“One of the ways in which the school system thinks they can treat us is that they genuinely believe we are all a bunch of — I don’t know — cowhands. They never assumed that the same spread of intelligence, professional careers, white-collar jobs, blue-collar jobs that you have in this country, we would have had where we came from.”

Mrs. Bartholemew

The final entry in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anothology, Education explores the sidelining of West Indian children’s schooling through a policy of pushing them out of the regular school system and into “Educationally Sub-Normal” ESN schools. These poorly run institutions reinforced a system already stacked against them, eradicating prospects of success or a desire to better oneself. Although the shortest in the series, the script’s narrow focus avoids the issues of Alex Wheatle in becoming spread too thin. We start and remain mostly with Kingsley, but the film’s perspective does shift briefly to other members of the Smith household: we see his mother’s frustration and then defensiveness and guilt that she lacks the time to be as involved as she would like in her child’s life; we see his sister’s concern as the one who can best see what is happening to her brother; and we see his father’s sense that the family views his manual work with disdain. Education portrays the failure of ESN schools through the boredom of the classroom with students either unchallenged or unsupervised. A teacher playing an extended rendition of House of the Rising Sun on acoustic guitar feels like a deliberate inversion of Jack Black in School of Rock: an uninspiring teacher with a disintereseted class who would prefer to be taught. The confrontation and resolution occurs without much friction, but there are some powerful admissions of how first generation immigrants feel about the country and what they find themselves passing on to their children. Perhaps the most lasting impression for me is one that remains valid today: how galling it was to hear a child describe the history of his ancestors as being slaves, having been taught nothing of the rich culture that predated British colonisation.


Small Axe anthology: Mangrove | Lovers Rock | Red, White and Blue | Alex Wheatle | Education