When the Government of the day start to role out their ministers, in defence of a topic that they have already managed to largely keep out of the mainstream agenda, you know something’s afoot. Perhaps they sense that restless educators and equality campaigners see right through their piecemeal offerings on black British history.
In recent weeks much has been made of the forthcoming changes to the National Curriculum, particularly regarding history. There was a small but significant outcry from organisations such as Operation Black Vote who organised a petition against the changes.
What were these changes to the curriculum and why were some people to opposed to them? Simon Wooley of Operation Black Vote and other Interested parties such as Labour councillor, Patrick Vernon, such as this website, B.A.S.A and many other groups and individuals beleived that the proposed changes amounted to a whitewashing of History. The changes amount to what is described as the systematic removal of positive reference to the contributions of Black and Asian people to British history. Not only that, but that the proposed history also belittled the revolutionary movements of the working classes as well as denigrating the achievements of women in history.
In the past fortnight, the whole saga played out under the radar of most Britons. The Government managed to keep a pretty tight lid on the whole affair. I don’t remember once seeing an article about the opposition to the changes on the television news. Some newspapers picked up on the affair, with articles appearing in the Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, Mirror and Daily Mail.
I believe some national and regional Radio stations also carried the story or ran features about it. By and large though, the nation slept on the whole affair. Believing as I do that Black British history must Feature throughout the School Curriculum, I wrote a brief call to arms on the matter (Hey, Gove, leave Seacole Alone), but wasn’t hopeful that anything could be done. After living under Eighteen years of Conservative rule, I was sceptical about the possibility of a Conservative Minister responding to the will of the people.
Yet, on the 7th of February, I was surprised to receive a newsletter email proclaiming Victory. The headline read:
Seacole and Equiano to Feature in Curriculum
Whilst being naturally pleased at the news, I doubted that the Government would have climbed down completely and felt that the inclusion of Black history in the British Schools curriculum would doubtless have come at a heavy price. London Teacher Dan Lydon summed it up best when he wrote in response to the article:
A Pyrrhic victory
Although the inclusion of Seacole and Equiano is welcomed, the new NC proposals are a disgrace. They represent the complete reversal of all the progress that has been made over the last decade in ensuring Britain’s diverse history is recognised and taught in schools. The tokenistic reference to Seacole and Equiano ignores the significant contributions that have been made to this country by people of Black and Asian heritage and wipes out a presence that has been recorded since Roman times. The first time any student will even know of this presence, under the new proposals, will be after studying history for 7 years! and the first thing they will be taught is that Black people were slaves. Gone is the awareness of African civilizations, the Blackmoors in Tudor Britain, radicals such as Cuffay, Davidson and Wedderburn. Where will students learn of the writings of Ignatius Sancho, the performances of Ira Aldridge or Samuel Coleridge Taylor? How can they be inspired by the pioneering efforts of Walter Tull or Claudia Jones? This misguided, amateurish attempt to impose a narrow, Little Englander interpretation of history must be challenged with the same vigour and passion as the campaign to support Seacole.
Since then, more and more people have spoken out against this “pyrrhic victory”. Pointing to the facts that British history has always been more complex than portrayed by the Schools curriculum, and emphasising that steps should be taken to ensure that the teaching of history becomes more culturally inclusive, from primary school to University. Rather than the current government policy of narrowing what is already an homogenous soup of vague omissions.
Author, Broadcaster and journalist; Yasmin Alibhai Brown highlighted the very nature of Britain’s longstanding interwoven Black Presence in her article in the Independent on February 10th 2013. Whilst her article Pay attention Michael Gove, this is the British history we really need to learn about doesn’t reveal any Earth shattering contributions by Black or Asian people, it does highlight the normality of everyday interactions between people of different ethnic backgrounds. Interactions that have been going on for centuries, unnoticed and obscured by indifference.
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare, Liz Truss hit back this week stating that the Gove led revolution of the curriculum:
The thrust of Truss’s argument is that the new curriculum should be interesting and relevant. I have to ask, To whom is it relevant and interesting? Britain’s Schools, have in their populations today, the sons and daughters of migrants both recent and from the more distant past. The future population of Britain needs to understand a history that is relevant to them, not a history that is more relevant to their grandparents of just some of the class.
Truss and Gove et al, say that to teach such history is pandering to the left or special interest groups and playing the P.C game. I disagree.
Michael Gove is out of Touch
History can be painful when you tell the truth. It isn’t enough to say that Britain ended the Slave trade, without admitting that Britain was a major slaving power who grew fabulously wealthy from the profits of trading in human lives. It isn’t enough to say that Britain brought medicine and technology and granted independence to commonwealth countries, without highlighting the brutal subjugation techniques deployed in acquiring those territories in the first place.
The Government should build an inclusive Curriculum
The government of today, or indeed any government would do far better by seeking to build a curriculum that portrays a rich and detailed, chronological history of the world, that brings into focus, the ongoing interactivity of peoples who contributed to the country we live in today. The days when Black and Asian kids are made to feel like immigrants in Britain should be in the past. We are British through valour and trial, and that has to be recognised. Yet before we became British, we were Africans and Asians, and we had our own vibrant histories and traditions and cultures, that deserves much more than denigration and belittlement and relegation to the footnotes.
What do you think about the changes to the curriculum? Is Michael Gove correct? Or, should the history curriculum be far more inclusive? I’m keen to read your thoughts. Please Leave a comment in the box below.
- Operation Black Vote:
- We’ve won ! – Mary Seacole, Olaudah Equiano
- Mary Seacole, a Very Great Victorian
- Change.org Petitions: A list of petitions urging the government to keep Seacole on the British Curriculum
- The Independent
- Yasmin Alibhai Brown: Pay attention Michael Gove, this is the British history we really need to learn about
- Elizabeth Truss : The curriculum we are introducing captures British history in all its multi-layered, omni-racial glory
- The Black Presence in Britain:
- Hey Gove, Leave Seacole alone