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Black British History Must Feature throughout the School Curriculum

Black British History Began before the Empire Windrush

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:

Screen Shot 2013-02-17 at 21.42.00

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:

Screen Shot 2013-02-17 at 21.42.00
captures British history in all its multi-layered, omni-racial glory

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.

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6 thoughts on “Black British History Must Feature throughout the School Curriculum

  • 4th April 2013 at 10:23 am
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    It’s the same old nonesense. Of crying outto others, to do for us what we should and ought to be doing for and by ourselves, as people of African descent and ethnicity. Creat our own institutions, establishments, foundations, etc of learning. Write, record and preserve our (own)history and not (their) his-story. It’s simple. We need only to do it. But it requires, not talk- but ACTION.

    Yours sincerely

    Hudson Bartley

    Reply
  • 27th June 2013 at 12:45 am
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    Have been interested and recently researching civil rights history of England. Was initially very surprised to find so little info online and subsequently not so surprised (reading about the national curricula debate and the articles about persistent avoidance/denial of Black history).

    In comparison, here in the US, Texas publishers have an extraordinarily powerful near total monopoly on school textbooks, which you as Brits can probably guess the sociological consequences for the education of America’s youth being so dependent on a wide range of teachers across 50 US States to fill in the gaps from those biased textbooks.

    The USA doesn’t just have a problem with racism manifesting in how it does or doesn’t educate both youth and the society at large. If that’s not bad enough, the book What’s the Matter With Kansas? reveals some stubborn and ignorant persistent matters.

    What hope is there of getting educators to do the right thing about Black History when some politicians are editing something as basic as Darwin out of science classrooms (and in some cases attempting to make it criminal to not also teach creationism)?

    Obama spoke yesterday about some Executive Orders he just enacted regarding climate change. He commented on how we can no longer wait for those still in The Flat Earth Society to continue denying and obfuscating progress.

    Don’t know what the answers may be since no nation appears to have ever gotten it right. Case in point, yesterday the US Supreme Court on a 5 to 4 vote struck down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Though I don’t know how that act compares to the 1965 Race Relations Act that the UK gov passed, if it helps to commiserate about abuses of power, compare your recent struggles with getting Black history into UK’s national curricula to how several US States swiftly took just hours after the Supreme Court’s ruling to enact the abusive policies that the 1965 Voting Rights Act was previously holding back (like Texas within just two hours of the ruling to move ahead with manipulating voting polls so that Black neighborhoods would have 67,000 or so residents per polling place vs 5 or 6 thousand residents in white neighborhoods).

    I previously thought such matters had it bad here in the USA, but from both recently visiting the UK (and seeing the lack of “Black” info in museums) and from the difficulties of finding UK civil rights/history info online, I see that there’s much work to be done on both sides of the pond.

    Good luck to us all.

    Reply
  • 5th October 2014 at 11:04 am
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    Having followed links from TES Connect website in UK, I am saddened to read Dave’s post regarding voting rights in the US. I am already angry about the total narrow-minded and self-serving thinking that drove so much of Michael Gove’s policy changes for Education in UK. It’s good that he has gone, but the issues are still there in our National Curriculum and while Race Relations are still strongly upheld in many schools, especially in London, I do recognise that in places of power there are many attacks on our life-chances and choices being made at National policy level, often without the real knowledge of the voting population. The rights of anyone, black/female/poor/public sector/EU immigrant are being eroded and teachers are finding it harder to battle against injustices that we see affecting our pupils whether in the learning content being forced on us, or in what we can do about their social needs.

    Reply
  • 12th October 2015 at 9:55 am
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    Gwiz, any time this topic comes up I think back to Baldwin talking to a university audience and explaining that in order to defeat your morale, you must be removed from images of grandeur

    Reply
  • 21st July 2017 at 7:31 pm
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    The fact is that though there is some black history in Britain in the whole it is insignificant and the curriculum is limited, parents of minority groups are fully able to teach their children their own history, but the government teaches for the majority not the minority. If that is unpalatable to certain people they have made the wrong decision in migrating to other countries and cultures.

    Reply
    • 29th September 2017 at 9:38 pm
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      I’m sorry Robert, but I cannot agree with you. The history isn’t insignificant at all, the achievements of all must be celebrated.

      Reply

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