Johnny, an elderly male from south Asia, talked fondly of the colonial rule, he regaled me with his experiences of learning Shakespeare and English literature. He is still enamoured by the use of language, the way it resonates in the mouth and the soul.
I hesitate in our conversation as I notice the tears rolling down his face, not the usual sobs but the calm continuous streams. He then recalled his late wife.
“How we shared English tea and the poetry that brought us together, every night, on this very balcony. ”
He was grateful for his British education because it gave him the words to ‘win’ his bride through a series of Shakespeare inspired poems.
We teachers matter, what teachers do matters, it really matters. Our roles have the capacity to change lives, to create a love for and of all things. The act of learning gives people the tools to express that love in a multitude of languages, verbal, non-verbal, and allows people to dream.
After speaking to various people in their 60s, 70s and 80s, I have gained a perspective of their education in their formative years. Many people talk fondly of their curricula and experiences at school to an almost patriotic point.
We know as educators how important our role in instilling knowledge and skills in our formative years is. We also consequently know that this knowledge and these skills contribute to the beliefs we hold through our adult life.
Yes, in our contexts, there is literature to state that teacher beliefs may impact on our practice; this is not controversial or new. If you are taught that there is a right way of doing something, this impacts on our beliefs. We are products of our environment. Hence, it is not a massive leap of faith that we would propagate the same narratives taught to us in our early years.
For those people who grew up in the colonies of the British Empire this patriotism has led to a false ideological stance that puts the British as culturally, intellectually, economically, and in some cases genetically superior. I’d point out here that we could exchange British for any colonial power.
In this piece, I could describe the misalignment and impact of colonised education, but that is for another day. The most important consequence of this education I alluded to earlier, is the impact on adults and in particular educators.
Teachers educated under colonial times will live with the ideological indoctrination of the above, and through no fault of their own, they are likely to propagate the same rhetoric.
Now, you teachers educated in Britain, do you feel an ideological indoctrination?
I would ask you to name 10 people you admire from your school years.
Now bear in mind that the global population is around 80-85% non-white (global majority), does this match your list? 50% are women, 15% are non-heterosexual, does your list match those proportions? If not, why not?
Consequently, the same rhetoric and narratives propagate through generations. I have often heard educators talk about
“The best that has ever been thought and said”
As a child, I wondered the ‘best’ must have favoured the English language and people who of us who have a deficit in melanin.
As educators do we look objectively?
Do we allow the non-conventional (uncomfortable) truths which impact on the curriculum and our practice?
How do school leaders create an environment that supports this more authentic disruption?
Are we guilty of falling back on the anecdotal evidence from our own experience?
We can commit to unlearning the taught ideologies through our schooling. Your choice is to either pledge to change the way you think and act or continue to be part of a herd which damages our society for generations.