“To the barricades!”

May 20, 2013 in Blog, Gus talks, Open letters

On 13th May 2013, Diane Abbott MP put out a call to the 10th London Schools and the Black Child (LSBC) Conference: “Black Children & Education: After Gove, where next?”.

"Michael Gove at Chantry High School" by Regional Cabinet (Flickr - CC BY 2.0)

“Michael Gove at Chantry High School” by Regional Cabinet (Flickr – CC BY 2.0)

For the past 13 years, the Communities Empowerment Network (CEN) has been campaigning for equality and justice in schooling and education and against the practice of excluding a disproportionate number of African heritage children.

Diane Abbott has demonstrated a passion for schooling and education over very many years, especially on account of the schooling experiences of children of African heritage.  In 1999, she held two conferences in her constituency the London Borough of Hackney on ‘Hackney Schools and the Black Child’.  In 2000, the third of these was held which, like the previous two, attracted some 400-500 people.  In 2002, Abbott joined forces with the newly elected London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, and started the London Schools and the Black Child conferences which ran annually until 2009.

Those conferences proved very popular with African parents, teachers and community activists, some 2000-2,500 of whom attended most years.  However, although the focus of the conference was schooling and the ‘black child’, fewer than 50 black school children attended in any one year.  The conferences generated a great deal of heat and excitement, but typically very little action.  They allowed for no resolutions or demands to be put to government and each succeeding conference failed to focus upon whatever action those who attended in the preceding year may have taken in their communities in response to the issues debated.

Meanwhile, the Labour government of the day continued to pass laws, whittle away rights and allow schooling practices which were as detrimental to ‘the Black child’ as anything the Conservative administration had done prior to the Labour victory at the polls in 1997.  Yet, year on year, the Education (or Schools) Minister would attend Diane’s conference to tell ‘the black community’ what the government was doing to raise standards and tackle the endemic underachievement of African Caribbean children in the schooling system.

Diane Abbott intends that this conference would address the question: “Black Children & Education: After Gove, where next?”.  Some of us might think it even more pertinent to ask the question: “‘Before Gove, what?“.  Read the rest of this entry →

Paris Brown: sending up a gimmick?

April 10, 2013 in Blog, Gus in the Media, Print

On 8 April 2013 the Evening standard carried a story about Paris Brown who having been appointed as a youth police commissioner by Kent Police and Crime Commissioner, Ann Barnes, one week earlier at a cost to the taxpayer of £15,000 a year was found have posted homophobic and racist tweets prior to her appointment. The Evening Standard asked me for a comment. This is what I wrote on April 8.

Print screen from Evening Standard (http://bit.ly/XJaIwH)

Print screen from Evening Standard (http://bit.ly/XJaIwH)

If Paris Brown had wilfully set out to send up the peculiar notion of a paid ‘youth crime commissioner’, she could not have done it better. Her mother protests that Paris has 14 GCSEs and should be allowed to get on with her life having apologised for her abusive language on Twitter, language which itself borders on hate crime. The fact that she published those deeply offensive remarks before she was appointed to this dubious post is all the more reason why she should be stripped of it.

With 14 GCSEs, she is surely bright enough to know that those former boasts about her loutish and bigoted behaviour constitutes skeletons in her cupboard that give off a stench in which the police ought to have a forensic interest. Even if those appointing her did not probe her Twitter account, she should therefore have revealed her homophobic and racist conduct to them. If she did and was appointed nevertheless, then those who appointed her must have wanted to demonstrate that it is precisely young people with her tendencies they want as ‘advisers’ on youth crime. Proof indeed that her ill-conceived post begs too many questions that have not even been posed. Read the rest of this entry →

David Cameron tries being ‘cruel to be kind’

October 25, 2012 in Blog

It was truly stomach churning to hear David Cameron on Monday 22 October 2012 unctuously setting out his government’s revised law and order agenda for dealing with the presence of knives and guns on our streets, punishing and rehabilitating offenders and giving private contractors outcomes related incentives for reducing offending.

This was the same David Cameron who in the wake of the massive civil disturbances in London and other cities in the summer of 2011 was encouraging and endorsing the practice of jailing those arrested and charged for their involvement in the disturbances by the hundreds, a majority of them for first and relatively minor offences.

One is often led to wonder whether politicians such as David Cameron, George Osborne and Michael Gove – and Tony Blair before them – inhabit the same planet as the rest of us. For one thing, they would have us believe that they suffer from a type of amnesia which kicks in with a vengeance when, in desperation, they reach for particular policies and make headline grabbing pronouncements. Read the rest of this entry →

Should families take the blame for youth crime?

October 5, 2012 in Blog, Print

On the eve of a conference organised by the Seventh Day Adventist Church into parenting and last summer’s riots, the Lambeth Weekender asked professor Gus John: are families to blame for what children do

Lambeth Weekender: What impact did parenting have on the 2011 England riots?

Professor Gus John: This is a very broad and complex question and it needs to be much more nuanced. When do parents cease to have direct responsibility for their children’s conduct? At what age are children thought to be criminally responsible? How many young people below the age of 16 were involved in the riots? It seems to me that there are questions about parental responsibility in respect of children who were involved in the mayhem on the streets and who would not ordinarily be seen as old enough to be home alone.

There is a much wider question about whether or not some parents routinely let their young people who live at home go and come as they please and at whatever hour they please, without bothering to find out where their children are or who they are with. I do not have the statistics at hand, but there were many young people arrested for involvement in the mayhem who do not fit that profile but found themselves on the streets out of curiosity or because they saw an opportunity to get back at the police.

The broader question of why so many young (and older people of diverse ethnic backgrounds) clearly were not acting with moral purpose on those nights is one that concerns more than just parents. Young people acquire values and use them as a compass for their public and private conduct from parents, schools, the media, the conduct of public leaders and politicians, films and popular culture, etc. The majority of those taking part in the disturbances were from urban working class families, but not all.

The question as parental responsibility was not posed at all, or not put in quite the same way during the disturbances that accompanied the student fees protests. Was that because the majority of those protesting and confronting the police were white and middle class? Is parental failure deemed to be responsible for the widespread fraud committed by MPs in the recent expenses scandal, or the high level white collar crimes that are committed in this country every day, much of which goes unreported? Read the rest of this entry →

Mending Broken Britain? Education’s Response

September 28, 2012 in Blog, Lectures, Speeches

Last February, Professor Gus John delivered a keynote address at the “Mending Broken Britain? Education’s Response” Conference, which was organised by Curriculum Enrichment for the Common Era (CE4CE) and sponsored by Birmingham City University.

Against the background of the riots that spread across Britain in August 2011, this national conference aimed to unpick something of the complex causes of the unrest and analyse the crucial role of education in addressing these profound issues. The output of the conference has now been turned into a report that you can read here. Read the rest of this entry →