Positive charges

I was less than surprised by a report I read in and English newspaper, The Independent, which commented on research that boys did worse when told that girls were cleverer. I have encountered few people in my life who have thrived from being told how well they under-achieved, or how poorly they did relative to some other group. On the contrary, I often found that people even with clear abilities would revert to expectations, if these were low. I saw this a lot in the UK, with the children of Caribbean immigrants often languishing in a school system where they were told constantly that they were below par (in some words or other). So, what happens? Most of them do badly at school and drop out and get into a spiral of dysfunctional behaviour and social problems.Told you!

It was always odd to see this play out when one considers that these children came from backgrounds where, even though parents might not have had high levels of formal education, they had been bred to extol the virtues of education. “Study your books,” was a familiar phrase to a Jamaican child in Jamaica and in a Jamaican household. Jamaican and other Caribbean children excelled for generations under a British education system and still do very well academically within the Caribbean, and often also once they left schools in the region and went to colleges or universities in North America and Europe. So, apart from the negative effects that come from having to relocate, why should they tend to do so badly in a similar or even identical education system outside the Caribbean?

People of European origin may start to pay more attention to negative stereotyping now that it seems to affect a gender and not just an ethnic or racial group other than their own. In many black communities, we have had a double whammy, and seen a rapid falling off in the academic performance of males relative to females, and this has moved across the range from intake ratios to graduation rates to those who excel. Part of that is a natural changing of the gender imbalance that existed before in many institutions, over many generation, of which academic ones are part. But, part of it also reflects a tendency for males to be marginalized, and to marginalize themselves–there is chicken and egg to sort out. But, put that trend into the context of one where the black male is a creature to be feared even loathed–even by other black people–and there is a nasty poison flowing.

I said to someone the other day that I would not wish a boy child onto any one of my friends. I was told I was being unfair to my gender. I tried to explain that boys and later men (and I did not even get into the racial overlay) now come with different baggage and tend to get less protection than they really need, perhaps in a belief (another stereotype?) that being male means being able to withstand all onslaughts. My daughters are never encouraged to excel on the basis that they needed to tread on some boy, but because they needed to see the virtues of learning and how to rise above each and every challenge.

We have two daughters who have already graduated from university,and are now on the next steps in their lives. We also have a budding first grader. I know that the world has moved on a lot since I was at school and even since our older daughters were at school. I don’t expect that at school my youngest daughter will be told that she and her girl classmates are cleverer than any boys in the class. She certainly wont get that message at home.

I try hard to avoid use of the s***** word, with regard to anyone; President Obama already took his licks for using it with regard to the Louis Gates arrest. It’s a very relative but destructive term, and in someone’s else’s eyes it’s a mantle that may fit me or you, too.


About The Grasshopper

Professional international economist, recently retired from an international organization. I use blogging as a way of organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, and spent many years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for a few decades, and worked and travelled abroad extensively. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of girls. Also, married to an economist.
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