The reason I’m Mr Patel the school teacher and not Pran Patel the famous scientist is because of one question I could not answer on my first day at university.
But to help me understand why I did not have the answer back then, I went back into the school system I grew up in – the British school system – to see it from a teacher’s perspective, and then a school leader’s perspective, and as a curriculum lead and mental health advocate…
I’m from a working-class town in the Midlands and I was blessed with a great upbringing and an amazing family structure so I learnt and learnt and learnt everything my teachers had to teach me and then went onto university. My first lecture was on quantum physics.
…and this lecture included ideas, thoughts, and provocations on the advancement of knowledge.
But in today’s TALK we are going to deconstruct the knowledge that is taught in British schools so that TOGETHER we can find a better way to reconstruct it.
This conversation matters for all current teachers, all future teachers and anyone who has or will ever be educated in the British school system. So that only about 66, 67 million people, and counting.
Here we go!
What is knowledge?
What do we accept as knowledge?
And the question I couldn’t answer…
What have Indians ever done for the advancement of human knowledge?
Another student asked me this in our friendly chat after our first lecture. Before he asked, he just wanted to check one thing, ‘Is your dad Indian?’ He said. I said yea. This doesn’t rub off.
I shook off that question to answer the other one on knowledge. I thought I’ve got this:
‘I’m pretty sure Mahatma Gandhi is /’ ‘No no no no no,’ he said. ‘Gandhi was an activist…’
he repeated the question for me:
‘How have YOU Indians ever contributed to the sum of human knowledge?’
The answer was not obvious to this white-British student at a British university.
And it wasn’t obvious to me a British-Indian student on a physics course.
Because I didn’t have an answer, I felt ashamed of who I was. I thought it meant I couldn’t contribute to human knowledge, no matter how much I wanted to.
To this day I have never felt more Inferior.
Is this what education is for?
I was 18 years old product of the British school system. The only people I could think of who had contributed to the sum of human knowledge were white and British, perhaps European origin
It was like there had been no other players.
Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Tesla, Galileo.
I knew what scientists like these had contributed like the back of my hand. I could talk about them all day. But ask me what people who looked like me had contributed…
I knew what scientists like these had contributed like the back of my hand. I could talk about them all day. But ask me what people who looked like me had contributed… Click To Tweet
I had nothing to draw on.
If we agree that this isn’t right and that the purpose of our education system is much more… we have work to do…
If we say ‘No! This is not what education is for!’ Then we have work to do.
The thing is…
Saying to teachers ‘we have work to do!’ (no matter how much energy I put into those words) – it’s like asking footballers to juggle as they run. We are flat out already. I get it. The BBC have literally interviewed me about the anxiety, sleeplessness and depression that seem to come with this amazing job. Like a whole range of anti-bonuses!
What I say to teachers is…
Make changes that inspire you.
Because when you do that you get energy. When you do something because you believe it is right and you see the difference it makes for your students, everything else becomes a little bit easier.
I’m calling this project ‘Decolonise the Curriculum’ and to make it easy for everyone I’m going to tell you about some great scientists I think all British students should know about too…
Chandrashekhara Venkata Raman: Indian. Ever wonder why the sea is blue? These scientists did and he discovered why. His discovery became the well known the Raman effect and this earned him a Nobel Prize for Physics.
Flossie Wong-Staal: An Asian immigrant to the US, in the during 1980s AIDS epidemic, became the first person to clone HIV and genetically map the virus, a critical step in developing blood tests for the virus
Charles Richard Drew, This African American doctor was the first to create a blood bank during world war 2 and his work and expertise in plasma preservation is still used today.
It’s time for British schools to acknowledge and celebrate all the players in the game of advancing human knowledge.
I first realised how easy it was to uncover all this hidden knowledge about where our knowledge has come from right after that conversation on my first day at university.
Instead of following all the other students to the pub,
I went to the library.
Get this, there I learnt that ‘zero’ was discovered in India in the 6th or 7th century and that changed everything. Our number system (12345) is Hindu-Arabic and it was introduced to Europe through the writings of Middle Eastern mathematicians. Who were they? I found out.
I hope you see how easy it would be to mention this in school, at home, wherever. I mean, teachers had only been teaching me maths since I was 5 years old!
What I want to leave you with is news that the work to decolonise the curriculum has already started.
Researchers and teachers are becoming uncomfortably aware of how white our Literature curriculum is and how nationalistic the History we teach is. It’s time to acknowledge the valuable contributions from all nationalities in the wider curriculum too.Researchers and teachers are becoming uncomfortably aware of how white our Literature curriculum is and how nationalistic the History we teach is. It’s time to acknowledge the valuable contributions from all nationalities in the wider… Click To Tweet
One teacher, one lesson, one classroom at a time we can decolonise the curriculum.
Just think about it. You could be teaching the next Raman, Wong-Staal or Drew.