Bernard Coard on the Cultural Bias

“The Cultural Bias: This normally takes the form of linguistic difference between West Indian English and ‘standard classroom’ English. The West Indian child’s choice of words, usage, and meaning of words, pronunciation, and intonation, sometimes present tremendous difficulties in communication with the teacher, and vice versa. This factor, while recognized in a lip service way by many of the teachers and other authorities involved, is often ignored when assessing and generally relating to the child. Thus, teachers often presume to describe West Indian children as being ‘dull’, when in fact no educated assessment of the child’s intelligence can be made under these circumstances. In addition, many behaviour patterns and ways of relating to the teacher which are part of West Indian culture are misunderstood by the teacher, who usually has no understanding of or inclination to learn about the West Indian culture. The ILEA report (page 10) points out that only three of the nineteen schools suggested as a helpful method the training of teachers about the culture of the immigrant’s country. While certain initial attempts are being made to educate teachers in this direction, the scope and direction of the programme—and the people running it—make one very sceptical about its usefulness.

On common difficulty, for instance, arises from the fact that the child is not expected to talk and ‘talk back’ as much in the West Indian classroom as he is here, in the English classroom. English teachers tend to interpret this apparent shyness and relative unresponsiveness as indicating silent hostility or low intelligence. Many teachers have said to me that only after years of experience have they discovered that when the West Indian child does not understand what they are saying, he replies ‘Yes’, because he thinks this is expected of him in his relationship with the teacher. Moreover, many children fear that they may arouse the teacher’s anger or be thought stupid if they as her to repeat what she has said.”

Excerpted from: Coard, Bernard. How the West Indian Child Is Made Educationally Sub-Normal in the British School System: 50th Anniversary Expanded Fifth Edition. Kingston, Jamaica: McDermott Publishing, 2021.

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