Poor white students, or in English English, white working class pupils, have been failed by decades of neglect in England’s education system.
A recent report by the Education Select Committee of the British Parliament has touched on a subject that that is embarrassing but, perhaps, also symptomatic of an issue that has far wider implications than the importance of the subject itself, both in the U.K. and the U.S.
The U.K. measures the number of poor students by those that are on the free-school-meals program – the program caters to those students who are deemed not to have sufficient nutrition at home.
The report says that, at GCSE (A national exam taken by all public school students), 18% of white British pupils on free meals achieved grade 5 in English and mathematics, compared with 23% for the average for pupils on free meals. For university entry, 16% of white British pupils on free meals get places, compared with 59% of black African pupils on free meals, 59% of Bangladeshi pupils on free meals, and 32% of black Caribbean pupils on free meals. The difference is astonishing and worrying.
The report goes on to say that the term “white privilege”, which suggests white students are at an advantage, is the opposite of the reality for poor white students.
Committee chairman Robert Halfon said, in the report, “If you think it’s about poverty, then it doesn’t explain why most other ethnic groups do much better. Poorer white pupils are falling behind every step of the way, with almost a million young people being affected.”
The report goes on to document why poor white students do so poorly, but the explanations, and the possible solutions suggested, would apply equally to the poor students from other ethnic backgrounds who appear to perform much better in national exams and university entrance. It doesn’t address why there is such a difference.
One might speculate that programs dedicated to helping different minorities are working, and that is positive. However, it seems that the assumption that “white” equates to privilege has relegated the white poor to a forgotten place in society.
Living in the U.S., my “connecting the dots” mentality, wonders if the same is not true of the white poor in America. I know, from my time as a lobbyist in Washington, that huge amounts of time, money and efforts have been expended on supporting and cultivating minority communities. That is commendable, and necessary, in a multi-cultural, dare I say, civilized country. However, I wonder if those initiatives have blinded us to the needs of a large part of the Nation.
One could speculate that the rise of the radical right might have something to do with a feeling of being ignored, and neglected, on the premise that “white” meant privilege, and therefore didn’t need any help or attention.
The rise of Donald Trump, and his successful exploitation of the radical right, and even many poor whites, could be traced back to this neglect.
Britain suffers from young, white, gang violence, as does the U.S., albeit on a much smaller scale – the population differences are huge.
Can we trace at least part of this problem back to the misconception that “white” automatically means privilege?
If we can, it might be reasonably simple to correct, even though it may take some time, and some major re-alignment of public thinking. Food for thought?