NEWS
24/07/2020 06:00 BST | Updated 25/07/2020 16:58 BST

A-Level Sociology Textbook Says Working Class Black Students 'Lack Reasoning Skills'

Exclusive: The book, published in 2015, has not been endorsed by AQA but is tailored to the exam board's syllabus.

Authors of an A-level sociology textbook have been criticised by teachers for publishing sweeping generalisations about Black people.

The third edition of AQA A Level Sociology Book One Including AS Level textbook, published by Napier Press in 2015, includes passages on the “cultural deprivation theory”, which states that “many children from low-income Black families lack intellectual stimulation and enriching experiences”. 

In sociology, cultural deprivation theory refers to the notion that particular social and ethnic groups have inferior norms, values, skills and knowledge.

Though the guide bears the AQA name on the front cover, it does not carry an “AQA endorsed” label and the exam board has stressed to HuffPost UK that it did not sign off on the text.

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AQA Sociology

Napier has told HuffPost UK that it does not endorse the theory, and includes it because the exam board requires it to be covered – a claim AQA has denied.

Teachers say the publication of the theory shows a lack of regard for wanting to tackle such stereotypical and racist views, and some have crossed out the passages in the books.

A section entitled “intellectual and linguistic skills” reads: “Cultural deprivation theorists see the lack of intellectual and linguistic skills as a major cause of underachievement for many minority children.

“They argue that many children from low-income Black families lack intellectual stimulation and enriching experiences.

“This leaves them poorly equipped for school because they have not been able to develop reasoning and problem solving skills.”

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Page Excerpt

Fran Nantongwe, a teacher of sociology at Reepham High School & College in Norfolk, teaches from this book but has said she instructed her students to disregard this excerpt altogether.

“The cultural deficit is downright insulting,” she told HuffPost UK. “There’s nothing in there about supplementary schools, for instance. You wouldn’t know that there were Black middle class families from reading that book; it gives the impression that young Black men are in the gutter stabbing each other.

“As a mother to a Black son, I find that excerpt painful to read. I certainly don’t use it in my lessons. I’ve prepared additional materials for my students and I’ve asked them not to use that section. In fact it’s literally crossed out in most of their books.”

A Napier spokesperson said: “It is indeed a generalisation, because we are providing a general overview of the theory.

“It does suggest a cultural deficit – this has given rise to a standard, longstanding criticism of the idea of cultural deprivation, closely associated with the work of Nell Keddie, whose criticisms we summarise under the heading: ‘The myth of cultural deprivation?’.

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Bereiter and Engelmann

“We are reporting the view of cultural deprivation theory, not our view. In the criticisms of the theory, we note that schools reflect white culture (i.e. not ‘mainstream’ culture), that they are ethnocentric and biased.

The criticisms of cultural deprivation theory are listed on a different page. Napier said it would be “inappropriate to cite individual sociologists” in the overview.

Further down in the text within the “intellectual and linguistic skills” segment, US based research – from 1966 – is used to justify another blanket assertion around UK families: language used by low income Black families is inconsistent with high academic attainment.

“Similarly, Bereiter and Engelmann consider the language spoken by low-income Black American families as inadequate for educational success. They see it as ungrammatical, disjointed and incapable of expressing abstract ideas,” the passage reads.

Sociology teachers have criticised the textbook authors’ decision to insert this decades old research in a modern textbook. They argue that, as far as the Black global experience, this creates a “one size fits all” impression, given that the language spoken in African American households and Black British households differ significantly.

Some have also taken issue with the suggestion that language used by low income Black families is inconsistent with high academic attainment, arguing that this further serves to other the Black family. 

Napier said it agreed with the criticism, stating: “We are reporting it as part of our effort to cover the mandated content for the exam. We are not endorsing it.”

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But teachers say the outdated theory is not labelled as such for the young people studying it.

Nantongwe said: “My students didn’t read it like that, which is why I asked them to cross it out! An outdated American study needs to be evaluated by a contemporary American sociolinguist such as April Baker-Bell.”

British researcher David Gillborn has written extensively on Black middle class families. His work in that field is not mentioned, but his writing – from 2008 – is cited in the same paragraph in reference to the high attainment of Asian students and further down in the textbook.

Napier said it had done its “best to give a clear and thorough account of Gillborn’s views”. But another sociology teacher, Charlotte Belmore, said: “This is not good enough.

“There has been no attempt whatsoever to update or diversify this book since 2015. It is lazy and shows a complete lack of regard for wanting to rectify or soften the blow of such stereotypical and racist views.”

Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images

Amid the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police in the US, there have been calls from campaigners to change what children in the UK are taught in schools. Some say it is the responsibility of the government to diversify the curriculum, while others say exam boards must take the lead.

Belmore, who teaches A-level sociology in one the most diverse schools in Derby with a high Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) student population, told HuffPost UK that she is “forever” having to apologise in advance for what the textbook designed to help with their studies is saying – about them, their families and culture.

“We approach it from a no nonsense and evaluative approach which is not how I should be spending my lessons,” she added.

Another passage in the book, under the heading “attitudes and values”, suggests “mainstream” culture equates to success and Black culture brings about failures.

It reads: “Cultural deprivation theorists see lack of motivation as a major cause of the failure of many Black children. Most children are socialised into the mainstream culture, which instils ambition, competitiveness and willingness to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve long-term goals.

“This equips them for education. By contrast, cultural deprivation theorists argue, some Black children are socialised into a subculture that instils a fatalistic, ‘live for today’ attitude that does not value education and leaves them unequipped for success.”

Belmore said: “I could go on and on about the failings of this book, as the leading textbook for AQA they [Napier] have an obligation to staff and students alike to present a product that is reflective and will offer sociology students an understanding of what their society looks like, to really showcase the fantastic diversity of our population, to have relevant and up date evidence.

“Instead what we have is more of the same. More out of touch and damaging evidence.”

A spokesperson from Napier Press told HuffPost UK: “The exam board AQA requires students to study cultural deprivation theory as part of their course and there have been exam questions on it. The AQA Teaching Guide states the minimum content to be covered for “differential educational achievement of social groups by class, gender and ethnicity in contemporary society” and includes cultural deprivation. 

“In common with other A-level sociology textbooks our book is simply reporting cultural deprivation theorists’ views, in line with AQA’s requirements. We do not share these views and our book in fact goes on to criticise cultural deprivation theorists’ explanations of ethnic differences in educational achievement.”

Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images

AQA has denied the the theory was required learning.

A spokesperson said: “Learning about cultural deprivation theory isn’t compulsory – and there are plenty of different studies on differential educational achievement to choose from – so there was no need whatsoever for this unapproved textbook to focus on these particularly offensive claims.” 

Lisa Akhtar, a London teacher, told HuffPost UK that “the stereotypes embedded within the textbook are unfair mainly to Black people but also Asian people.

“They [students] ask the question: ‘Ms, why is the book racist about us? We’re deemed to fail education, we’re not socialised properly’,” Akhtar, who’s of south Asian descent, said. 

“Can you imagine how devastating [that would be] if you’re a Black student sitting in an A-level sociology class?

“I’m conscientious and know what’s in that book, so I won’t cover it. But there are other teachers, non-specialist, who won’t understand that and will teach what’s in there.”

Akhtar added: “I would like them to change the book. We’re relying on these textbooks with outdated studies – but when they go to university, they’re not equipped for sociology at undergraduate level because what they’ve learned is not up to date.”

Akhtar said as well as placing Black students at a disadvantage, these teachings fuel harmful stereotypes among white students too.

“When you’re an educator, teaching content such as: ‘If you’re Black you’re more likely to come from single parent families’, ‘if you’re Black you’re not adequately socialised and can’t speak English properly’...to white students, imagine how they might go onto university (and into life), meet a Black person and think the worst.

“It reinforces stereotypes and that’s the devastating consequence. Ultimately it’s Black people who are going to suffer as a result of these topics being taught inadequately.”