Tiemo Talk of the Town
Brady Arts Centre
29th September 2006
Education, education, education.No this was not a Labour mantra but the talk of the town debate on September 29 2006 at Brady Arts Centre. This was the follow up to Tiemo’s first ‘The Trouble with Men’ debate on 7th June 2006. The panel included Kwame Kwei-Armah (Actor and Playwright), Professor Alistair Ross (Director of Policy Studies at the Institute for Education) and Lecturer at London Metropolitan University), Dr Sandra Richards (Educationalist), Brian Richardson (Editor, Tell It Like It is – How The School System Fails Black Children), and Coach Anthony H Lyken (Inspirational Speaker and Boot Camp Instructor).
They were gathered before a studio audience to discuss the role of black men in the education system and whether or not black women on the dating scene are more or less successful with a degree behind them. The facts say that there are a lot more women studying than men (of 1st degrees earned by Black British/Caribbean, 67% are earned by women. HESA 2005-06 and 2004-05), but the debate dispelled myths highlighting that the number of men going to university is decreasing. It is increasing, just not as fast as women. The debate explored whether attitude or experience determined progress in a career.
A variety of reasons were laid down to explain why men are not taking up education including a lack of self esteem. For Kwame the key to men’s liberation is men. He said that his mother (as well as his father) taught him to be a man. The panel debated the significance of single parent families and the role mothers or women can play in bringing up boys and encouraging them academically. Kwame controversially posed the question ‘Are today’s generation of women instilling in their boys the values which his mother instilled in him?’ in other words, “Are young mothers failing their boys?” He said single mothers needed greater support from the wider community, highlighting how his male relations and friends will step in as almost “surrogate” dads if he was away and his boys needed “dealing with” i.e. “it takes a village to raise a family …” He would take on such a father figure role for these men’s children, if they ever needed him to step in, in their absence or times or difficult times.
For Dr. Richards the problem is that men are not reminded enough of their history and their potential. She said that black men are experiencing unique problems and are pathologised in this society and refused to take that stance towards black men. The panel felt that regarding the attitude versus experience debate, education is an attitude. They also felt that the academic plight of black men was possibly a class issue rather than a race issue.
That said, they extolled the virtues of adult education, and embraced a holistic approach to education. Brian Richardson felt that the debate about education and black boys involves recurring themes about a lack of role models, media and music and too much/little confidence. Kwame felt that confidence was coming from the wrong places. He said that his mother taught him that you can be bright and cool, academic and down and he gave anecdotes about his educated yet cool students in New York.
The audience suggested that modern apprenticeships were an alternative to qualifications for those not academically minded. Dr Richards made a valid point about whether certificates are needed to validate people. She pointed out that some of the wisest people are not academically qualified. Kwame suggested those excluded from the school system needed to develop their common sense, business sense and entrepreneurial skills to get on in this society.
The debate moved on to discuss the option of self employment as a means of progress, but Kwame felt that education has value outside of making money. He noted that black children must “supersede circumstances no matter what.” He also spoke about his aspirations for his children and the way in which he is supported by a wider community when raising his family. The benefits of networking were widely endorsed, including the networking opportunities gained from being a student.
Alistair reminded the audience that we are living in a knowledge based society and that working class jobs are fast disappearing. The speakers on the night highlighted the role of parents, teachers and school governors in the education system.
The debate moved on to love and education and questioned whether a black woman can find a love match when black males are not as visible in the education system. The general consensus was that women do not need a man with a degree but rather a man with a degree of common sense and correct, responsible attitude to being a man and they emphasised the difference between being “educated” and being “schooled”.
Kwame raised a point that with a couple needing from £60,000-80,000 to buy a London property, economics may determine a love match. Thus, he said black women cannot be surprised when their relationships with ‘ragamuffin’ fail. Additionally, Professor Alistair Ross pointed out that education should culturally transform you and this has implications if your partner is not on the same wavelength. Dr Richards added that it is important that a man is not intimidated by an educated woman.
Brian concluded by saying this was a frank, honest, informed and creative debate. The conclusion pointed out by Alistair was a need to “raise our game”… Noting that there were more women in the audience than men , Coach questioned whether men are ready to confront what is wrong in their lives. “Poor character will destroy you. Attitude will determine your success or failure, he went on to say.”
To conclude the education debate, Coach ended with the most poignant question of all. “Where is the richest place on earth ?” …. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
By Fiona McKinson
© Tiemo Talk of the Town
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