On Sunday, I attended a talk at the Bristol Old Vic on the theme 'Education is Resistance' as part of their Black History Black Present Black Future series. The panel was so articulate about the different ways in which the UK's education curriculum needs and school policies need reform, mobilised from both a statutory and political purview but also within schools starting at school governing board by interpreting regulations to make changes in favour of more inclusion and celebration of diversity.
One theme that was returned to was representation and the difference between seeing role models that look like you, who are doing extraordinary things, so that you know what you are capable of. Aisha Thomas told the story of conducting a workshop at a primary school and showing black people in profressional roles where a five year old white girl responded: I didn't know black people could make things, and a five year old black boy said: I didn't know I could be an engineer.
She discussed the problems of the stereotypes and represenations of black men being either a criminal or not present and supportive for their families as thus perpetuating ideas within the minds of white people who pigeonhole black people and black people, who thus believe that is their fate and future. She called for earlier interventions in children along the school-to-prison pipeline. During the talk, I remember thinking how similar this was to how I felt about extraordinary women represented in different curricula (English, (Art) History, STEM) and how I hadn't before considered this from a racial perspective.
Another theme that was discussed was the History curriculum and the problematics where Black British history is only discussed in relation to the slave trade and the kinds of internalised damage this does to black children today who thus associate their own culture and legacy with slavery and who don't have access to other black histories or narratives. The talk strongly emphasised the absence of self-love and worth that stem from this singular narrative as well as the psychological impact of inherited and generational trauma.
If British history is taught in Caribbean and African schools, why should the presence of black history in the UK exist only in relation to the slade trade? If we value and teach ancient Greek writing, Shakespeare, Norse mythology, why don't we engage in the rich cultures and traditions of Afro-Caribbean folklore?
One sentiment I found interesting was the burden of being the only black student in an otherwise white school (or context/environment) and the pressure this puts on the individual to represent blackness, which results in a homogenised representation in the space as a deeply uncomfortable situation to be in.
There was an emphasis in the discussion on the need to empower oneself and the importance of being empowered, loved and encouraged in the home in addition to the steps schools must take to address racism as well as unconscious bias in the classroom, curriculum and school policies. If the curriculum teaches kids how society sees them and classrooms are structured around the assumption that black students won't succeed as much as their white peers, the result is that they get less attention in class, are pushed less to excel, are assumed to be less bright, and are not offered the same opportunities.
One Bristol Curriculum is doing great work to address these issues locally.
And I am proud to be working for Teach First who recently launched a brilliant campaign called Missing Pages as a call to see greated diversity in the English curriculum.