Teach First — a charity initially founded with the laudable aim of encouraging university graduates to spend time as teachers before they move on to more lucrative professions — appears to have swallowed whole the divisive, race-baiting narrative of Black Lives Matter.
The introduction to the report —
Missing Pages: Increasing Racial Diversity in the Literature We Teach — cites the death of George Floyd thousands of miles away on the other side of the Atlantic as an inspiration.
After George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the police and the ensuring swell of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, we have, like many other organisations, become focused on our urgent requirement to take a more active role in stamping out racism in society.
Its brilliant solution? Quota systems, whereby 25 per cent of the authors studied for the GCSE English literature exam taken by all British 16-year olds should come from ethnic minority backgrounds.
It also argues for extra funding to ‘train and support teachers to appropriately explore racism with their pupils’. And ‘a fund for schools to buy books specifically by ethnic minority authors should be created.’
“I finished secondary school without studying a single book written by a Black author,” claims a black English teacher called Jason Arthur in the foreword.
Perhaps. But this seems a pretty facile complaint given that many British children leave school without having acquired even a passing acquaintance with Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens or any of the other foundational texts of English literature.
Surely the priority of schools should be to use what little time is available in their already crammed teaching schedules to introduce children to the best of what has been written — rather than books chosen purely on the basis of the authors’ skin colour.
It is a simple fact, resulting from historical reasons which have almost nothing to do with racism, that there is not a single pre-20th century work in the English literature canon written by an ethnic minority author.
Most schools more than try to remedy this by encouraging their children to read gobbets of prose and poetry by Maya Angelou and Benjamin Zephaniah at every opportunity — not to mention Malorie Blackman’s
Noughts and Crosses, about a world where black people are the dominant race and whites are the oppressed minority.
So when Arthur talks about not having studied ‘a single book written by a Black author’, he’s not saying anything meaningful, let alone shocking. The number of ‘single books’ written even by white authors and studied in schools at GCSE level is small to non-existent but because current educational orthodoxy has it that children cannot cope with long reads and are better suited to studying a variety of extracts from ‘texts’ instead.
It is depressing but not remotely surprising that a once-admirable and largely apolitical educational charity should be pushing this divisive, anti-intellectual, dumbed-down narrative.
Teach First offers yet further proof of O’Sullivan’s Law: that any organisation or enterprise that is not expressly right-wing will become left-wing over time.
Children, of course, will be the biggest losers here — leaving school even less literate than any generation of the last two centuries.