social problems can be located within the attitudes and behaviour of minority ethnic families and communities (Lewis, 2000 cited in Archer and Yamasita, 2003:2).
Research tends to support the view that a loving and settled home life tends to promote sound emotional and social development. One parent homes and matriarchal families may do this but numbers of boys suffer from the lack of a suitable male role model and the older a child gets the more problematic this can become. Boys of black Caribbean heritage and boys from the dominant white community may underachieve because of peer disapproval, where it is seen as 'uncool' to achieve academic success. Jackson and Salisbury (1996) maintain that:
Boys' identification with macho values and relations, where school learning is seen as unmanly, often leads to significant, academic underachievement in some groups of boys (particularly working class and some black groups). (Jackson & Salisbury, 1996, p. 105; their brackets)
Material Deprivation Recent Government debates have focussed on the anti-social behaviour of numbers of young boys, white and black, and how absent fathers and the lack of discipline at home result in their being involved in making noise, theft and criminal damage Government are concerned with the behaviour of young people and since 2000 schools now have a statutory responsibility to teach citizenship, this has been hotly debated as it raises the question of how far children should be influenced by their teachers' values (Wilkins, 2003). Cooper et al (2003) maintain that underachievement is often influenced by social factors rather than a child's social and emotional development, and that there is a strong link between this and social and material deprivation. The article strongly favours Townsend's 1987 view that material deprivation eg bad housing, diet and health are strong, objective indicators of what lies behind things such as educational underachievement whereas social and developmental deprivation are more subjective in nature and harder to define. Research indicates that in inner city schools where a third of children at key stage 2 are in receipt of free school meals, year 6 pupils more than 40% failed to attain a level 40% failed to attain a level 4 (the required level) in maths and english.(Rahman et al, 2001). This report also maintains that in England and Wales school exclusions are on the increase, the greater number of excluded boys are of black Caribbean heritage. Material deprivation affects both black and white boys, although more black Caribbean boys may suffer material deprivation than their peers and it is on the increase. In 2000 110 LEAs claimed an increase in the number of pupils in particular primary schools who were experiencing material deprivation (Cooper et al, 2003). While there may be some mileage in theories such as Bowlby's maternal deprivation thesis for the social and emotional development of both black Caribbean and white boys, in British society the black boys' development is inevitably affected by what Rattansi (2000) has termed 'a lack of whiteness'.
The views of their peers and professionals such as teachers and social workers contribute to this idea of lack. Owusu-Bempah (1994) contends that:
Many social workers today seem to accept the view that black children would rathe be white as self-evident. This seems to be particularly the case when so called mixed-race children are involved. [This] leads otherwise well-intentioned social workers to pathologise even those children with well balanced personality (Owusu-Bempah, 1994, p. 133).
Often children will not react against such stereotyping because as Gordon (2001) contends the silencing of black people's voices is part of British social structure because the white majority regard British society as belonging to them. This, and other issues that affect the social and emotional development of young black Caribbeans, and particularly black Caribbean boys have been a major source of concern within the black community. Odih (2002) maintains that while mentoring programmes (introduced in primary schools in 2000) may be a central component of Government policy concerning the apparent educational underachievement of black Caribbean boys, its promotion of hegemonic male role models marginalises, and prevents their progress.
These measures coincide with increasing calls within the black community and among anti-feminist male activists for the provision of male role models to remedy the current underachievement of male students. In New Labour's educational discourse, gender and racial inequality are defined as problems of ineffectiveness, standards and performance. For anti-feminist male activists, the prevalence of female teachers, 'soft' pedagogic practices and matriarchal families are the prime cause for the underachievement of boys (Odhi, 2002:1).
Class and Race Archer and Yamashita (2003) note that in inner city areas underachievement cannot be restricted to ethnic identity, rather:
...critical approaches to theorising issues of masculinity and schooling need to engage with complex identities and inequalities across 'race', ethnicity, gender and class (Archer and Yamasita, 2003:2).
Archer and Yamasita are of the opinion that policy discourses on race and ethnicity imply that these are the cause of social problems. This has the effect of singling out ethnic minority children (and particularly black Caribbean boys) as different and problematic because the 'normal' child is represented as white, middle class and male. As has been noted earlier the issue is further exacerbated by a tendency to racially homogenise black people thus stereotyping black masculine identity as problematic and deviant. They are thus, according to Alexander (2000) made invisible within policy debates and highly visible in public debates concerning perceived problems associated with black masculine identity. Archer and Yamasita (2003) also found that there was a resistance to schoolwork and an espousal of 'bad boy' identities among both black Caribbean boys and their white counterparts. They point to the problematising of white working class boy's identities as well as the identities of black boys and they refer to 'entangled masculinities '. They conclude that in some areas in Britain class and race are inextricably linked when it comes to boy's educational achievement. Because policy makers do not refer to masculine identities outside of an educational context and within a local area there may be little progress in attracting such boys to formal learning because it is not a part of their own identity formations.
Conclusion This paper has investigated whether the social and emotional development of black Caribbean boys differs from their white counterparts and results in educational underachievement. Drawing on different debates surrounding this issue it has been argued that there is little evidence to suggest that there is much discrepancy between the social and emotional development of black Caribbean boys and white boys. Rather there are a number of factors that can trigger educational underachievement and that these relate to white boys as well as black Caribbean boys. It has been found that race/ethnicity and class are closely connected and that there are more similarities than differences among young boys. Research, and OFSTED reports indicate that once in school black Caribbean boy's progress deteriorates across the key stages. However, current debates suggest that this also the case with numbers of their white counterparts and that perhaps government and policy discourses tend to marginalise all those who are outside the 'norm' of white middle class males. Rather than a lack of social and emotional development, this paper has found that the educational system poses problems for many youngsters and this is particularly evident among black Caribbean boys and their white working class counterparts.
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