The Swann Report: Racism

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The Swann Report: Racism

Multi-racial society
'Multi-racial society, such as ours, would function most effectively and harmoniously on the basis of pluralism which enables, expects and encourages members of all ethnic groups, minority and majority, to participate fully in shaping the society as a whole within the framework of commonly accepted values, practices and procedures, whilst also allowing and, where necessary assisting the ethnic minority communities in maintaining their distinct ethnic identities within this common framework.'

The report argues that it is the responsibility of government to ensure equality of treatment and opportunity, and to enhance the opportunities for change through peaceful and democratic means. This entails adjustments by both the minority and majority ethnic groups. In order to have a pluralistic society, a minority must be allowed to decide which elements of their culture are most essential to their ethnic identity. What should be sought is 'diversity within unity'.

Prejudice is a fact of life in Britain. Prejudice, in its nature, overlooks individual merits and qualities.

This results in two factors to be countered:

  1. Ignorance (lack of knowledge on which to base opinions/judgements).
  2. The existence of stereotyping.

Education should counter these mistaken impressions acquired within families, peer groups and the media.

Most ethnic minority children are now British born. The arrival of the sizeable and visible ethnic minorities coincided with the decline of much traditional industry and rising unemployment. This is often seen in terms of cause and effect - newcomers blamed for recession and the decline of the inner cities. There is a need for education to remedy this false impression. There is a lack of knowledge of ethnic minorities and this has fostered the visibility of offensive stereotypes. Part of the problem is the historical legacy of empire - a view often developed further via the school curriculum.

Additionally, the media frequently tackles questions to do with ethnic minorities in a negative way, education can and should challenge negative stereotyping of ethnic minorities.

There has been little research on teacher attitudes or their expectations affecting pupil achievement or behaviour. NFER produced evidence showing that some teachers had negative stereotypes of West Indian pupils and positive ones of Asians. Stereotyping of West Indians is more uniform, more established and more strongly held.

More concern was felt about covert and unintentional rather than overt and intentional attitudes. Such attitudes can unwittingly affect academic achievement of ethnic minority pupils. For example, 'colour blindness' is potentially negative as it can be seen as a rejection of the validity of a person's identity.

Racism: Theory and practice

Institutional racism (range of language, established systems, practices and procedures) both in education and wider society causes a lack of account to be taken of the multi-racial nature of Britain. In a 'climate of racism' several factors can affect classroom attitudes: fear of racial harassment or attack, uncertainty of government policies on immigration and nationality. Ethnic minority children need to feel part of a society that guarantees equal futures. Schools fail if they remain neutral or uninvolved in such issues; it has the effect of condoning and encouraging racism. Schools cannot change racist attitudes on their own but they can create a unity of purpose; they can show that you don't have to be white or have family origins in Britain to be British.

West Indians are underachievers. Asians show average patterns, although Bangladeshis seriously underachieve. The danger here is of stereotypical judgements, for example the different histories of various groups. What is recognised is the importance of parental influence. West Indians are often accused of low I.Q., but investigations show that this is not a significant factor in underachievement. Socio-economic status and social class are important. Clearly many ethnic minority members are disadvantaged economically. However, more research is needed as it is a very complex problem.

Society is faced with two main problems:

  1. Eradicating discriminatory attitudes of the white majority.
  2. Evolving an educational system, which ensures all pupils reach their potential.

The first problem can be tackled in the short term via law, government, housing authorities, employers, unions, etc. In the long term, schools can bring about changes in the attitudes of coming generations. As regards the second problem, the educational system is still wrestling with how to tackle the problem.

A dual approach leads to a concept of 'education for all', an attempt to change white attitudes and develop a pattern of education that enables pupils to give their best.

Multi-cultural education

Multi-cultural educational development is disjointed and ad hoc across the country. Variations occur between those areas committed to multi-cultural education and those that have little minority settlement and do not think it has relevance for them.

There is a confusion caused by two different but inter-related and complementary dimensions:

  1. Meeting the needs of an ethnic minority group.
  2. Broadening the education offered to all so as to reflect the multi-cultural nature of Britain.

An educational response to a multi-cultural society is to educate all children to understand the shared values of society as a whole, as well as appreciating diversity in lifestyles and culture.

Thus what is required is:

  1. Fundamental change necessary - how to educate all children.
  2. The need for pupils to understand what multi-cultural society means.
  3. The challenge to be met nationally not locally.
  4. That education should do more than reinforce existing values and beliefs.
  5. That it is necessary to combat racism, inherited myths and stereotypes.
  6. That multi-cultural understanding permeate all aspects of schooling.