Promoting fear of 'becoming a minority' is racist demagogy, full stop
A Daily Express front page ‘special investigation’ booms:
311 LANGUAGES SPOKEN IN OUR SCHOOLS
Classrooms where English is starting to die out
“A decades-long open door policy on immigration has led to English-speaking pupils becoming a minority in hundreds of classrooms.”
There are two main problems with the story, both closely related.
The first is to do with what is actually happening at UK schools, about which the Express misleads its readers. The second is the story’s surreptitious racism.
For starters, most if not all children in British schools speak English. Whether it is their first or second language is irrelevant. As readers will know, many people who learn English as a second language speak it better than people for whom it is their first. It largely depends on the quality of their education.
So what the Express is really complaining about is that a minority of children in Britain (but a majority in a handful of schools) can speak more than one language.
If the ‘first language’ (and how does one determine ‘first’ and ‘second’ anyway?) in question was French rather than Bengali, would the Express mind so much?
To explore these points further, here’s a quote in the story from the paper’s own columnist, former Tory MP Anne Widdecombe:
“Whatever people speak when they arrive here doesn’t matter, lessons must always be taught in English – that’s just plain common sense.”
In point of fact, schools in Britain are required to teach in English. There is no evidence in the story of this not being the case in any schools. Instead the story uses phrases like ‘Punjabi is spoken’ in a way that could imply lessons are being conducted in Punjabi, with British kids unable to understand.
This implication or suggestion could certainly be picked up by readers – it worked well enough on Anne Widdecombe.
Ah, but wait – aren’t they all ‘British kids’?
The vast majority of pupils in UK schools were born in this country. So phrases like ‘when they arrive here’ give the game away.
Read the first line of the story again: ‘A decades-long open door policy on immigration has led to English-speaking pupils becoming a minority in hundreds of classrooms.’
It’s quite clear that the use of ‘English-speaking’ here stands in for ‘properly British’, ‘or ‘not foreign’.
The Express is using language as a surrogate for race.
Playing on the anxieties of readers and promoting fear about ‘becoming a minority’ is racist demagogy, full stop.
To use children as fodder in this disgraceful way shames the Daily Express – or would if such a thing were possible.
Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter
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