Tag Archives: Bernard Coard

The Culture Supplement: Black British Supplementary Schools for Children of Windrush

This is refugee week, as well as Windrush week, in the UK, and I wanted to combine those two events by continuing my thinking about the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.  This week my focus is on Principle 7, which states that “The child is entitled to receive education which shall be free and compulsory, at least in the elementary stages. He shall be given an education which will promote his general culture and enable him, on a basis of equal opportunity, to develop his abilities, his individual judgement, and his sense of moral and social responsibility, and to become a useful member of society.”  In Britain, the first part of this is and has been done, for citizen, immigrant, and refugee alike.  But the second half of the statement, about an education that promotes the child’s culture and sense of self, has been much more difficult to achieve for newcomers to Britain.

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Bernard Coard’s book highlighted the plight of the Black child in British schools in the late 1960s and early 70s–and led to an increase in supplementary education.

In the late 1960s, the children of the Windrush generation—some of whom had come to Britain after their parents got settled, and some of whom were born in the country—began attending British schools in large numbers, particularly in the urban centers of London, Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester.  Many schools struggled to accommodate them.  Arguing language difficulties, behavioral problems, and lack of preparedness for school, teachers placed a considerable percentage of Black children (particularly boys) in what were then called ESN (Educationally SubNormal) classrooms.  This was meant to be a temporary measure for most children, but many never left the ESN classrooms, and left school without qualification or skills—sometimes not even knowing how to read—because of it.

The official line from the British government was that these children should assimilate into British society, and accept British customs and traditions.  But parents of Black British children saw the situation differently.  They felt that it was because their children were being asked to give up their culture and not taught their history that they were disinterested in school.  Many of the parents had come to Britain to give their children a better chance at education and they weren’t going to watch them lose that chance because the government felt that their children ought to be just like white Britons.  Through organizations and movements such as the Black Parents Movement, the Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association, and the Anti-Banding Campaign, Black parents worked together to provide the missing piece of education for their children: the culture and history of their own people.  Bernard Coard’s How the West Indian is Made Educationally Sub-Normal in the British Schools, published by Black British publisher John LaRose in 1971, gave parent groups the impetus and the statistics they needed to organize and fight for their children’s rights to maintain a sense of pride in their culture.

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John LaRose, who helped start the George Padmore school, and Jessica and Eric Huntley, who were involved with the Marcus Garvey school and later the Peter Moses school, published children’s books and supported those who did.  Photo from “I Dream to Change a World” exhibition in 2015.

Since they generally could not get the schools to teach Black history and culture (and to be fair, most white British teachers had never been prepared to do so), Black parents set up a number of Supplementary Schools: local, after school or Saturday programmes staffed by some trained teachers and many more interested but untrained parent volunteers.  Some of these schools had only a few children; others had fifty or more.  The George Padmore school, started by John LaRose in his own living room, began with only four children: his own two sons, and two of their friends.  But large or small, the critical element was improving the experience of Black children in the British schools.  Initially, the supplementary schools concentrated on what one school, the Marcus Garvey school in Shepherds Bush, called “simple MATHS and elementary ENGLISH” (note to parents, found in the London Metropolitan Archives, LMA/4463/D/01/006) because the children were so far behind their white counterparts.  But even early on the supplementary schools wanted to improve the children’s sense of self; John LaRose, writing about the founding of the George Padmore school in Finsbury Park, said that the late 1960s “was a time when anxiety about the education system in Britain and what it was doing to black children had already surfaced . . . the schools gave black children no understanding of their own background history and culture and no help in understanding their experience of the society in Britain” (George Padmore Institute Archives, BEM 3/1).  One of the important ways that supplementary schools helped Black children develop a sense of identity was through a study of their history and culture in their reading material.

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Longmans history of Equiano was used by the George Padmore school. Illustrated by Sylvia and Cyril Deakins.

We can get a look at that reading material because fortunately, some of the schools kept records of the books they used.  Many schools included biographies, from the self-produced biographies of Caribbean figures like Alexander Bustamante at the George Padmore school to standardized educational biographies (the George Padmore also used biographies of people like Wilt “the Stilt” Chamberlain from the American group, Science Research Associates or SRA, which produced a graded reading scheme in the 1960s and 1970s that I used in my own childhood).  Some of the material came from mainstream publishers, such as John R. Milsome’s biography of Olaudah Equiano: The slave who helped to end the slave trade (Longmans 1969) or Phyllis M. Cousins Queen of the Mountains (jointly published by Ginn and the Jamaican Ministry of Education 1967, about Nanny of the Maroons).

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The publishers Ginn and Co. worked with the Jamaican Ministry of Education to produce this biography of Nanny of the Maroons. Illustrated by Gay Galsworthy.

The fact that Queen of the Mountains was a joint publication between Ginn and the Jamaican Ministry of Education was important, because much of the history used by supplementary schools was not available in British textbooks.  Supplementary schools had to look back to the Caribbean for reading texts that reflected their own children’s history and culture as well.  Although several reading schemes, including Leila Berg’s Nippers published by Macmillan and the Breakthrough series published by Longman, did by the early 1970s include Black characters in some of their stories, very little reflected the traditions or a positive view of the contemporary Caribbean.  This may be why the George Padmore and Albertina Sylvester School (the two schools combined to share resources) used reading texts from the Caribbean, such as Inez M. Grant’s The Island Readers from Collins and the Jamaican Ministry of Education instead of British readers. In reader 2A, Stories for Work and Play (1966), children in the supplementary school could read about the modern manufacturing of condensed milk in Jamaica, as well as the traditional celebration of John Canoe—which came originally from an African source.  In this, the Black British child had his or her culture supported, and have a firmer foundation on which to build a future.

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An illustration of the John Canoe celebrations by Dennis Carabine for Inez Grant’s story, “Betty and Harold see John Canoe” in the Island Readers Stories for Work and Play.

The supplementary school was an important feature of Black British life in the 1970s and beyond (many still are running today).  It led me to wonder if refugee or other immigrant children might be having similar issues as Black children had in the 1970s—and whether book publishers might think about ways to support them in understanding their past, present and future through books that recognize and celebrate their culture.

We’re Here Because You Were There—and There, and There: British Children’s Literature and Migration

Britain’s empire once expanded all over the world, dominating at its high point one-quarter of the world’s land mass and the lives of one-sixth of its people. After World War II, the (former) imperial traffic went the other way, as Louise Bennett has put it, “people colonizin’/Englan in Reverse” (“Colonization in Reverse”). By 1970, people of Jamaican descent alone numbered 1.4 million of Britain’s population—and a third of those were children born in Britain. Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani, and African people were all among the postwar waves of immigration into Britain. As the new populations of Britons grew up, there was concern among their foreign-born parents that these children would not value or understand their dual heritage. Books to help children focus on their “other” heritage through a recognition of the geographies and histories of empire, began appearing as early as 1972.

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Getting to Know Ourselves by Bernard and Phyllis Coard linked children in the Caribbean to their contemporaries in Africa. The book was published by independent publishers Eric and Jessica Huntley (pictured in front.).

At first, it was independent publishers such as Bogle L’Ouverture Press producing these books. Bogle L’Ouverture, run by Guyanese immigrants Jessica and Eric Huntley, began publishing in the late 1960s to provide access for Black Britons to the writings of political activists such as Walter Rodney, but as their own children began to encounter the white, Eurocentric school system, they expanded their publishing to include children’s books. Their first venture was written by Bernard and Phyllis Coard, Getting to Know Ourselves. Bernard Coard had written his doctoral dissertation on the exploitation of Africa; his wife Phyllis was a clinical psychologist who specialized in the emotional disorders linked to racism. The book they produced for children introduced two children from Jamaica to two children from Africa, and explained why they looked alike. They were linked, the book explains, through a history of slavery. Although the book is indirect about both their enslavers and the horrors of slavery, it does provide child readers with a history that was almost entirely absent from the schools at the time.

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Not quite at the point of saying Two BRITISH children visit Pakistan.

By the late 1980s, more mainstream educational publishers were also producing books for young people that discussed the links between empire in the 19th century and migration in the 20th. Macmillan Education, for example, produced a series called “At Home and Abroad” that addressed South Asian and Caribbean migration to Britain. Steve Harrison’s At Home and Abroad with Amar and Zarqa: Two Muslim Children Visit Pakistan is one of this series. It is very text-heavy, but in part this is because it is trying to, as it were, make up for lost history. The book starts out by explaining, “The children in this book are Amar, a boy of twelve, and Zarqa, a ten-year-old girl. They are British, but they have never met many of their relatives. Their oldest relatives live thousands of kilometres away, in Pakistan. To understand why the members of this family live so far apart we need to look back into history” (4). Harrison then goes on to describe the British Empire, the South Asian contribution to Britain’s WWI and WWII war efforts (“Many people are surprised” by the fact that non-Europeans fought, Harrison says on the same page), the after-effects of independence from the British, and migration. The children visit many places in Pakistan, learning its history but also enjoying its fairs and festivals and seeing the way people in Pakistan lived on a daily basis. Amar and Zarqa enjoy their time, but conclude that they consider themselves British: “I now know that although my home will always be Britain, I’m part of a bigger family that is spread across the world” (47), says Amar, and Zarqa adds, “we’re a part of the village even though our future is in Britain” (47). This series focuses on the heritage that British-born children have outside of Britain.

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Patel’s book widens the definition of British to include Top of the Pops and Hindu comics.

Another education series, Franklin Watts’ “When I was Young” books, includes at least one offering that explores the history of migration. Tarun Patel writes about When I Was Young in the Seventies (1991). Unlike Amar and Zarqa, Patel was born outside the UK, coming to Britain in 1972 from Kampala, Uganda, after Idi Amin expelled all the Asians in the country. This rarely-discussed (in children’s books, anyway) forced migration shaped Patel’s life. Because the Ugandan government made them leave within 72 hours, “and the soldiers made sure you weren’t taking any valuables . . . We were poor when we arrived in London” (6). Patel knew no English, when he and his family arrived, and he describes learning the language from British children’s television. Thus, Patel was both part of and separate from British culture at the same time. He experiences racism from skinheads, who “called all the Asian kids ‘Paki’” (16) but also learned about strikes during the Thatcher era. He watched “Top of the Pops”—Bay City Rollers was a favorite—but also watches Hindi films. “I couldn’t understand the dialogue,” he says, “but I loved the fight scenes and the songs” (19). In a reverse of his education in British culture, he also has to learn about Hindu culture—but he does this through comic books as well as going to temple. Like Amar and Zarqa, however, Patel sees his future in the UK: “I’d really like to go into hotel development here and in Europe, that’s my ambition at the moment” (26). The book focuses on Patel in Britain, but describes his links with his Hindu heritage and the history of empire as well.

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Kamal learns about steel bands instead of the Empire in Frederick’s book.

This is a continuing story. In 2006, the independent, multicultural-focused publisher Frances Lincoln produced a series called “Children Return to their Roots”. The series included Malcolm Frederick’s and Prodeepta Das’ Kamal Goes to Trinidad. This book, which I’ve written about before (see “My (Black) Britain: The West Indies and Britain in Twenty-First Century Nonfiction Picture Books,” Bookbird 50.3: 1-11), is similar to the “At Home and Abroad” series, except that it shows a country much further beyond independence. Thus, the Trinidadians are connected in the text to the world, but not as specifically to Britain as Pakistan was in Harrison’s text. Kamal Goes to Trinidad shows a British child learning about his roots; he visits Trinidad because his grandparents live there, but he lives in Britain because the British were everywhere.

Thanks as always to Seven Stories for access to their book collection; they own the copies of the Coards, Harrison, and Patel texts.

Mindfulness of a Different Sort: Radical Coloring Books of the 1970s

We’ve all seen the coloring books—in bookstores, in grocery stores, in gift shops—that purport to make you “mindful” through coloring. These books are everywhere, and come in all sorts of themes (Alice in Wonderland, butterflies, the “original mindfulness” of mandalas). Coloring, these books argue, is not just for children anymore (as usual, the best way to insult something is to argue that it’s “just for children” and to say otherwise is to “reinvent” it better than before). One advertising blurb I read said claimed that Colour Yourself Calm was “The original mindful colouring book for adults, from the author of the bestselling Little Book of Mindfulness” and could be used to “Relax, meditate and banish stress. Release unconscious knowledge and calm thought through painting and colouring.” Unconscious knowledge. Amazing.

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Coloring as a way to stop worrying and learn to love the bomb.

Now, I’ve nothing against coloring as an activity; thanks to an artistic aunt, my brothers and sister and I colored (and painted and drew and made papier-mâché) long after the age we were supposed to find it fun. And even today, I take my sketchbook and pencils when I go to an art museum and make dreadful copies of paintings or wonky sketches of sculpture, all the while cursing the fact that I wasn’t born a rich Victorian girl (or at least Amy March) with a drawing master and a Grand Tour of Europe. But the kind of “mindfulness” that the rash of adult coloring books now out advocate is a very different kind of coloring for mindfulness in coloring books of the 1970s.

In the late 1960s, Black Power movements consolidated and the Black Panther organization was growing, not just in America, but all over the world. Radicalism in Black community movements increased following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. Many police forces, local as well as national, feared the rise of violence and became more oppressive in their enforcement tactics. This included the American FBI, who in 1968 posted The Black Panther Coloring Book to white-led households to discredit the organization. The coloring book had “beautiful black men” being urged to “kill the pigs” in fairly brutal fashion. It’s unclear what effect the coloring book had, although some have argued that it helped widen the gap between Black and white in America.

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Sure, I believe that Black Panthers would give this to their kids, Mr. FBI man.

Most of the commentary I have found online is about white reaction to The Black Panther Coloring Book, but this is not to say that non-white communities were unaware or indifferent to the book. In fact, radical Black Power-influenced groups rejected the FBI’s attempts to infantilize the Black Panthers, not by making an adult coloring book of their own, but by using the coloring book as a teaching tool for children. Two examples, one from Britain and one from Guyana, show how Black Power ideals were being taught to children through the medium of the coloring book.

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Jessica Huntley, at Bogle L’Ouverture, didn’t sit around coloring–she commissioned books for kids that would teach them self-love and activism.

The first of these was not necessarily intended as a coloring book, but it was designed as a book for children to use. Made with paperboard covers and stapled together, with black and white line drawings, Getting to Know Ourselves was produced by Bogle L’Ouverture Press, an independent Black British Press, as their first children’s book, in 1972. Jessica Huntley, the publisher, had commissioned the book from Bernard and Phyllis Coard specifically to teach Black children about their heritage. Bernard Coard had a PhD in African history from the SOAS in London; Phyllis Coard was a child psychologist. Both were concerned with the damage to self-image that the British education system was having on young Black children, who were routinely excluded from classrooms and/or placed in classes for the “Educationally Sub-Normal.” The book they produced taught Garveyite/Black Power principles of self-love and Pan-Africanism. The first mention I saw of it as a “colouring book” was in Margaret Andrews Doing Nothing is not an Option, a biography of Jessica Huntley and her husband Eric. I was not sure about the designation—there’s no mention of it as a coloring book in the Huntleys’ archive—but I saw it in action at last summer’s Dream to Change the World exhibition at the Islington Public Library, about radical Black publishing in London. At the end of the exhibit, coloring pages were put out for children to complete—photocopied pages from Getting to Know Ourselves.

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Child visitors to the 2015 exhibit were supplied with coloring pages from Getting to Know Ourselves.

Seven Stories, where I’ve been working over the last year, has recently acquired material from Rosemary Stones, the writer, editor and publisher of children’s books such as Mother Goose Comes to Cable Street and the anti-racist Children’s Book Bulletin. In amongst her books was another coloring book from the same period as Getting to Know Ourselves, this time from Guyana. We are One: They Came from Asia is “A Co-operative Republic of Guyana Coloring Book” produced in 1973. The text was written by Allan A. Fenty and the illustrations done by Victor Dawson. Like the British publication, We are One focuses on history and self-image, but extends these Black Power principles out to Asian Caribbeans. I suspect the coloring book may have been part of a series (I can envision a companion, We are One: They Came from Africa), but I’ve no evidence of this (if anyone reading this can help, please do comment).

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We Are One: a coloring book from Guyana

 

 

 

 

The key message from both these coloring books is one that counters The Black Panther Coloring Book: not vengeful hatred of others, but love of self. And not, like today’s mindfulness coloring books, a love of self that gazes inward to calm passivity, but a love of self that calls for activism. To be mindful in these books is to be aware of your connections, past and present, to other people, and to do something positive to enhance these connections—and we could all do with a little more of that kind of mindfulness.  Skip the unconscious knowledge–let’s release a little more conscious knowledge, crayons at the ready.