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Exercise 3

In two or three sentences, explain what Carol Bergman thinks is important in preparing reading materials for black pupils.

Helping black teenagers to read

There have been substantial numbers of black children in Britain’s secondary schools for many years now, but most of the reading material available to them is still directed at the white majority. Carol Bergman, a young American who taught remedial reading classes for the Inner London Education Authority from 1968 until last year, believes that the lack of material to appeal directly to black students is part of the reason many of them need remedial reading at secondary level.
She has therefore written three short books for Heinemann Educational Books, in which the heroes are black children in situations which will be familiar to many black pupils. Although weak on plot in the conventional sense, the books are packed with incident. In one a schoolgirl runs away from home when she discovers she is pregnant. In another the hero, a teenager who cannot read, is suspended from school for pushing a teacher over.
Mrs Bergman thinks realism and honesty are important if the books are to fulfil their purpose. Thus there is a scene in one of them in which a black and a white boy, both in the same class, go to see the careers officer. The white boy is given a chit for a job interview, but when the black boy goes he is told the job market is bad. This is one of the factors contributing to his anger and his assault on the teacher.
‘This happens,’ Mrs Bergman told me. ‘There is much higher unemployment among black school-leavers than white. It doesn’t help to lie about the fact that there is discrimination and that it's harder for black kids.’
In the same way she thinks she has been honest about the schoolgirl’s pregnancy. ‘I make no moral statement about pregnancy,’ she said. ‘I leave it deliberately open-ended. People are going to get pregnant no matter what you do.’
I‘ hope it will stimulate discussion about what the girl should do. The important thing is that she goes back to her mother to discuss it and try to sort out what she should do. It will be resolved within the family.’
In the book about the violent boy - based on one of her former pupils - the headmaster is shown as sympathetic to him, trying to find the reason for his anger. Mrs Bergman, however, finds this comparatively rare among teachers in real life.
‘The teachers do not try to find out what is troubling them. They treat the symptoms, not the causes. Children get angry and they don't know why, and sometimes this anger interferes with their ability to read.’
‘Teachers have come up to me very often and said: “How do I begin to talk to these kids?” That’s very odd. They come to me, a white American, and ask how to talk to West Indians.’
She hopes the books will lead children on to reading more solid stuff from the school library. ‘I don't think to have them reading about their immediate background is the be-all and end-all of the educational process. But you have to start somewhere, and you may as well start where they are.’
Mrs Bergman is now a part-time tutor with the Open University, working at home to look after her year-old child. She does not plan any further similar books.
‘It was a freak that I did these’, she said. ‘I only did it because I became impatient at the lack of suitable materials. Now the time has come for publishers to approach black teachers to write this sort of book.’

(From a report in The Times)

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