‘Racism Isn’t the Reason Our Kids Are Failing in School’

Tamara Obeng, The Voice (London), July 27, 2009

ACADEMICS HAVE long argued that ‘institutional racism’ in Britain’s schools is the root cause of black boys failing in the education system. But leading educational consultant and author of Generating Genius, Dr Tony Sewell, argues the ‘experts’ have got it all totally wrong.

In fact, Sewell, director of the Science, Maths and Information Technology Centre at the University of the West Indies says that what black boys are saying to him is the opposite. They are failing because of a variety of problems.

“Why was it that we had all these politicians saying that this is to do with black boys being victims when this isn’t what they say themselves?”

Sewell’s new book, Generating Genius, explores the problems of love, ritual and schooling in young black boys.

The book is based on his highly successful project turning 12-year-olds in Jamaica and England into potential scientists. Sewell strongly believes that education is the key to fighting crime.

“I think in the UK educationalists have got it all wrong. They want to be seen to be politically correct so what they tend to do is listen to those who tell them it’s all about racism. As a result, you get attempts to try and fix white teachers.”

Sewell’s project on the other hand takes a group of youngsters and works with them over a long period of time. He says: “We’ve taken them out of their familiar environment and then they’ve developed over four years.”

According to Sewell, love has a lot to do with how black boys fare in education.

“The kind of love given to the boys is a very strange one. We did some research which showed that girls were doing all the housework. This was the way in which the mother thought she was best showing her love.

“In the end what actually happens is boys turn out to be lazy and unable to deal with tasks in school and the girls actually do better.”

The love of a father is central to Sewell’s argument; if the father isn’t there these boys seek acceptance elsewhere.

“I find that a lot of the gangs are a replacement for that love. The people in the gangs in Jamaica are prepared to lay their lives down for ‘the don.’

“It’s interesting that they would lay their love down for a fellow man. They wouldn’t do it for a woman but they’re prepared to do it for their male boss,” he explains.

Sewell says many believe the reason black people are doing badly is because of dysfunctional families, initiated by slavery.

But, this shouldn’t be used as an excuse he says. “I think you have to take care of your kids. If you have loads of kids you can’t excuse not being there for them and say it’s because of slavery.”

Generating Genius found that the biggest challenge for black youths is not in the classroom, it’s on the streets.

“Peer pressure plays a big role in black boys underachieving,” he adds.

“What our boys have to go through to gain academic success is fighting their peers. How do they say no to an offer to come out and play and instead stay in to study?

“We in society are so image driven. That’s why I put boys in white coats on the front cover. People think boys doing science must be nerds or gay. These boys were highly academic but at the same time very streetwise–they do normal things.

“What we’re afraid of is brain power. It’s the part of us that’s the most powerful but the most neglected. The forces against them are not necessarily the white teacher; the forces against them are people exactly like them.

“These boys created their own groups, a science gang as their way of protecting each other.”

Sewell believes his project provides the quality extra schooling for black boys missing in the education system.

These youths showed promise and potential, with most of them attaining at least nine GCSEs.

UK rapper Bashy in his 2007/2008 single Black Boys states: “No we ain’t hooligans, just young and talented Nubians.” Generating Genius was developed through this belief.

Sewell added: “We’ve got a situation in the UK where there are hundreds of boys hungry to get on a programme like this. We have not got in the world today a Nobel Prize winner in science.

“I’m convinced that out of this group there will be serious inventors. The boys that we’ve got easily could start doing their degrees from now [aged 16].

“This thing about genius isn’t something that’s special, you can actually create it. Michael Jackson, Mozart, Tiger Woods, what they had to do in order to become the genius was work really hard.

“Whatever you might say about Joe Jackson, had he not done all those practice sessions with Michael he would never be able to do what he can now. This is why it’s called Generating Genius.”

The project saw groups of 12-year-olds from London and Luton working on high demand at London’s Imperial College. Projects also took place in Jamaica, with boys attending summer schools at the University of the West Indies.

Sewell explains: “They need to have a challenge earlier on and be exposed to things that aren’t familiar.”

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