Reggie is a young boy, 16 years old, blonde hair, ruffled and permed with a fade, he finished his GCSE exams last summer and is currently looking for work. He is white, middle-class, and delighted with life.
Jenny is a young girl, 16 years old, brunette hair which is held out of her eye by a self-cut fringe and a scrunchie. Jenny finished her GCSE exams this summer, and she’s also currently looking for work. She is a member of the global majority, working-class, and is not very happy with life, where Reggie had food on the table every single night. Jenny grew up where her personal needs were neglected because of the circumstances of those in her care.
What if I told you that Jenny is in that situation because Reggie’s father had stolen from Jenny’s family.
What is the just outcome here?
Would we expect Jenny’s family’s stolen wealth to be returned? Possibly even with an apology and interest too to factor in for the damage done to her family.
Activity 1: Do not skip through the questions, read each one and then takes some time to reflect and answer it:
What happens if Reggie’s father has passed away since the crime?
Then the wealth from his estate should surely be recompensated?
What if it wasn’t Reggie’s father, but grandfather?
What if Jenny lives in another country?
Should the wealth and consequences of Reggie’s family history be paid back to Jenny’s family?
I doubt any of you who are reading this would disagree that when we cause damage compensation is a just consequence. There should be a returning to the rightful owner with considerations the consequent impact.
Is ultimately Reggie responsible for Jenny’s outcomes? Reggie had no role in the activities of his forefathers. I’m sure that Reggie has worked very hard, like his father and grandfather, but they were given a leg up through the immoral deeds of their ancestry. Reggie’s family gained a distinct advantage, and this advantage comes with inflicting disadvantage on Jenny and her family (this is a zero-sum game).
The myth of a meritocracy fogs the way we view this in a systemic sense. As a British-born citizen, I have reaped the rewards of the Great British system, and yes, I have benefited from them greatly. However, without acknowledging that these benefits have come at least in part from colonial oppression would be willful ignorance on my part.
Pran, Are you saying that the people who are born today should pay for the sins of those born hundreds of years ago?
I am saying we should all understand where our chances in life have come from they have not just have materialised. Then making the leap that our starting point is independent of how hard we work is not as stressful.
For this to work:
1. We have to willing look objectively, at the risk that everything you know may have been distorted.
2. Disregard the fear of losing what we have. Expect this to be uncomfortable.
3. In our practice as educators- do we consider the meritocracy as a myth? do we teach the above to the next generation?
and now, dig deep, and answer this question.
4. How do you and I go about redressing the balance?
I remember that office so vividly that if I were to close my eyes I could tell you almost every detail of the room. I could tell you about the paintings on the walls, the colour of the walls, the paraphernalia on his desk, the books on the shelves and the ridiculous curtains that were still allowing (in my opinion) too much light through – what was the point of them?… I was having to shield my eyes from the sun coming through the thinly veiled window.
What was the point of the meeting? Why had I been summoned to his office? To the heads office! My college headteacher has called ME into his office!
I was outside a few minutes before just chatting with a friend – we were talking about very important issues – “man what are you going to wear to the end of year ball?” – I mean what’s more important!? Then, out of nowhere, my form tutor walks over and tells me that the head would like to see me in his office. Sandeep (the friend I was talking to) put his hand to his mouth and took a sharp intake of breath “ooooyah!” – he didn’t have to say anything else.
The head was looking directly at me, I was looking everywhere else but at him. He proceeded to speak…
“Halil we have noticed your attendance has slipped, this is unacceptable. There are other people who would love a place at this college” I knew what he was implying – my place at the college was under threat.
They knew why my attendance had slipped, but they didn’t understand. They knew my mum was unwell.
What they didn’t know or understand was what it is like to be the older (male) sibling in a Turkish Cypriot family. The expectation on my shoulders to support my father in the kebab shop that we had at the time. My Baba never asked me to help, I made the decision to. I felt I had to. My duty. I suppose it’s all linked to the stories my father used to share with me about how he used to help my Ali Dede – pronounced deh deh (grandfather)- particularly through the spring and summer months, selling watermelons around the other villages near his own in Kıbrıs. Family first. Son helping father. Family responsibilities.
I mean how could I watch him struggling to look after my mum who couldn’t work because of her illness (another blog for another time) and running a business that had just been set up?
“You don’t understand what it’s like for me…what family means to me. I’m not you, someone else can have my place I don’t care, you don’t understand!” my response was swift.
What I really meant was – “you don’t understand my culture/you don’t understand what I ‘have’ to do!”
He looked at me, silent. I am sure he was not expecting the response I gave him…and I was not expecting his.
“Halil, I don’t think I do understand. Come and see me again tomorrow, we’ll work something out. Maybe we can look at adjusting start times for you for a short while – you have a bright future I don’t want it wasted”
I did see him the following day but I didn’t need a change of timetable as our meeting made me open up to my Baba – he sorted it. My dad had this saying “as long as Baba is here everything will be ok”. He had a way of making everything better no matter how bad things were. He’s not here anymore – and for a short time, after he was “taken” everything was bad – he wasn’t here to make it better. But I’ve come to realise that he is here (I’m holding hand to my chest) and I take great comfort in that.
It is so important to look at each situation on an individual basis. Take time to understand the whole person.
At my school the stories, backgrounds and lives that make up each child is taken into account – our children know they are cared for.
As long as we are all here for each other everything will be ok ☺️.
“My vision for education is one in which all differences are included and welcomed; education is flexible, relevant and leads towards positive social change.”
It’s a grandiose statement that took me a while to come up with (thanks to my brother), but it does encompass the kind of education I want to be a part of and advocate for.
Sometimes this is challenged – I am required to walk my talk, even when it’s awkward.
Most of the time I feel like I am in a privileged situation and in a lot of instances I sit in the majority, this was the case recently: I was booked to speak for a conference. As I got off the phone, having negotiated my fee and the content I would deliver, I realised I had forgotten to ask about the programme’s representation of people of colour. My first thoughts were: do I need to? Then doubts crept in: they’ve already booked me now with me not asking that question, will they think I’m a job’s worth? Would they have booked me if I had asked that question? And the big one, what if their response was:
We don’t have any people of colour on our programme at the moment, but if you want to give up your slot on the programme for someone you can.
– what would I do in that situation? How far am I willing to be an ally?
Whilst I sat with these moral dilemmas, I dropped the organiser an email asking the question. Up to this point we’d had pretty quick back-and-forward communication. After asking this question, it took two days for them to reply – in the virtual-world-context this seemed like a long time. This delay fuelled my insecurities: should I have brought the issue up? Is it my place to when I’m not a person of colour myself? Will I still work with them if they give me a negative response?
Which got me thinking further – I was going through this inner turmoil around the situation, even though I was in the position of privilege: what must it be like for my colleagues and friends who are people of colour who can’t not bring their colour into the conversation? In lots of educational settings still, just being person of a colour who is a teacher, leader or person of influence is a political statement in itself. I know this one, sometimes by saying the name of my partner I know a political statement has been presented, because I am do not conform to the heteronormative (when really all I wanted to do was have a moan about her not doing the washing up or something).
There was a lot of debate over the summer over on #edutwitter about representation and people of influence and people in positions of privilege giving a platform and voice for minority groups. I saw a lot of things that disheartened me coming from teachers. A lot of what I read did not fit in with my vision of education – a place where all differences are included and welcomed.
In this instance, the organiser got back to me and said “great, is there any people of colour you can recommend who speak on the topic?” It was at that point I realised that I couldn’t(!). So I then spent an hour and a half remembering people I had met, looking for friends of friends, reading people’s work – so that I could make some recommendations.
Again, it took extra work to for me to advocate equality for a minority group. This has happened before, when leading on PSHE lessons I have spent extra time going through search engines to ensure that my resources visually represent a range of people – that a usual ‘group of teenagers drinking’ wouldn’t show. This is a similar debate when discussion positive discrimination: by ‘doing extra’ or ‘creating extra opportunities’ for minority groups we are not being ‘equal.’ However, my belief is, that until society/education has become equal we will have to make more of an effort and take extra time to ensure we are at the same level – be that representation, pay, work opportunities etc. It was an important thing for me to do in this situation – to walk my talk.
It brings up the question of ally-ship and what it actually means:
How far should we go?
How far do we put ourselves out or inconvenience ourselves?
How much extra time do we spend making equality happen in our classrooms and schools?
Maybe even sacrifice? I didn’t have to answer the question: would I give up my position to speak for a person of colour? – this time.
The following is from the testimony of my pupils and my own experience in the United Kingdom.
Society bullies people of colour. Imagine being excluded from most of the community, imagine:
Being told repeatedly that your culture is not as valued as the culture of those in power, society bullies people of colour.
Being told through an education system that your culture is not as valued as the culture of those in power, imagine
Being told that a person in power is going to anglicise your name because they do not value you enough to learn your name.
Being followed in shops by security:
“Because ‘darkies’ commit crimes in the UK, that’s why we’re following you around.”
Being asked (as an adult) if you are a waiter/ security while at the TES awards or queueing for a meeting at Portcullis house.
It goes on.
What do you want, Pran?
I am not saying that pupils of colour should or should not be sanctioned. However, there has to be an acknowledgement of the world in which we live. The majority of teachers I have worked with, networked and served under are either oblivious to power structures we live under or acknowledged and accepted it as the norm.
What do we do?
Step one is to acknowledge the differences in the life experience of every pupil. Then we need to incorporate this into your behaviour policy. One size fits all systems serve no one well. The only people who benefit are leaders and educators, as the procedure takes away the work needed to unlearn and the work required to incorporate the whole picture into your decision; Schools do not exist to make teacher’s lives better. More on this later.
This process is by no means restricted to race. Class, gender, colour, sexuality, ableism, etc. all should be incorporated into your big picture while this is hard; this is also fairer.
This toolkit is designed to be a starting point for event organisers. Whether you are part of a grassroots organisation putting together an event as a volunteer, or if you work for an organisation where this is part of your paid work, you will need to ensure that your event is high quality, represents the people and the issues that are important to the sector you serve, and that you are not consciously or unconsciously doing things that may perpetuate a narrow view of the world or that may exclude voices from typically marginalised groups being included in the programme. Similarly, if you are asked to speak at a conference or to take part on a panel, there are proactive things you can do to ensure that you are part of the solution and not part of the problem. Intentions are important, but outcomes are what matter most.
When it comes to their reading, are kids and their adults on the same page? This is a question I’ve been asking myself and anyone else who would care to listen (or was forced to listen) since I came across a survey of children’s reading preferences conducted by Christina Clark and Amelia Foster for the National Literacy Trust and published in 2005. Certain results of that survey continue to fascinate me: I find myself randomly referring to them in lectures, seminars, tutorials, and even children’s birthday parties. In particular, I’m intrigued by those that reflect children’s awareness that knowledge is power and that reading is the gateway to that knowledge, and I’m intrigued by adult resistance, which I’ve collided with so frequently, to the notion of the child reading as a ‘will to power’.
Just last week, at a children’s birthday party, I collided with that resistance again, in the form of an English teacher who, when I mentioned one result of the survey, very much regretted that the majority (51.6%) of the children reported reading ‘because it’s a skill for life’ and a significant proportion (42%) indicated they read ‘because it will help me get a job’. ‘How sad,’ he said, ‘that it should come down to that.’ But, is it not ‘sad’ only if you look at ‘a job’ from an adult perspective? What does ‘a job’ mean to someone who has yet to get one, for whom work-for-pay could reasonably be a (desired) future destination, promising financial independence and self-determination—and power? (If not, why do we keep asking kids what they want to be when they grow up?)
In the 2005 survey, over 8,000 pupils in 98 primary and secondary schools in England completed a 23-point self-report questionnaire intended to yield some insight into why children choose or choose not to read. One thing this survey makes clear is that whatever it is kids think they are doing when they are reading, it doesn’t always correspond with adult notions of their intentions. Two sets of results have always stood out for me as particularly indicative of a disjunct, the responses to the questions ‘I read because…’ and ‘Who taught you to read?’ What do the children’s responses suggest about reading and access to power, especially in light of subsequent Literacy Trust surveys indicating that ‘Mixed’, ‘Black’ and ‘Asian’ children are more inclined to read regularly than ‘White’ children? This latter consideration is particularly important given the recognised inequalities in our systems of education.
According to those surveyed in 2005, ‘I read because’: 1. it’s a skill for life (51.6%); 2. it helps me find out what I want/need to know (46.8%); 3. it is fun (46.1%); 4. it will help me get a job (42.6%).
If I am FSM, ‘I read because’: 1. it’s a skill for life (50%); 2. it will help me get a job (48%); 3. it helps me find out what I want/need to know (44%); 4. it is fun (42%).
If I am NFSM, ‘I read because’: 1. it’s a skill for life (52%); 2. it is fun (49%); 3. it helps me find out what I want/need to know (47%); 4. it will help me get a job (42%).
Of the nine possible answers, these four were consistently the most frequently ticked boxes. Clearly, a significant proportion of children are reading because ‘it is fun’, which is perhaps relieving, though we might want to ask what ‘fun’ is, at some point, and why it might be different from practising skills or finding stuff out. However, it is the pragmatic responses that dominate here: children apparently see their reading as acquisition of a skill and knowledge that will help them (become more powerful) in the future. That this pragmatism is more pronounced in the FSM pupils’ responses, where it’s more important to prepare for a ‘job’ than to have ‘fun’, suggests this is indeed a matter of the getting of power and advantage. The 2005 survey did not consider ‘ethnicity’ – the authors, to their credit, recognising that doing ‘justice to the various minority ethnic groups’ would involve too large a range of categories – but subsequent Literacy Trust surveys have, and those results indicate that ‘Mixed’, ‘Black’ and ‘Asian’ pupils are more likely than ‘White’ pupils to enjoy reading, to read daily and to read in their free time. All three groups are more likely to read both non-fiction and news, as well as fiction, than ‘White’ pupils. Of course, there are all sorts of possible explanations for these results, but is it not possible to suspect at least some operative pragmatism or recognition that reading leads to knowledge which leads to power/advantage amongst children of colour?
The 2005 survey also makes it quite clear that the kids do not associate reading (and knowledge acquisition?) only with school.
‘Who taught you to read’: 1. mother (83.9%); 2. teacher (72.2%); 3. father (65.0%); TA (31.3%).
‘Who do you read with?’: 1. mother (42.5%); 2. teacher (38.5%); 3. father (32.4%); 4. sibling (22.6%).
‘Who do you talk about your reading with?’: 1. mother (57.4%); 2. father (42.1%); 3. friend (39.9%); 4. teacher (34.6%).
So, as far as the kids are concerned, in their perception, this reading thing is predominantly down to Mum. Generally, we do acknowledge how largely ‘Mum’ or principal carer figures in a child’s universe; however, I think I’m safe in saying that we also, at the same time, associate the acquisition of knowledge and marketable skills with schools and teachers. Mothers, particularly mothers who are not ‘White’ and middle-class, are often considered as remote and uninfluential, if not an actual problem, in the institution. But, what are we missing of the child’s experience of things, of ‘mother tongues’ and ‘motherlodes’ of knowledge, of family history and cultural scaffolding, when we do that? Of what ‘powers’ are we in danger of dispossessing them?
All of this emphasises the importance of considering what texts we make accessible for these knowledge-seekers to read, with ‘Mum’ or alone, in their own time or at school. Whether the texts are fiction or non-fiction, on paper or on screen, FSM children and the kids of the ‘global majority’ need and deserve equal access to literature that will give them powers of developing a skill and finding out things they ‘want/need to know’ about themselves and their world, so they can get that ‘job’ and help craft a more equitable society. They, and all of us, need decolonised histories and stories with heroes of colour.
 Clark, Christina and Amelia Foster (2005). Children’s and young people’s reading habits and preferences: The who, what, why, where and when. National Literacy Trust, December 2005.
 Clark, Christine and Anne Teravainen (2017). Children’s and Young People’s Reading in 2016: Findings from our Annual Literacy Survey 2016. Literacy Trust, July 2017.
Clark, Christina (2019). Children’s and young people’s reading in 2017/18: Findings from our Annual Literacy Survey. Literacy Trust, January 2019.
 See esp. Din, Suma (2017). Muslim Mothers and Their Children’s Schooling. Trentham. Her 2016 children’s book One Day is a very useful (and ‘fun’!) source of world knowledge for primary children, by the way.
‘Calling-out describes the act of publicly naming instances of oppressive language and behaviour. What makes calling-out toxic is the nature and performance of the act.’ 1
‘Calling-in is a proposed alternative to call-out culture that entails having a private, personal conversation with an individual who has used oppressive language or behaviour in order to address the behaviour without making a spectacle out of it. Calling-in recognises that people are multi-faceted and that an instance of oppressive behaviour does not define the totality of who we are. We as humans make mistakes, and calling-in can be a powerful tool to address those mistakes and create space for real change and positive impact.’ 1
However true it may be that people are multi faceted, in my experience of activism around race, I believe that the pressure to adopt ‘calling in’ culture is born of toxic white supremacy which normalises a power imbalance on behalf of the person giving offence. ‘Calling in’ fogs the issues around the damage caused, calling in firmly centres, focuses and places the onus on those who have and will feel the hurt.
It is akin to victim-blaming,
‘I’ve been beaten you to a pulp, but you should not be speaking or challenging me in that way’.
Activism should be solely based on an understanding of systemic structures and the experiences of those who are ‘othered’ by the status quo. All activism is not about the self, or A focus on the individual at the expense of systemic structures is detrimental to progress and impact. Harsh though this may seem, it’s those systemic structures that hold us all back and without the discipline to let go of personal concerns we will actually be choosing to subscribe (and promote) those structures.
Starve your fragility by listening to the voices of those with lived experience and knowledge around systemic issues.
Interrogate your epistemology
Strive to be ‘better, next time’.
Please for the love of God, as a person with privilege (wherever that may be located in your identity) never lecture an oppressed person about their activism.
I reiterate that, as a person in privilege, to be a decent human being we have to invite challenges and act upon them.
As a cis-hetero, able-bodied, male, I openly invite challenges, in whatever form because if I am causing the damage, I have no right to fragility. I am not a guru (a word appropriated from my culture, by the way), and believe me I am still learning. On my journey thus far I have learned to listen (more) and, more importantly, keep my mouth shut.
So, if you find yourself being ‘called out’ publicly and it is making you feel uncomfortable, embrace that feeling, then:
For what is worth I am ‘called out’ a lot; I am better for it. I thank all of my people (let me shout out @bristol_teacher, who I hope has never pulled punches when supporting my reflexivity). As a result, I don’t understand the doubling down on actions that uphold systemic oppression. Why would I be resistant? Because I only made one mistake and people are vilifying me? Because I didn’t mean it? Or is it that, having made a mistake, I don’t want to admit it? I do see why many find this situation challenging but I have rarely (if ever) seen activists continue to call out people after they have reflected, even if they are the people directly impacted by careless actions and words.
What makes Change?
‘At the centre of this conceptual space is (1) the zone of consensus, comprising social forms regarded as very broadly supported and culturally normative. Beyond that is (2) the zone of legitimate controversy, encompassing “issues” about which it is believed that reasonable people may disagree and still remain within the societal mainstream. At the outer region is (3) the zone of deviance, comprising what is broadly rejected as marginal, nonnormative, or otherwise illegitimate.’
Hallin 1984 in Clayman 2017
In short, the inner two circles are what is acceptable in society and discourse, I like to think about the zone of legitimate controversy as the there are ‘two sides to every story’ zone, where the zone of deviance is commonly regarded as extremist and radical.
Zone of Consensus
Some knowledge-based and some skills-based in education.
Zone of Legitimate Controversy
Solely ‘Knowledge rich’ ideology is the way forward. Solely ‘progressive’ ideology is the way forward.
Zone of Deviance
We should all be less intellectual.
The Overton Window
There is a congruence between the zones of conceptual space and Overton window; the latter concentrates solely on policymakers. Policymakers will work within the realm of acceptable to acceptable; however this window will move as the definition of what is acceptable/radical/sensible begin to blur.
Our society agrees that rights such as trade unionism, race and gender equality, weekend, sick pay, the abolition of child labour are correct. However, this was not always the case. These rights and laws were once seen as radical and extremist. This is evidence that the Overton window of what is acceptable can and has moved and extended.
Before the movement of the Overton window, no policymaker would endorse or attempt to legislate towards a radical or extreme policy.
Clayman’s 2014 describes politicians need to appeal to the centrist voter and while simultaneously appealing to a more partisan base voter (Brady et al. 2007). Centrist to partisan is the Overton window of acceptable to acceptable.
‘The most common misconception is that lawmakers themselves are in the business of shifting the Overton window. That is absolutely false. Lawmakers [politicians] are actually in the business of detecting where the window is, and then moving to be in accordance with it’ 3
Does it beg the question are policymakers leaders or are they followers? As they follow the narrative and the parameters laid out by the window.
Who Control the Parameters of the window?
Clayman describes the role of journalism as to 1. Ascertain the position a politician takes and 2. To judge and portray where within the Overton window or zones of conceptual space the position falls in their exposition.
Clayman’s findings shed light on how politicians balance appeals to centrist and partisan viewers, how journalists set the boundaries of mainstream politics, and how both parties contribute to a process of legitimation that enacts and at times modifies the parameters of the socio-political mainstream. Journalists control which policies (and discourse to an extent) are acceptable and which are not.
In today’s society, do journalists hold the same power? Or has the invention of social media added a rogue element to the way we consume media?
For Calling IN and OUT influence Policy Change.
My take on it is people are still being abused in the streets; black people are now 40 times more likely to stopped and searched by the authorities who are supposedly there to protect us, it goes on.
Do we expect all activists to expend emotional energy on convincing people to do the right thing? I recognise some of our work is completed in private, but don’t pull those who stand publicly against injustice.
All of our actions have consequences, ‘calling in’ can be dangerous because while we mollycoddle people privately, their words and actions still continue to do damage. While this behind the scenes process occurs, we show zero solidarity with those impacted by it.
There is also a societal conundrum to consider here. Like it or not every person with a social media profile has become a journalist. The public nature of the ‘call out’, fulfils the same role as journalists to ascertain a position and judge through exposition how legitimate that position is. Every single time this does not happen or the extremist/radical view is endorsed and the Overton window shifts as a result. Consequently, politicians and policymakers follow suit. Be aware ‘in’ or ‘out’ what we do matters.
Mahan, Jennifer. Calling In Versus Calling Out Throwing Out My Activist Armchair. if when how. Retrieved 30 October 2019.
Clayman, S. E. (2017) ‘The Micropolitics of Legitimacy: Political Positioning and Journalistic Scrutiny at the Boundary of the Mainstream’, Social Psychology Quarterly, 80(1), pp. 41–64. doi: 1177/0190272516667705.
When we congratulate white people for being advocates against racism, we make this complacency the norm. We shouldn’t put them on a pedestal for caring about the oppression of people of colour – if they are good people, they will care about racism and white supremacy. At a larger scale, we need to stop applauding white people for being antiracists; again, morally decent people will believe that people of colour are equals and should be treated as such. What should be the norm is disapproval of anyone who displays the aforementioned complacency. Though it may sound harsh, social pressure is incredibly important in affecting social norms. When we as a society expect all people to be antiracist, this is what will become the case.
The above paragraph has been adapted from the work of Marissa Cornelius, who expertly describes plaudits that men receive for their feminism. I have replaced the subject with race; the issue is interchangeable and applies to all protected characteristics.
UK educators adhere to ‘Teachers’ Standards’:
Teachers’ Standards 1
A teacher must:
1 Set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils
a) establish a safe and stimulating environment for pupils, rooted in mutual respect.
b) set goals that stretch and challenge pupils of all backgrounds, abilities and dispositions.
c)demonstrate consistently the positive attitudes, values and behaviour which are expected of pupils.
Teachers’ standard 1 originates from the work of Dr. Robert Rosenthal. The Rosenthal or the Pygmalion effect can be summed up as:
If you expect more of people, this has a positive impact on their outcomes.
The converse, the golem effect is also true, expect less of people and, you guessed it, they step up or down to the plate.
Choosing actions that support anti-racism, feminism, etc. should not be commended or even advertised. No matter which much you as a person has learned, grown and been a do-gooder.
But Pran, People do not choose their colour, gender, sexuality, etc.
I am stoic in approach to my activism; words mean nothing without actions and actions mean nothing if they aren’t in the vein of sacrifice. That all sounds like pretty rhetoric, and it is in part until we live it.
As a man, I think it is great that I use my words and thoughts to support women, go Pran the saviour of all women, give me my medal, wait… What do these words and thoughts achieve? Generally, diddly squat, please don’t give me or anyone else props for accomplishing nothing, what has happened though is that I have met the societal expectation. I have finished, I am done, I am off to shine my shiny new medal.
Actions and sacrifice are right then, Pran?
Yes, this is the aim when you utilise your privilege to act in a way which supports the oppressed that is the hallowed place.
Is this when we lavish encomiums?
While we use superlatives to describe the privileged for being a decent people and redressing the balance in a wholly unjust world, what are we doing? and accepting the fawning, what does that do?
Humility is an essential part of this work, while a privileged person is advertising the fruits of their labour. Where is the emphasis? The oppressed are still being oppressed, and this is the kicker the people in privilege (who people are throwing roses at) are still systemically benefitting from that oppression.
Please do return your medals and cookies. Let’s all work for a more just society because it’s the right thing to do and if you want to praise anyone, praise the oppressed because they live their lives and experience life in a way you and I could not imagine.
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.