The "How To.." Part I

In the last few weeks, I have been a part of a number of conversations with teachers about adapting the curriculum so that the communities we work in are reflected more appropriately through it. Today’s blog will be about some of the practical steps we can take to make that happen. But to start off, I would like to make two points.

Firstly, whilst the issue of race is prevalent in our minds at the moment, other social issues are also very significant. As we approach a curriculum review our critical lenses enable to ask all sorts of questions which allow us to step up and say that racism, sexism, climate injustice and poverty are all oppressing people, so let’s try to address them together, with one set of lenses. Rather than reviewing the curriculum with race in mind and making lots of changes and then, later on, doing the same with a feminist perspective, we might be able to respond to all these aspects. This means that wherever there is injustice or where one cultural view dominates at the expense of others, we find a way to make things more equitable or inclusive.

Secondly, that if you teach in a predominantly white school, this is also for you. We live in a globalised world, and even if your students are in a white community today, that may not always be the case. Many of them will go on to other schools, colleges, universities and workplaces which are ethnically and socially diverse. It is important that they develop a vocabulary to be able talk about race, that they begin to develop a sense of their own ethnic identity and to understand that they have a voice and can take action to bring about change where there is inequality. White people are complicit in perpetuating systemic racism when they don’t speak up about it. We all have a role to play in dismantling racism in society. So, how do we begin?

Step 1: Pose Some Questions.

For me, the best way to begin often means asking some question to get myself thinking. Here are some of the questions that my colleagues and I have been asking in both primary and secondary settings:

· When we teach about historical periods, how can we teach the whole picture, from a range of perspectives, not primarily a white British one?

· How can we move away from Black History Month and teach Black History throughout the year and throughout the curriculum?

· How can we teach a gender equality perspective throughout the year and throughout the curriculum?

· How can we broaden the curriculum to include greater recognition of those whose stories have traditionally been neglected?

If at this point you are struggling to imagine teaching from anything but from a white British lens, because, like me, you are white and British, then this is the moment to start education yourself about black and ethnic minority (BAME) histories. I will list some resources to support you in doing so at the end of this blog. Even in the most monocultural and quintessentially white corners of our world we can read books by authors of different cultures, listen to podcasts, watch TV programmes that broaden our perspective and make friends with people who are different from ourselves. I can tell you from my own experience that there is a lot of vocabulary and terminology out there that we need to get familiar with before we can provide some deep and meaningful discussion prompts for our students. Terms like “white supremacy”, “white privilege”, “white fragility “ and “tone policing”, are useful in helping us engage with and reflect on where we are personally. Please do not shy away from the work we have to do as teachers before we teach other on the issue of race. Embrace it, you will grow, you will do even better at preparing your students for their future lives.

Step 2: Have Conversations.

Once we have done some work of our own and begun to ask critical questions of our teaching practice and the curriculum, what can we do next? The next step is to have conversations with colleagues. This enables you to begin to create a shared vocabulary for approaching a review of the curriculum. The more you can talk about integrating a social justice perspective and viewing the curriculum through lenses which identify inequality, the more traction you will get. As you develop a language for explaining critical pedagogy, introduce it to others. The more you talk, the more you can together ask and pose questions like:

How many of our texts this year are by ethnically diverse writers?

How many of our texts have main characters who are not white?

When we study the Victorians, what was going on in the rest of the world, in other cultures?

How can we de-colonise the curriculum?

When I study a specific location in Geography, how has it been affected by climate change?

When I study invertebrates in Science, how are there habitats being affected by climate change, deforestation and changing land use?

When I teach the Reformation, who were the female theologians involved?

When we research moon exploration, where male names jump out at us, which women have been in space?

One of the things I like most abut critical pedagogy is that you integrate this perspective across the curriculum and in doing so address a whole range of social issues rather than just one or two. It is not that we are trying to squeeze in some extra texts or a few examples here and there. Instead, we are making a genuine and authentic attempt to include everyone, listen to their stories and perspectives, invite challenge when we are blind to it, equip students with a vocabulary to use in articulating the injustices they see and introducing them to appropriate actions that can take to bring change.

Step 3: Reviewing and Auditing Together.

With our own self-awareness developing, pertinent questions to pose, a developing shared team vocabulary and a willingness to be brave and bring change we can then take a good, long, in depth look at the curriculum. This may be by a subject-leader, a department, or individual topic planners. It means delving into curriculum documents to scrutinise them with the lenses of justice we wear. Once we have noticed where content or learning objectives are reflecting some aspect of inequality we can highlight them and begin to design content or approaches that could replace them. Next time I will write more about this and provide some tools to help us.

Lastly, as we move into action, into making the changes, we need to take an organic approach. Some aspects can be identified and rectified straight away, some will occur to us as we are teaching a unit or even a lesson. As we continue the journey we will grow in spotting the inequalities and work to provide lessons which create critical consciousness for ourselves and our students. In fact, sometimes the students are way ahead of us.

A Final Note

You might find that these steps happen all at once or in a different order, that is fine. The more organic, collaborative and dialogic the process, the better I think the outcome will be. You may have other and better ways of doing it. If so, I would love to hear how you have brought a critical perspective to your school setting. Please leave your comments about this below.

Further Reflection

Does my school or my teaching integrate perspectives from a range of backgrounds and ethnicities? How do I feel about that?

Who could I begin to have conversations about this with in my school context? How could I go about that? Who could I connect with?

When I approach teaching a new unit, what questions could I ask myself as I prepare, so that I am teaching for a critical perspective?

How can include multiple perspectives in what I teach, not just the dominant one?

What goals am I realistically able to set myself at this time for educating myself about Black History? What could I read, watch, listen to in order to move towards a place of being better understanding?

How aware am I of my own ethnicity? How do I identify? How can I examine my own whiteness/blackness/ethnicity in more depth?

Further Learning “How We Got Here” is a series is to educate and empower young people and adults with knowledge surrounding Black British History as well as an insight into African American History.

Reni Eddo-Lodge “Why I’m no longer talking to white people about Race” Podcast #147: Why White Students need Multicultural and Social Justice Education. (UK perspective)

Sitting in Limbo BBC i-player

Layla F. Saad “Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World.

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