A Teacher’s Perspective of Racism

This is a guest post from Gemma Clark who is a white Primary teacher and EIS Rep. Teaches in Inverclyde.

I like most people, have been watching with horror as events unfold in America. The frequent murder of black men and the realisation of the true extent of white supremacy leaves us shocked and wondering how this can still be happening in 2020. How can people be murdered for going for a run, for driving their cars, for existing? Thank goodness it doesn’t happen here in our very tolerant Scotland where refugees are welcome and affectionately termed ‘refuweegies’.

I like most people, have been watching with horror as events unfold in America. The frequent murder of black men and the realisation of the true extent of white supremacy leaves us shocked and wondering how this can still be happening… Click To Tweet


But racism is very much a fact of life here in Scotland, and we as white people are often (if unintentionally) complicit with it. It is our duty, as educators to learn about our white privilege, our biases and work towards being not just ‘not racist’ but actively antiracist.


Confronting our own compliance with and even participation in racism is uncomfortable and takes a real awakening. I was raised by liberal parents. My dad had a photo of Martin Luther King on the Wall and bought my niece black as well as white dolls to play with. I was educated on racism. I knew that racists are terrible people and that I am not like these people. About 15 years ago, I was utterly offended at being sent for the mandatory ‘antiracist training’ by a former employer. I am not a racist. That training is not for by people like me. I have now realised that I was completely wrong about this.

Several years after being offended that my employer had the audacity to send me, an educated and enlightened person, to antiracist training, I completed my teacher training. One evening while scrolling Twitter, I noticed one of our university lecturers was recommending a book, ‘Why I am no Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge. This lecturer had made a big impression on me during my training as she made me realise that teachers can play an essential role in supporting pupils from marginalised groups (and that great responsibility comes with this). Seeing this tweet coincided with a friend of mine telling me about his plans to emigrate to Dubai where he once lived for a couple of years. When I asked him why he wanted to move, he told me he was tired of racism and had enjoyed not having to deal with it in Dubai. I was ignorantly surprised. ‘But Scotland isn’t a racist country’? My friend was patient enough to explain to me that Scotland IS in fact, plagued by racism but that I don’t see it. I can do my shopping without getting dirty looks; I don’t need to hear the nasty comments about ‘these people’ or listen to insinuations that I am probably a terrorist. I can move through an airport without being treated at best with suspicion or at worst like a criminal. At this point, I was finally beginning to realise that there were a lot of things that I do not know or have the slightest understanding of. I downloaded Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book on Audible and vowed to listen with an open mind.


The author discusses the history of violence and racism towards Black people in the UK. She cites many statistics that clearly demonstrate the disadvantage that BME people suffer in the UK. She then goes on to discuss the harder to spot racism that she experiences every day. She ‘stopped talking to white people about race’ because it seems we are totally committed to not listening and discarding people’s lived experiences. She recalls times when she has had common ground and friendship with a white person, but if she ever ventured onto the topic of racism, she was always met with the same answers. ‘But that might not have been racism’. ‘But there might have been another reason why an equally qualified white person got the job’. ‘You can’t just accuse people of racism’.


On reflection, I hear these comments all the time and have probably said a few of them myself in the past. We think that racists are the gun-wielding skinheads with swastika tattoos that we see on the news; The deplorable people who we condemn and don’t want to be associated with. But Eddo-Lodge argues that ‘If all racism was as easy to spot, grasp and denounce as white extremism is, the task of the antiracist would be simple ‘. ‘We tell ourselves that good people can’t be racist’.

On reflection, I hear these comments all the time and have probably said a few of them myself in the past. We think that racists are the gun-wielding skinheads with swastika tattoos that we see on the news; The deplorable people who we… Click To Tweet


It is our understanding (or complete lack) of racism that is the problem. Racism is the societal structure that disadvantages anyone who is not white. This is what the term ‘white privilege’ (first coined by sociologist Robin Diangelo) is referring to. It does not mean that white people can’t have hard lives. It means that our lives have not been made harder because of our race. My being able to walk through an airport without being treated with suspicion or unnecessarily detained for extra ‘security checks’ is a privilege that I receive due to my whiteness


This brings me back to racism in Scotland and its relevance to teaching. Having taught children from a range of ethnicities and cultures, I like to think my teaching is inclusive and certainly ‘not racist’. However, watching a recent Ted Talk by Pran Patel on ‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ made me reflect heavily on this. I have championed the multilingual skills of my Arabic speaking students, but I have not taught them about the contributions that the Arabic world has made, including modern maths as we know it! I know about white scientists and inventors who have contributed to society, but that is all. I have realised there is more to inclusive teaching than merely a few, token, black history lessons. We do not teach the truth about history, especially because so many of us do not know it ourselves. So many of us had no idea that Glasgow was instrumental in the transatlantic slave trade and that streets like Buchanan and Glassford are named after slavers. We don’t correctly understand Malcolm X or see him in context. We gaslight people with Martin Luther King quotes without knowing or understanding that he was more disappointed by ‘white moderates’ than he was troubled by the KKK.
As teachers, it is our duty to go through this process of awakening to do better by our pupils. I became acutely aware that antiracist practice in teaching, has a long way to go when a colleague of mine made a post on a teacher’s page about subconscious racial bias which she had seen on TV. To summarise, the BBC had interviewed two men. One was Finnish; one was Indian. Both were speaking clear English, but only the Indian man was subtitled. I noticed that a white male immediately commented on the post, suggesting it was not the appropriate forum for this discussion. I replied to this comment stating that I disagreed, as teachers, we have to ‘Get It Right For Every Child’ and challenge all racism no matter how benign it might seem.

We don’t correctly understand Malcolm X or see him in context. We gaslight people with Martin Luther King quotes without knowing or understanding that … Click To Tweet


Encouragingly, there was a lot of agreement with the post; however, there were many attempts to silence my colleague with all the usual rhetoric that I am finally beginning to see. ‘You can’t prove that’s racism’. ‘You can’t just cry racism’. ‘You can’t accuse people of being racist’. Again, it all comes back to our lack of education and understanding of what racism is and our desperation to shut down any conversation about it. For sure ‘racism’ is a loaded and emotive word. I seemed to upset a lot of people by suggesting that there was a lot of mansplaining and whitesplaining going on in the discussion. This comment brought me a lot of angry criticism from several white men. I tried to engage them in reasonable debate, after all, we were on a professional forum and should be able to do these things. I was unable to keep up with the comments or fury and quickly became exhausted by it. I am aware of the irony, that I, a white person am complaining of exhaustion after talking about racism. There was no desire to understand the point the post was made, rather, people just wanted to ‘prove’ that it was utterly wrong. We must stop silencing people and start listening.

There were many attempts to silence my colleague with all the usual rhetoric that I am finally beginning to see. ‘You can’t prove that’s racism’. ‘You can’t just cry racism’. ‘You can’t accuse people of being racist’. Click To Tweet


I see an urgent need for antiracist teacher training. I realise now that our well-intentioned ‘colour blindness’ is not serving our BME pupils. Our BME pupils are going to go out into a world where they will have more barriers and obstacles in their way than their white peers. They will be more likely to be unemployed. They may be victims of rising hate crime (if they haven’t already been). They will suffer health and social inequalities. Our pupils deserve a better curriculum, our unwavering allyship and most of all; they deserve teachers committed to antiracist teaching.

What ended the Slave Trade.

This is a piece by Professor Kate Williams, who is a New York Times bestselling author, TV (CNN and BBC) Professor at the University of Reading and historian.

When people say, statues should stay because they are our ‘history’. Britain in 1895 had campaigners for the end of Empire, the legacy of the vast abolitionist movement, many freed slaves who had campaigned. But it was Colston who was commemorated by a committee. 

Whose’ history’ is it?

Let’s look at some questions.

What ended the slave trade in Britain? 

What ended the slave trade in Britain?  Click To Tweet

A lot of people think of Wilberforce and (white) middle-class abolitionists. Actually, it was much more due to the enslaved themselves. It was the men and women who were part of slave rebellions across plantations and their leaders such as Samuel Sharpe in Jamaica and freed slave abolitionists, such as the author Equiano and those who brought lawsuits, the significant cases of slaves demanding freedom James Somersett and Joseph Knight. What also brought the horrors of the slave trade to the British public was the newspaper coverage of the insurance claim after the massacre on slave ship Zong. 

A lot of people think of Wilberforce and (white) middle-class abolitionists. Actually, it was much more due to the enslaved themselves. Click To Tweet

Jamaica, then a British colony, saw many of the enslaved rebels and rise up, in what were often presented as eruptions but were actually carefully planned rebellions, with secret networks co-ordinating A huge rebellion was led by Tacky in 1760, a slave who had been king of his village. The rebellion was brutally put down, Tacky was killed, and the men with him committed suicide rather than be sent back to slavery. Inspired by Tacky, rebellions broke out across the island and rebel escapees set up freed communities in the forests. Slave uprisings occurred across plantations in America, the Caribbean and Brazil. In Haiti, thousands of slaves rose up in August 1791, demanding the freedom that post-revolutionary France had offered, saying all men were free and equal. The slaves got control of much of the island, fighting off first French troops and then the British, who were sent in an attempt to stop slave revolt. The great Toussaint L’Ouverture was one of the military leaders. Finally, the French abolished slavery in their colonies in 1793. In 1831, Samuel Sharpe, a Baptist preacher, led slave rebellions across Jamaica until he and others who had taken part were cruelly executed. Abolitionists in Britain told the public about these rebellions and the shocking reprisals. These rebellions in Jamaica and the failure of British forces in Haiti meant the British public were forced to confront the brutal realities of slaves’ lives on plantations – they were not content or protected, and they would rather kill themselves than be enslaved.

The slaves got control of much of the island, fighting off first French troops and then the British, who were sent in an attempt to stop slave revolt. The great Toussaint L'Ouverture was one of the military leaders. Finally, the French… Click To Tweet

Three major law cases also had a significant impact. 

Charles Steuart in Virginia bought James Somersett. Steuart brought him to London in 1771, where he escaped and was baptised. Steuart captured him back and took him to a ship for transportation in the Thames. In 1772, Somersett’s three godparents brought a case. Backed by abolitionist Granville Sharp that Somersett was no longer Steuart’s possession, could not be sold and was illegally imprisoned on the ship. The case gained substantial public attention and press coverage. Somersett’s lawyers argued that no law recognised slavery.

Steuart’s defence argued the paramount importance of property. The judge, Lord Mansfield, ruled that ‘no master was ever allowed here to take a slave by force to be sold abroad because he had deserted his service’ and Somersett went free.

This case did not end the recapturing of slaves or the slave trade, but it had a significant effect on public opinion and influenced successive trials. One such example was that of Joseph Knight in Scotland. Knight demanded wages from John Wedderburn who had bought him in Jamaica. Knight ran away, and when Wedderburn tried through the courts to get him back in 1777, the judge ruled that Wedderburn had no rights of ‘dominion’ over Knight in Scotland and he should go free. Joseph Knight lived free and promptly married Annie Thompson, who had been a servant in Wedderburn’s house – h

The other major case that had a considerable effect on public opinion was the horrific case of the massacre on the slave ship Zong in 1781. En route to Jamaica, the Zong ran low on water, and 130 of the trafficked individuals were thrown into the sea. In Jamaica, the Zong’s owners claimed on insurance for their ‘lost cargo’, as enslaved people were insured as ‘cargo’. The insurers refused, declaring that the captain was at fault. This became a massive lawsuit between the owners and the insurers – and it finally brought the horrific conditions on ships and the barbarous treatment of slaves to public attention. Equiano did much to raise its profile, and Granville Sharp wanted to try the captain for murder. The swell of public opinion, the petitions and middle-class anger pushed forth the abolitionist movement.

Freed slave abolitionists talked widely and gave lectures to the public about the horrors of slavery. Equiano’s book about his life was a bestseller, published abroad. Yes, Wilberforce took abolition through Parliament, but he was building on the work of freed slaves such as Equiano and Knight, the uprising leaders such as Tacky – and the shocking scandal of the Zong massacre.

So when we talk about what should replace statues of slave traders, rather than choosing all white abolitionists, let’s commemorate freed slaves such as Equiano, Somersett and Knight, or the uprising leaders, Tacky or Samuel Sharpe, a Baptist preacher who led slave rebellions in Jamaica in 1831. They fought for their freedom and forced Britain to confront the horror of the slave trade.

So when we talk about what should replace statues of slave traders, rather than choosing all white abolitionists, let's commemorate freed slaves such as Equiano, Somersett and Knight, or the uprising leaders, Tacky or Samuel Sharpe, a… Click To Tweet

Wilberforce built on the public opinion generated against slavery, by men such as Equiano and the enslaved people rising against their owners, in Britain and the plantations. We’ve had a movie about Wilberforce, can we have one about an uprising leader, or Equiano or Knight?

Yes, of course, Wilberforce pushed through abolition. But often it is made to seem as if he is the only one behind the abolition of slavery, erasing the fight of so many enslaved people, in Britain and in plantations, for their own freedom.

The Authorities should take down statues after discussion.

People who say – authorities should take statues down after discussion. Yes. But it isn’t happening. Bristol has been debating Edward Colston for years and wasn’t getting anywhere. In 2018, it was agreed that the statue would bear a plaque noting his involvement in the slave trade.

People who say – authorities should take statues down after discussion. Yes. But it isn't happening. Bristol has been debating Edward Colston for years and wasn't getting anywhere. In 2018, it was agreed that the statue would bear a… Click To Tweet

But then it proved impossible to find a wording that everyone accepted. The first plaque that it carried, added when it was erected in 1895, said ‘Erected by citizens of Bristol as a memorial of one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city’. NO mention of slavery.

Later in 2018, Bristol Council unveiled the wording for the second plaque, “As a high official of the Royal African Company from 1680 to 1692, Edward Colston played an active role in the enslavement of over 84,000 Africans (including 12,000 children) of whom over 19,000 died

en route to the Caribbean and America. Colston also invested in the Spanish slave trade and slave-produced sugar. As Tory MP for Bristol (1710-1713), he defended the city’s ‘right’ to trade in enslaved Africans. Bristolians who did not subscribe to his religious and political beliefs were not allowed to benefit from his charities’. The wording had been discussed by various groups, including children from Colston Primary School (name now changed). But it proved impossible for the Council to get it through.

Some councillors objected. And then the Merchant Venturers got involved and pushed for various changes, including removing the reference to 12,000 children instead focussing on his philanthropy (and not to note it was selective).

The new plaque read, Edward Colston, 1636-1721, MP for Bristol 1710-1713, was one of this city’s greatest benefactors. He supported and endowed schools, almshouses, hospitals and churches in Bristol, London and elsewhere. Many of his charitable foundations continue. This

was erected in 1895 to commemorate his philanthropy.

A significant proportion of Colston’s wealth came from investments in slave trading, sugar and other slave-produced goods. As an official of the Royal African Company from 1680 to 1692, he was also involved in the

transportation of approximately 84,000 enslaved African men, women and young children, of whom 19,000 died on voyages from West Africa to the Caribbean and the Americas.

As you can see, the language on the two plaques is radically different. The second says Colston’s wealth came from sugar, etc. and he was ‘also involved in the transportation’ of slaves – rather as if he sort of built boats but didn’t know what was going on. The use of the word ‘investments’ also works to distance him from slavery. The focus was on his ‘philanthropy’. 

The Council refused this altered plaque and the Office of the Mayor, Marvin Rees, who has been on TV today, rightly said it was ‘unacceptable’, particularly the lack of reference to those enslaved. That was in Spring 2019, and the plaque has been under discussions ever since.

Some Bristolians said to me privately that they were pessimistic about the likelihood of an agreed text and thus that the only plaque forevermore on Colston would be the one calling him ‘virtuous and wise’. 

So everyone saying, why couldn’t Bristol discuss it and bring it down through agreement? It’s not that simple. While statues are being discussed and changes blocked, black people have to pass them daily, seeing the congratulation of slave trading, their horror and pain.

Statues are not mountains or cliffs. They are not natural phenomena. They are put up by groups of the wealthy and powerful to tell us who we should admire. In 1895, Bristolians were told to admire a slave trader. They could have put up an abolitionist such as Equiano. And if the men who put up the statue of Colston simply wanted to celebrate a rich white man who had given to charity – there were plenty of other options who were not slave traders. Richard Reynolds, ironmonger and Quaker, gave more to Bristol in the nineteenth century than Colston and spoke out against slavery. Or c16 John Whitson who owned ships and gave to the poor and endowed the oldest surviving girls’ school in the country. On top of this, Colston’s philanthropy was problematic: you had to agree with him to get it, and the charities were criticised by the nineteenth century for doing little to help the poor, as work by Roger Ball and Spencer Jones has shown. But instead of Reynolds or Whitson or any of the other people who gave to Bristol charities, these Victorians chose to venerate Colston, a man who profited from the evil and horrific slave trade. 

People have been trying to bring down the statue for years. Now, thanks to Black Lives Matter, he is down, rolled into the sea near Pero’s bridge, a bridge named for Pero Jones who was brought to Bristol as enslaved and never freed. It is time we confronted the true nature of our past.

People have been trying to bring down the statue for years. Now, thanks to Black Lives Matter, he is down, rolled into the sea near Pero's bridge, a bridge named for Pero Jones who was brought to Bristol as enslaved and never freed. It… Click To Tweet

The Time to Act.

We are in unprecedented times. In the middle of global pandemic and protest are erupting worldwide around racial violence and discrimination. This is the time for us as teachers to step up. Aiming to drop our egos and make a difference, I have often said: “teachers you are the future of the future”, and I mean it you have the world in your hands.

Are you confident in teaching and nurturing our pupils towards a more equitable world? It’s okay if you’re not, sign up to the commitment here and I’ll be sending out resources in the coming weeks to help you on your journey. Are you scared of getting it wrong? This fear is also okay. Is this fear stopping you from engaging in these conversations? Not acting shouldn’t be an option.Institutionalised racism is 123741724 times worse than being called a racist.

Yes, you may get it wrong. Yes, you may even be told that you are promoting upholding white supremacy or supporting a white supremacist agenda. Yes, that may hurt, and you may be fearful of that pain, think through, what are your alternatives? Do you want to leave society as it is? I don’t want to leave a legacy of a world where your life chances and experience determined by the melanin in your skin cells, your gender, or anything else. I’ll take the risk if it means that I have done my part in the journey.

When engaging in anti-oppression work, I have felt vulnerable I have quite rightly been schooled in public and to my face, was this a pleasant experience? Of course not, were they right? Were they right to correct me? 100%. If you are genuinely committed to a fairer society, we have to think big and forget about our egos.

How did I feel? How have I exhibited fragility?

I was trying to help, and I’m now being attacked.

So, my intentions may have come from a place of great place, but if I am doing harm then I should listen and act accordingly.

I’m a ‘good’ person

Using the good-bad binary is pointless; your actions define who we are, you can be a saint and still act problematically. This cause is not about me.

You can’t say that to me. I will not have it.

I’m off; I’m not here to be subjected to this.

*Tears*

Anger, this is a typical response when people feel uncomfortable it easier to get angry and even attack the source of the challenge than to reflect. The flight response and tears are also prevalent as they provide personal respite from the uncomfortableness. However, this leaves the world the way it is, unfair and unyielding.

How to respond to challenge.

  1. Listen- I mean actually listen.
  2. Reflect- This means putting aside all my feelings and thinking about the systems.
  3. Apologise- Sincerely and mean it.
  4. Gratitude- This is a person who took the time and labour to make you a better person; it may not feel like that, but would you want to continue doing damage.
  5. MOVE ON- This is the most significant step; if you are committed to change, feelings of guilt are a waste of time and energy. Remember there is work to do indulging in self-pity isn’t helping anyone.

The only thing I can urge every educator and every person to do is act. Get it wrong but act. Yes, you may get called out, but what is the alternative? We continue in a world that systemically kill those of us of colour? In which domestic violence is prevalent? That’s not me, and it’s not a world I want to leave to the next generation, and I welcome challenge, come at me as hard as you want, make me better, our children deserve it.

The Other.

This is anon piece from an Educator and Senior Leader. Othering, Assimilation and life in the U.K.

Trying to navigate a world without a clear identity can cause a feeling of disorientation and rejection. These feelings of identity intensified by the notion that I am always the ‘other’. These feelings materialise through interactions with others and do not emerge in a vacuum within my consciousness. My first memory of being an ‘other’ was a conversation between my teacher and mother; my mother instructed to speak to me in English at home instead of Arabic so that I would not be left behind both socially and academically. It would be years before my mother found the courage to speak to me in her home language again and my father continues to talk to me in his broken English to this day.

The feeling of being the 'other' became more frequent. I have memories of walking with my grandmother who before she passed always wore a headscarf in public. I remember vividly her being referred to as a p*ki by a group of white… Click To Tweet

The feeling of being the ‘other’ became more frequent. I have memories of walking with my grandmother who before she passed always wore a headscarf in public. I remember vividly her being referred to as a p*ki by a group of white teenage boys, and her laughing and telling me that they were silly because we were, in fact, Arabs (we aren’t Arabs we are Berber, can you see how confusing this gets?). In reflection, these moments pass without much thought, but such memories saturate your character. Your anxieties, self-doubt and self-loathing are symptomatic of being the ‘other’ when all you want is to fit in. Growing up on a diet of Nickelodeon, and American sitcoms you learn to hate the shell you inhabit and desire to shed it for an upgrade of blonde hair, blue eyes and fairer skin. I grew up believing that I was Moroccan, but regular visits to Morocco reminded me of all the reasons I wasn’t a native, I couldn’t speak the language, I barely understood it. My interests were different, and although I lived in an area known for it’s social and economic deprivation, I was still a lot more privileged than my extended family in Morocco.

These experiences continue into my professional life, as I lacked the cultural and social capital to be able to navigate genuinely in a predominantly white middle-class space. Click To Tweet

These experiences continue into my professional life, as I lacked the cultural and social capital to be able to navigate genuinely in a predominantly white middle-class space. Globally where those from Muslim and Arab backgrounds are represented frequently as threatening, you automatically assume a position of survival and pacify your existence, so you are less threatening to your peers. I wore a mask, one that creates a new identity that presents as palatable. Not only do I explicitly denounce my family’s faith both overtly, I ensure that my tattoos and love for whisky is on display for all to see and hear, so that I an no longer the ‘other’ but one of ‘you’. Although, this makes me less ‘Islamic’ it brings me no closer to the middle-class community that inhabit the space I work. My racial identity is wrapped firmly around my soul, and there is no getting away from this. When colleagues (with whom I rarely speak with) ask me what my personal views are on Palestine, Turkey, Syria Egypt, and my feelings about terrorist acts, they remind me that I am the ‘other’. When told that I should be grateful for what this country has done for my’ people’, or whether the reason I don’t like Blur is that I prefer Arabic music (I prefer Oasis, Don’t Look Back in Anger is a classic). These are educators who have made assumptions about my heritage, interests, and cultural tastes, and placed me outside of their sphere, harmless in theory, damaging in reality. My inability to challenge these assumptions instead of nod and grin so that I do not make my white colleagues feel comfortable or fear that I may offend them feels me with an immense sense of shame. It is a constant reminder that I am the ‘other’, a soul with no home and identity more reminiscent of shattered glass.

The Statue has Fallen

I have had various people ask me about my views about the Colston Statue in Bristol that was torn down last weekend. I am of the mind that damage to property in normal circumstances is unjust; however, by looking at this at the surface level, we negate the meaningful insight into the why. Let me say this these are not normal circumstances.

Simplistic rules and regulations are not how life works; humans are not machines or computers which follow fixed algorithms or binary code of on or off. Why do we so often find ourselves in a position of either supporting something or not supporting something because we believe that these personal rules hold without really interrogating why?

Let me say this: our rules are made up. You made those rules they don’t mean anything to anyone, even yourself. Where do these innate rules come? Have we been trained to live life like this? This is colonised thinking, and as educator we must fight to change this mode as it will adversely impact on the interactions with young people.

Let’s look at the situation around the last week. We, in the UK, are in lockdown, and the rules are that we should socially distance, when out and not leave the house unless necessary for exercise, socially or for work. Looking at the protestors, On a purely rational basis, either it is easy to see them as reckless and flouting rules if we do not look at the deeper reasons why.

For people to leave their house in the middle of a pandemic means that they are risking their lives. If you are PoC or BAME, you are at a higher risk of death. So it follows that people are risking their lives because it’s worth the risk. What is worth it? Let me start with the police; I do not know of one man of colour who has not had an adverse interaction with a police officer, not one. Think about that. Looking at that statistics:

Black men are twice as likely to die in police custody
Black people are 40 times more likely to stopped and searched
Black people receive longer custodial sentences
Black pupils are more likely to be excluded
The economic inequities which lead to COVID-19 deaths

So, Is it worth it? Yes.

On to the statue. Is it criminal to pull any property of the state down and throw it in the river? No.

Looking at the ‘why’, the statue is a symbol of a man who trafficked humans as cargo, 1000’s were drowned at sea. As the state only stopped paying reparation to the slave owners in 2015, our taxes lined their pockets until then. So not only did the descendants of enslaved people pay the perpetrators for their ancestor’s freedom. Now they are forced to walk past monuments celebrating the same people perpetrated those very same mass murders.

Is it worth it? To those people, yes.

Education after the Black Lives Moment

This blog is from Walter D. Greason, Associate Professor and Chair Educational Leadership Dean Emeritus, The Honors School Monmouth, University (USA)

“Everybody wants to be interdisciplinary, but nobody wants to *be* interdisciplinary.”

The best questions we ask cross the boundaries of formal inquiry.  The wonder of knowledge should inspire us every day, but the weight of data terrifies every writer into a corner of self-assurance. In an information economy, our most valuable currency is accuracy. The most venal sin is to be wrong.

There was always the fear of being seen in error. The sense of embarrassment and the possible of ridicule silenced millions of voices in the schoolhouse and throughout life. The multiplying platforms of public exposure — cable television, the internet, and social media — have amplified this cowardice. No one wants to become the latest meme, unless they’re famous and have a branded line of products that might benefit.

In education, these commercial calculations are pernicious. For students, the lessons of classroom errors settle over decades, discouraging their imagination. For their teachers and educational leaders, the consequences can be much worse. Structures of authority reproduce conformity. Standardized testing limits the possibility of intellectual exploration. Rigid benchmarks of professional development created a generation of instructors who often follow curriculum guides to keep their jobs. Even the best innovators rely too much on predictable scaffolding to model the next steps toward the evidence-based standards of pedagogical research.

Interdisciplinary education undermines these habits. In seeking the limits of knowledge, and applying critical scrutiny to inherited assumptions, students and teachers engage in generative processes that fuel democracy. However, the cost of doing this work in a traditional structure is high. There are penalties for asking the wrong question, about the wrong topic, at the wrong time. So few professionals have interdisciplinary training that the champions of the orthodoxy struggle to understand their importance to the highest principles of education.

Much like the well-worn phrase among Black Americans about the popularity of African-American culture, juxtaposed against the lethal violence and discrimination faced by Black people, many people love to use the idea of being ‘interdisciplinary’. Rare educational systems actually reward the work.

“Freedom Schools for Democracy”

The highest standards of teaching and learning across disciplines evolved in conjunction with processes of social struggle. W.E.B. DuBois wrote about the ‘right to learn’ as one of the fundamental principles of human freedom. In places where oppression prevents people from learning, the determination to seek knowledge is deep and unyielding. One of the most dangerous social settings is the appearance of total availability of knowledge. This illusion deceives many into the assumptions that education is unnecessary, as individuals simply ask questions and find answers.

Any librarian or archivist will describe these assumptions as unfounded. People need guidance in both inquiry and discovery. Every teacher will tell you that some of their greatest moments in the classroom come when students ask unexpected questions that lead to new insights. A central question is, how do we maintain our excitement about teaching and learning together?

Three approaches work best over my career. First, share a common goal for the learning experience. As the class discusses obstacles and assumptions in the topic, their common understanding shapes a sense of community in pursuit of the course’s goals. Second, foster a sense of exploration. When we dismantle the perceived penalties for wrong answers (or silly questions), then everyone relaxes in the joy of mutual discovery.  Third, small, sincere, spontaneous rewards reinforce the pursuit of excellence. When one student has a breakthrough, it is a victory for the entire community. When our celebrations erupt without planning in response for these moments, the classrooms become sites of positive epiphanies.

In the emergence of regional school systems throughout the southern United States in the late nineteenth century, as well as the emergence of activist training centers like the Highlander Folk School in the twentieth century, these principles formed the bedrock of a curriculum dedicated to human freedom. The world faces a moment when we need similar institutions in every nation around the world.

“Virtual Technologies and Distance Learning”

The most powerful teaching practice over the last decade has been the effective use of technology in the classroom. International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards point the way toward quality assurance and assessment, but they also reinforce punitive frameworks related to evaluation and accreditation. Humanities, Arts, Science, Technology, Alliance, and Collaboratory (HASTAC) offers innovative, open-ended models that open new doors in higher education, but they need to connect with organizations like National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education to empower a broader group of educational professionals. The combination of these approaches, in the context of freedom school legacies, opens new doors for both experiential and digital education.

Simple interactive games have created stable ways for students to meet curriculum goals in P-8 classrooms. Math and science games, especially, have ways to energize content that often discourages students in traditional settings. As the world’s schools adapted to the pandemic this Spring, many instructors moved into interactive video settings like Flipgrid, Zoom, and Google Chats. The process of adaptation often made for an exciting new platform, initially, but the second phase of teaching and learning required more preparation in shaping productive virtual experiences.

Most of the memorable virtual lessons in my experience revolve around experiential simulations that convey practical strategies based on the course content. Thirty years ago, I could rely on experiences like BaFa, BaFa, or Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes to help students ask more critical questions related to sociology, psychology, and history. A decade ago, I built experiences like “Escape with Nat Turner” or “Explorations in Elie Wiesel’s Night” that uncovered nuance, tragedy, and resilience in the worst moments of human history. Instead of simulations that reinforce patterns of abuse, these games teach students how to question authority and build systems of freedom. More recently, theoretical exercises like “Semiosis” and “Sojourners’ Trail” have taken video game templates and applied them to interactive, virtual platforms.

Beyond powerful archival experiences like “The Colored Conventions Project” or “Visualizing Emancipation”, there are an infinite variety of ways to redesign learning using digital technologies. As schools respond to a pandemic, the ability to engage families with these innovative techniques raises new questions about how we maintain excellence in our educational practices. These interventions were designed to inspire excitement about school attendance, but they can also animate enthusiasm for daily engagement with online academic content.

“Educational Leadership for the Twenty-First Century”

Superintendents, principals, and other educational leaders must be at the forefront of these processes. Adaptation moves most quickly when engaged leaders offer clear incentives for teacher leaders at every level. One of the keys to effective engagement is the application of the ‘flipped classroom’ principles to structures of school administration.

In these cases, the educational leader becomes a facilitator to showcase the insight and effectiveness of teachers and students for parents and elected officials. A charismatic principal or superintendent has often established a legendary reputation, based on the excellence of their teams. Arguably the most impactful reward for excellence in teaching and learning is public acclaim, as well as the material rewards that flow for such recognition.

On a regional or national scale, these patterns of recognition often drive various forms of professional advancement. Exceptional teachers can become principals; outstanding principals can become superintendents. These strategic ladders of success are central, but some of the rungs are less visible or missing entirely.

As the Dean of an Honors School, the patterns of excellence were readily visible. Highly motivated students worked with exceptional instructors. Together, they produced experiences of teaching and learning that inspired whole communities. Rarely, these students continued into careers in education.  Then, as they excelled as educators, they became teacher leaders, and, ultimately, administrators. Very few of these outstanding educators then moved into conversations with scholars in higher education. The two gaps (from student to teacher, from administrator to scholar) can be closed right away, especially through the use of digital tools.

In 2011, Ken Bain led a workshop titled “What the Best Teachers Do.” Based on his experience and research, he brought lessons of effective pedagogy from P-12 systems into higher education. During one workshop in Newark, NJ, a group of educational leaders discussed the best ways to bring graduate research to the P-12 classrooms.  Supervised research experiences helped seasoned educational administrators to expand their understanding of education as a profession with strategies based on extensive data. Further, these same interventions helped student-teachers, in their undergraduate studies, to understand that they could become both administrators and scholars.

This sustained engagement with interdisciplinary research throughout the educational process builds on the successes of Freedom Schools and intensive virtual learning techniques. Together, they are the building blocks for excellence in comprehensive education in the twenty-first century.

Decolonise the Stories

Let’s buy lots of books from authors of colour, and that include characters of colour, which is not a bad idea, but this is fraught with danger. There is an issue with the narratives within the books; There are various resources and link on this website which critique literature and other media.

Today, I want to talk about what we do with books which cause systemic damage. I have never advocated censorship; Problematic texts are a great place to teach about power and it’s dynamics. Holes exist in sections of the canon, the teaching of the causes of that omission is powerful.

I want to talk about what we do with books which cause systemic damage. I have never advocated censorship; Problematic texts are a great place to teach about power and its dynamics. Holes exist in sections of the canon, the teaching of… Click To Tweet

Power flows in one direction: from men to women, from white to the global majority, etc. If we consume enough literature which reinforces these familiar tropes, eventually this leads us to toxic associations. If we are consistently shown that black people cannot achieve anything without the help of a white character (white saviour trope), then this becomes part of our expectations and may form part of our decisions in everyday life.

Like I said earlier, I have never advocated censorship.

However, after various conversations, I have come to the point where I have realised that no matter how many times we teach about power and the relative impact of society. In all the media, we consume the narrative still exists opposed.

Here is the question: where are the counter-narratives?

Where is the of glut black saviour characters? Where are the stories where white people rarely speak? Where male character don’t talk to each about subjects that don’t involve women? Where are the women of colour who are near invisible in this world? Where the disabled characters who are not there as a token but as an integral part of the plot.

Where is the glut of black saviour characters? Where are the stories where white people rarely speak? Where male character don't talk to each about subjects that don't involve women? Where are the women of colour who are near invisible… Click To Tweet

Yes, this is damaging to people who do to fit the narratives in the stories. In all of our lives, we matter. We are the protagonist, support and sometimes even the villain in our own stories. Not seeing in this represented is detrimental to you self worth (Darren Chetty’s work is worth a look).

It also instils a habitus of thought around what stories should look like, how characters should act and look. Writers then follow the same pattern, and the whole system self propagates. What is the answer?

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman expertly flips the narrative and place black people at the core of colonial rule. It expertly shows how the imperial rule works in reverse. I didn’t notice this until the recent BBC series, the black characters are shown as aggressive overlords. I can’t think of another film where white European systemic oppression is showcased in this way. Maybe, I am just losing my mind after a tough week, but you know.

Are there any counter-narratives to the tropes that exist? If there aren’t, should we not try to protect our children from those?

So, what do to do?

Let’s us all think about that.

Distraction – Anti Racism

As an educator, are you ready to have these conversations with your pupils and students? Are you confident enough to be able to navigate and frame these distractions? Have you reconciled them in your own mind?

The following are distractions to the racism they all serve to maintain the status quo.

Distraction is a function white supremacy.

Toni Morrison

Seeing Racism solely as Individual acts. ‘I’m not a bad Person’.

Racism is systemic, structural as well as individual. I often state that individual acts are symptoms of institutionalised and structural racism. Yes, of course, someone attacking a person of colour because of their skin tone is abhorrent. However, this person has gained these views because the system allows it, actually because the system propagates and protects it.

When we frame racism solely as single acts, it’s effortless to play the ‘I don’t use that language’ and the ‘I’m not a bad person’ argument. Propagating racism is the norm, the system we live in adversely impacts the lives of people of colour in the UK. Here are some examples, you receive longer custodial sentences (for the same crimes), receive worse healthcare, achieve worse educational outcomes, are less likely to secure interviews, more likely to be bullied in the workplace, etc. I could go on all day.

Whataboutism

What about the poor white people? What about the white people who have died in police custody? All lives matter though?

This is simple; support for one cause does is not an exclusive agreement, supporting anti-racism does not exclude you from resisting police brutality on the whole. 

At best ‘All lives matter’ is really poor etiquette. 

Would you go to a COVID 19 ward and scream at the victims, while sick and dying that all people matter, because you’d be correct, they do, but as 1. The people afflicted systemically by a disease are currently dying, and you’re are sending the message that their current plight is not as worthy 2. The conversation has moved from the COVID 19 patient to elsewhere. This act is described in detail later.

Is not Race its class?

This argument always baffles me. As a working-class boy, I grew up in relative poverty; Yes, I understand things were hard for all of us. However, my white counterparts didn’t have to deal with being followed around shops, harassed by the police, being told by a teacher, and I quote:

“it’s a shame you aren’t white. You’re really bright; you could have made something of your life.”

I understand that class has a factor in the overall oppression of a person; however, trying to disaggregate is not only pointless it’s damaging.

Denial

We live in a meritocracy if people work hard enough, they’ll rise the ranks and achieve like the rest of us. This is the most insidious lie that we teach and swallow, “work hard, the harder you work, the more you’ll receive” It just doesn’t work like that. I’m going to explain why you can’t, do you own research here.

When PoC and especially Black people do not achieve the same levels, this is put down by the above rhetoric that they don’t work hard enough; it’s never because of institutionalised racism. It follows into the genetically inferior and lazy trope which has been around for centuries.

Centring on anything which isn’t Racism

I often hear that I should consider how I am making my challenges. There are a couple of things here. First, the aggressive man of colour is a common trope; we also know that this once these associations are made they impact on our perception. The second thing here is that this distraction is clear as day. As soon as you start talking about the nature of the challenge, you are no longer talking about racism. This process feels easier; it so much more comfortable but it takes away from the crux of the issue and ultimately upholds and promotes its.

Anti Racism – Commit to Change.

It’s amazing that so many of you have started to see the world through a wider lens, the support on social media is huge. As educators and members of society, this is the time, everyone who has shown their support needs to commit to change. Change in ourselves, change in our school policies and ultimately change in the lives of the young people we serve.

Commit to antiracism and commit to change.

Let’s create a wall of our names.

 

You’ll be added to the commit to change mailing list to keep you updated with the learning and work that comes with your commitment.

 

Chris Dyson – Headteacher

Sameena Choudry – Founder

Rachel Higginson – Education Consultant

Graham Andre – Teacher

Ben Woolmer – Teacher

Charlotte Owen Smith – Teaching Assistant

Stephen Kelly – Headteacher

Zena Zenonos Walker – Senior Leader

Clare Power – SENCO

I’ll update as soon as I can, 200+ people have signed up. Get on it.

Confronting our Biases as White Educators

This is a piece from Laurie Walden, A white educator whose bio is at the end of the piece.

In light of recent events surrounding the murder of George Floyd, many White educators are asking how they can be an ally for their Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students.  As a White American woman living in the UK, I wanted to share my answer about how I confronted my own racial biases and how that has informed my current work.

As a White educator in the US, my confrontation came four years ago through a two-day seminar sponsored by my school district, called “Courageous Conversations About Race” led by Glenn Singleton, based on his book.  Out of all the powerful work that we did, two aspects were life-changing for me. We were asked to spend time thinking about specific examples of racism in our lives.  Immediately, I recalled one specific memory: 

I came home from a sleepover to my father’s horrific racist tirade directed at me, a 14-year-old, because a classmate from an acting class, who happened to be Black, had phoned me while I was away.  This wasn’t the first time I heard racist language come out of his mouth, nor was it the last, but it was the tone of sickening rage directed at me and the vile words directed at someone I knew, which burned that image into my memory. 

We were then asked to partner with someone else and share.  I was partnered with an African American administrator (leader).  As I started to speak, I was shaking and eventually broke down in tears.  I had never told anyone this story, and now I was admitting my shame to a man who was only too accustomed to racial abuse.  He didn’t say a word.  He didn’t need to.  He listened while I dealt with those emotions. 

Later in the day, we were asked to fill out a questionnaire about our experiences with racism.  We had to put a check by each situation we had dealt with.  Out of 50 scenarios, my score was 0.  We were then asked to line up by our answers:  from 0 to 50.  I was the sole White person at 0.  The facilitator then bluntly said, ‘Every White person should be at 0’.  It was simple.  I have never been, nor will I ever be, profiled, stopped, looked at, yelled at, denied, beaten, shot, or jailed because of the colour of my skin.  That is White privilege.

I had never considered myself a racist.  However, it took a long time to understand the difference between the passive act of not being a racist, to the active role of being anti-racist.  As a young person, I did everything in my power to not be at home, so I didn’t have to deal with it.  I took comfort in my colour-blindness and just treated everyone equally.  Now I embrace the difference between equal and equitable and what that means for people of colour. My dad died 25 years ago. Shortly after, I became a teacher and got my master’s degree in education, with a multicultural focus.  I am now undertaking a PhD in culturally responsive pedagogy with a focus on BAME students in Scotland. And yes, that’s White privilege too.

Without knowing where our beliefs and attitudes come from, how can we change and grow?  I am now at a point where I not only own and understand my White privilege; but also understand that White supremacy is the foundation of systemic and institutionalised racism.  I’m still listening and I’m still learning.  This work never ends.

So, to my fellow White educators all over the world… we must do the work!  Before teachers can be culturally responsive to their students, they must confront their own biases and attitudes about race and ethnicity. It should be uncomfortable, maybe even painful; and it should never stop.  Until we get to the heart of why we think the way we do, we cannot hope to understand and help our students confront the racism that Black and Minority Ethnic students face. 

Laurie Walden is an American working on a PhD in Glasgow focused on how Scottish schools use culturally responsive pedagogy and inclusion to foster agency and engagement in their BAME students, including migrants and refugees.

I will be writing a teachers, middle leaders and senior leaders guide to anti racism in the coming few sign up to the mailing list for updates here.