September 18, 2004
Anthony Daniels on why young British Jamaicans do so badly at school

Anthony Daniels (aka Theodore Dalrymple), now a regular contributor to the Social Affairs Unit Blog, says that young British blacks, or to be precise, young British Jamaicans, do badly at school not because of racism (the claim of a recent reportechoed by The Guardian) but because of the culture with which they have now surrounded themselves. Other racial minorities have thrived despite vicious racism against them. So what's with the Jamaicans?

If raw racial prejudice is not the explanation, then, what is the explanation? I think it is twofold. First, there is a marked lack of stability in the households of young blacks i.e. Jamaicans. This instability is seen in white lowest class households, of course, where it has precisely the same effects, except that the girls are less distinguishable from the boys, from the point of view of failure. Relative poverty does not in itself preclude constructive achievement among children, but when combined with a kaleidoscopically shifting spectrum of social pathology, it most certainly inhibits it.

Perhaps even more important is the culture that the young Jamaicans have adopted for themselves, both in England and Jamaica. It is not exactly a culture that promotes high endeavour in fields such as mathematics, science or English composition, to put it mildly. It is a culture of perpetual spontaneity and immediate gratification, whose largely industrialised and passively consumed products are wholly worthless sub specie aeternitatis. The young Jamaican males may have been sold a bill of goods by an unscrupulous entertainment industry, purveying drivel to morons, but they have bought it with their eyes open. Seen from the outside, at least, this culture is one upon whose valuelessness no execration could be sufficiently heaped.

By refusing even to entertain cultural characteristics as a possible explanation of failure, the combined forces of the Mayor, his commission and The Guardian are in fact serving to enclose the Jamaican black males in the wretched world that they already know and that already encloses them. They are, in effect, saying to them that the fault is not with them, their tastes and the way they conduct themselves, but with society as a whole. They are condemning them to a world of violence, drugs and familial insecurity.

Teacher Jane Smith comments:

Anthony Daniels is spot on – I have taught in London schools and his argument about Jamaican youth culture fits my own experiences. Teachers are however unwilling to say this publicly for fear of being branded racists. A problem which Daniels does not highlight is the fear that teachers have that parents will play the racism card if their children are put in detention or do badly at school. Thank you for an excellent article.

Comments from teachers (and from current pupils come to that) count at least twice here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:17 AM
Category: Peer pressureThe reality of teaching