Race and schooling and social class and Britain

This is a comment about a book by David L. Kirp, a lawyer, professor of law, writer, educator, thinker. The book has been issued simultaneously in London and Berkeley by the University of california Press. Is is on "race and schooling in Britain" and is titled: "Doing Good by Doing Little." ($14.35 in the US, L7.15 in Britain.)

If ever a book needed a map, it is the one. Chapter 1, Page 5: "The beginning of substantial immigration of nonwhites to Britain almost precisely coincides with the nation's decision to extricate itself from the Empire. Uniquely among colonial nations, Britain had made its subjects citizens both of colony and mother country."

It's that decision regarding citizenship which is all-important for an understanding of race and schooling today in Britain.

And oh, how a map showing the outer reaches of the Empire would help. With no map as a guide, it would have been some help if lawyer Kirp had held off from launching his case for the defense until he had set the scene for his jury of readers. What racial compositions? Where from?

But the jury is thrust into the middle of the case, and must flounder as best it can without maps or charts and with just the briefest of histories.

In all fairness, author Kirp does provide a mini-history telling us that as late as 1951, only two-tenths of one percent of the population of England, scotland, and wales were from a racial minority background. Twenty-five years later that figure was still below three percent.

But in 1980, in London alone, some 10 percent of all school children come from racial minority backgrounds, and 128 different languages are regularly spoken in their homes. This latest information comes from the Inner London Education Authority, where administrators agree that "race and schooling in Britain is now a major concern."

Before launching into a discussion f where I think Dr. Kirp has gone wrong, let me say where I hink he's correct. He's brought to the fore in a most readable manner a discussion of race and schooling with the implication in both the US and Britain. And he's done so without passion or emotion.

In a way, he's arguing for the defense (if racial equality is the offence) explaining how the problems between race and schools are being addressed.

Aproblem, then you would do well to read this book. Dr. Kirp has studied race in the light of public policy in the US and Britain for a number of years and knows whereof he speaks.

And for him, a policy of "inexplicitness" or a Moynihan-like "benign neglect" offers more hope than confrontation and aggression.

But where Dr. Kirp goes wrong, by my lights, is where he talks about equality and public policy in Britain in the same breath. Britain was a class society with carefully structured inequalities of rights and privileges in 1951, when less than 100,000 of its home citizens were from racial minorities. And Britain is a class society today, and it is the interaction of that age-old (crumbling in places, to be sure) structure with demands for equality from the non-Anglo Saxons which is at the heart of all policies -- public and private -- concerning race and schooling.

Unfortunately Dr. Kirp skirts this issue, lighting on it like a humming bird, but never grappling with its complex intertwinnings.

Meet a 50-year-old Englishman who was given a place at a grammar school 40 years ago because he was clever and was one of the less than 5 percent who went on to university, and he will assure you of his humble beginnings, and of the fact that while he has been "lifted" he has not, of course, changed classes, just circumstances.

"He knows his place!" That's the key. he knows his place; that is, he recognizes the inequalities inherent in equality.

But what of today's children from racial minorities? Will they keep their place; that is, will they accept that circumstances of birth into a racial minority home automatically puts them in a different social class from their schoolmates?

There are signs that they do not accept these same strictures on thought and action, and it is this conflict which is bubbling, bubbling, bubbling, whether one is talking to the head of a multiracial comprehensive high school or an expensive independent school which, "oh, yes" has one or two non-English pupils.

Dr. Kirp is continuing his research on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. He is excited about what is taking place, and how public policy is in a constant state of flux as race and schooling continue on their collision course.

I have been visiting British schools regularly since 1952 and can report that enormous progress -- in the midst of sharp conflict -- is taking place. And it is this conflict which needs the sort of analysis and exposure only a writer like David Kirp can give it.

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