“What is this movement to ‘decolonise the curriculum’? There is nothing wrong with the content we teach! It’s what we were taught, and it never did us any harm.”
“How, exactly, is the curriculum we teach in schools colonised, isn’t this just lefty propaganda?”
“The curriculum is taught in schools in London, London is in the United Kingdom, so, the curriculum is representative of the population’.
List as many people that you have used in the last year as a role model, pioneer, hero, discoverer, etc. with your pupils.
Did you get to 10? Now remove people who struggled for freedom or were symbols of resistance: Gandhi, Dr Martin Luther, Ernesto Che Guevara, Aang Sang Su Ki, etc.
Now, let us look at race, is your list proportionate? I would suspect that it’s not. Are you surprised? are you feeling feelings of guilt, remorse, anger, fragility, bemusement, etc?
We strive on. Next activity I’d like you to do is to answer this question.
How many people are racialised as white in the world?
How many people are racialised as white in our capital?
Before we answer, let me point out that race is a 19th century (British) social construct, scientifically speaking does hold any genetic worth when discussing group behaviours,
It’s below 20%. (Wikipedia actually cites the number as 11.5%) (This is based roughly populations of countries.)
The answer for London is 45%, yes in the capital city there are more people of colour (or members of the global majority) than those racialised as white. This Londoner would have it no other way.
Head to Google and search for: male celebrities, female celebrities, headteachers, CEO, etc. Now scroll through the google images.
What do you notice?
This is the story about how my life completely changed on my very first day of university. Those of you who don’t know me, I ended up going to the University of Birmingham to complete my undergraduate degree in physics, this is a Russel group university and to this day I’m pretty sure they felt sorry for me (excuse imposter syndrome) and wanted to increase their numbers of poorer students.
Sitting in Quantum Mechanics in between two friends who were racialised as white. One asks about our families, we go on the normal tirade of small talk, and then the following happened,
F:‘Is your father is Indian?’
P:‘Yep, this doesn’t rub off’ (I was a witty 18-year-old)
F:‘How did the Indians contribute to the sum of world knowledge or human achievements?’
P:‘Well Gandhi resisted…’
F:‘I said knowledge and achievements, not activism, or resistance…’
I did not have an answer after 18 years of a great education in the UK and growing up in my own household, I was left dumbfounded. Silence ensued.
I have, and to this day, never felt so inferior.
Hold your empathy for a second. The greater danger here is that those friends (and those racialised as white) had gone through the same world-class education system. As a result, they had gained a sense of superiority, they felt superior.
Let me say that one more time.
In the UK, those racialised as white as a consequence of the education they received (through no fault of their own), gain a sense of superiority.
Decolonising the curriculum is not solely for people of colour or the global majority; it is more about the global minority (those racialised as white).
After that fateful afternoon, me being me, I spent the evening reading. It turns out that all modern mathematics is based on an Indian system and algebra, which, by the way, sounds Arabic because it is Arabic. Ironically the maths we’d been using in that lecture was part of the achievements my friends were laughing about.
Now I could state thousands of achievements and contributions by people of colour here but I’m convinced that would not change your practice sustainably.
I repeat this statement a lot, racism is not about colour. It’s about power. Our education system and our society as a whole have impacted on our collective epistemological viewpoints. This oppresses some people (by no means is this limited to race) and privileges of others. The first thing you can personally do to oppose this is to acknowledge that this exists and that in our day to day and we are part of its propagation machine. Bourdieu refers to this process as the habitus self-propagated and protected.
When looking to make change as educators, the most important step is to realise that we have also been through by that very same system. Once you have removed that lens the next step is to educate yourself through fresh eyes.
We must aim to learn about your subject areas and together and together let’s start to stop this cycle.