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Racism blinded me to my black students’ talents | Letter - TechiLive.in

Racism blinded me to my black students’ talents | Letter

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Discussion of the racism of ESN – “educationally subnormal” – schools (‘Black kids were written off’: the scandal of the children sent to ‘dustbin schools’, 19 May) stirs up deeply uncomfortable memories of my own racism as a teacher in a mainstream school.

For three years in the early 1970s I taught art in an inner London girls’ comprehensive. I had no teacher training – having a degree in your subject licensed you to teach it. Two weeks before I left, I found myself dreading a class with two particularly disruptive black girls. At the last minute I cobbled together a still life and prayed that would keep them quiet. And it did. The drawings that the two disruptive girls did were well observed, delicate and powerful; I can still picture one of them in my mind’s eye, nearly 50 years later.

The girls had been bored stiff – their undoubted creative talents unrecognised and unchallenged. In my ignorance, my unthinking racism, I had set up a vicious spiral in which, as their boredom drove them to disruption, their behaviour drove me to dumbing down what I set the class. By the time they drew the still life, I had reduced the class to doing little more than colouring in. I still remember my shock when I saw their drawings, and my heart-sinking realisation that over the two years I had had them in my class, I had wasted their time and their talent.

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This, replicated and magnified so many times, has led to the waste of lives, not just those documented in the ESN schools, but in the day-to-day experience of pupils like the ones I failed.
Alison Williams
Edinburgh

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