William ‘Lez’ Henry on Education and Schooling


whitenessDr William ‘Lez’ Henry

Education and Schooling

The majority of teachers have a professional interest in the education of their students, within the schooling environment, whilst accepting that they work within a framework that often constrains and stymies the potential of their students. For many the constraints are curricula as they may have knowledge or information that could assist the students’ understanding of a particular subject or topic, yet are fearful of introducing it as it may challenge the received wisdom that dominates their schooling environment. This quandary sums up the major differences between education and schooling because both are generally considered to be fixed and absolute, whereas the reality from an African perspective as Shujaa suggests is that we regard them as ‘differentiated processes’. In the West they are aspects of a process of production that perpetuate particular values, ideals, attitudes and beliefs that are Eurocentric in nature and Anti-African in principle. For this reason there is a need to consider whether schooling and education in the West are designed to promulgate a whole range of views of the world, and most of the people in it, as subservient others to a dominant European self.

The impact of Eurocentric education/schooling on peoples of African ancestry in the West has been discussed by numerous scholars for decades and various solutions have been offered to counter its negative effects on the African personality. These solutions include ‘home schooling’, ‘supplementary schooling’ and ‘creating African-Centred schools’ to  ensure that African children are grounded in a proud history and culture that raises aspirations and promotes self-esteem. Educators of African children are therefore expected to understand the relationship between schooling as training and education as that which engenders an ongoing and more complete understanding of a society’s dominant culture; socially, economically, spiritually, psychologically and politically. Yet this is often not the case because many parents and teachers embrace the ‘convenient fiction’ that a ‘good’ education is a social equaliser, from which all can achieve and reach their full potential.

There is a need for children to experience a form teaching where the learning is not constrained by the boundaries of what Freire called a ‘banking’ educational system that is in essence anti-creativity as well as anti-African. For instance, in Britain children do not receive anything of note from the National Curriculum about a thinking African historical self that is positive, uplifting and predates the period of chattel enslavement. On the contrary what they receive is a form of schooling that presents itself as being meritocratic, but the reality is it ensures that the distribution of education is geared towards the maintenance of the status quo. Consequently, since 2008 the ‘Transatlantic slave Trade’ is being taught in schools as part of the National Curriculum and for many of the students this represents African history. This confuses the students by encouraging them to accept as ‘truth’ the negative association of the inferior African other, who has contributed nothing to world history, whilst accepting a European positive self that is reaffirmed as a natural aspect of everyday life. Moreover, wherever they look and experience societal norms, either within formal learning environments like schools or the informal learning we experience through the mainstream media etc., these negative stereotypes dominate, mould and shape public perceptions of African peoples. Therefore, parents and children need to appreciate the profundity of this form of social programming for it speaks to the need to be educated about a positive self, when living in any society where whiteness is valued and blackness is not. Consequently any counter to the impact of white supremacist thought and action, on the qualitative educational and schooling experiences of black children, must factor in according to Dove, the ideological and material realities that become normalised within the learning environment.

Failing to comprehend the reality of the different racialized expectations of students that are compulsorily educated in Western societies, ensures that those who are programmed to fail will internalise that sense of failure and embrace what Carby dubs ‘the cycle of pathology’. They therefore do not tend to question their ‘structural placement’ as anything other than happenstance, as they are oblivious to the wider historical and social relations that determine such placement from birth.  That is why ‘educators’ must focus on rigorously challenging this acceptance, by many, of their ‘structural placement’, thereby altering the culture of learning, whilst encouraging their students to strive for educational excellence within the constraints of a Eurocentric system. The point is Africans in the Americas, the UK and obviously in many other colonised spaces and places, from day one, are bombarded with negative representations that directly impact on their performance in the educational arena. Moreover in the context of the UK the 1944 Education Act introduced the tripartite system that was designed to maintain the deep class divisions, which are crucial to the maintenance of British society where some are ‘destined’ for manual work, some to work in offices and some inevitably to rule.

The crucial point is that those who came to Britain from Africa and the Caribbean, during the early 1950s, often entrusted the schooling of their children to the state’s various institutions. This was because many parents were the products of a formal education that does not encourage one to think away from Europe as the centre of the universe, intellectually and otherwise. They were unaware that they too were ‘educated’ in a world where the African contribution to anything of note was written out of their reality. Thus, producing a mind-set that responds better within the language and physical spaces of formal education, which ironically determine much of our ‘intellectual’ socialization in the anti the thinking African construct. That is why when speaking of how West Indian children in Britain are ‘made educationally sub-normal’, Coard suggested it is the duty of educators to make known that the omission of the histories of Africans and other peoples in curriculum is a form of ‘criminal negligence’.

Children of African ancestry are not taught about themselves historically as part of the schooling process, except for the fact that they are the descendants of ex-slaves who have not historically contributed anything to world civilisations. Therefore, they too often have no sense of self-worth that they can draw from the ‘recognised’ curriculum and unsurprisingly many are affected by low self-esteem. As a consequence of this type of mis-education, European children do not see the African as having made any meaningful contribution to anything historically and thus often only appreciate them for certain immediate achievements, generally in the realms of sport or entertainment. As such the type of ongoing, holistic, education that one would consider crucial to a more grounded understanding of how a society works, and therefore how one can successfully navigate a sane path through it, is absent. That is why a comprehension of the machinations that impact the manner in which we learn about self and other, as discrete social groups within a collective racialized experience, is crucial to the future prospects of African peoples. Moreover, it is obligatory for African scholars and teachers to provide an educational space where they can use a counter perspective to present students with alternative ways of knowing, being, experiencing, and writing about the relationship between African people and European societies that were/are structured in cultural dominance.


Coard, B. How The West Indian Child is made Educationally Sub-Normal In The British School System, London: Karia Press. 1991

Chinweizu. Decolonising The African Mind, Lagos, Nigeria: Pero Press. 1987

Dove. N, ‘The Emergence of Black Supplementary Schools as Forms of Resistance to Racism in the United Kingdom’ (in) Shujaa. M. J. (ed) Too Much Schooling Too Little Education: A Paradox Of Black Life In White Societies, Trenton NJ: Africa World Press, inc. 1994

Freire, P. Pedagogy Of The Oppressed, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books 1972

Henry. W. Whiteness made simple: stepping into the GREY zone, London: Learning By Choice. 2007

Illich, I. D. Deschooling Society, London: Calder & Boyars Ltd. 1971

Shujaa. M. J. ‘Education and Schooling: You Can Have One Without The Other’ (in) Shujaa. M. J.  (ed) Too Much Schooling Too Little Education: A Paradox Of Black Life In White Societies, Trenton NJ: Africa World Press, inc. 1994

Woodson, C. G. The Mis-education Of The Negro USA: Africa World Press Inc. 1993

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