'Students Need to Know the Harrowing Truth': Teachers on Black History in the CurriculumHistorians in the News
tags: history education, racism, British history, United Kingdom, teaching history
There is increasing pressure on the government to make black history a compulsory element of the national curriculum in England, not only something to be taught in Black History Month. The schools minister, Nick Gibb, told a parliamentary debate recently that he was not in favour because teachers needed the freedom to “teach lessons that are right for their pupils”. What did he mean and is that the best approach?
‘I wasn’t taught about black history at school. Someone decided I didn’t need to know’
Funmilola Stewart, head of history, Dixons Trinity academy, Bradford
We have a responsibility to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum and I don’t believe that is possible in the absence of teaching black history.
At the moment, studying the British empire is compulsory, but learning about slavery is not. It is impossible for young people to truly understand why the world is the way it is without studying the slave trade and the civil rights movement. Students need to be exposed to the harrowing truths.
But it’s not enough to teach black history through those matters alone. When we teach the Tudors, rather than focusing solely on Henry VIII and his six wives, we should be exploring the fact that some black people survived and thrived in Tudor society. Currently, the curriculum reinforces the idea that black people were latecomers to British society and were positioned outside it.
‘We are obssessed with American history at the expense of our own’
David Olusoga, professor of public history at the University of Manchester and author of Black & British
What I’m asking for is more British history, more focus on the British story and less focus on the American [civil rights] story.
Our obsession with with American history, I think, stems from the bad habit of wanting to look at American racism as a diversionary tactic from looking at our own history. We’ve told the American story over the British story, because we don’t have to feel so uncomfortable when we tell that story. This is about comfort – and discomfort.
You have children in Britain who have heard of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott but have never heard of the Bristol bus boycott – yet the people who led that boycott are still alive and could go into schools and talk to the children. You have children who have heard about segregation in the deep South. But they’ve never heard about the colour bar in Britain within living memory, in the cities in which many of those children are living.
I think what we’re calling black history is just British history. And I don’t see how you can have a full, comprehensive and honest telling of British history without just bumping into the aspects of the British story that involve our interactions with people of African heritage and the African heritage. It should be unavoidable.
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