Diversity cannot be a curriculum bolt-on

14 Jun 2020, 5:00

Educators from all backgrounds and contexts have been asking for guidance on curriculum reform in the light of recent events. Bennie Kara sets out some key principles

The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the realisation that black, Asian, and minority ethnic people are more likely to die of Covid-19 and the global response to systemic racism mean that, quite rightly, questions are being asked as to how the curriculum in the UK can be improved for the greater good.

We may be aware of Edward Colston, a Tory MP once heavily involved with the slave trade, now that protesters have removed his statue in Bristol. Did we know that in Bath in 2018, two teenage boys tied up their black classmate, holding a mock slave auction, prodding him with sticks and calling him racist names?  Have we moved on? No. Two teenagers were arrested at the beginning of June for re-enacting the murder of George Floyd, finding it a source of amusement and worth sharing on Snapchat.

These incidents might be products of a curriculum that has always glossed over colonialism and racism. One that has narrowed its lens, eliminating the contribution of BAME communities to the fabric of our society. One that views racism as a historical artefact and not as a current and lived reality.

Without a concerted effort to teach anti-racism through a powerfully diverse curriculum, we will miss the chance to educate our students about how they fit and how they are connected in our society.

I have been delivering “Colouring in the Curriculum” workshops for two years and my advice always centres on two areas: meaningful, balanced representation and developing teacher expertise.

Racism is still viewed as a historical artefact

First, audit your curriculum for how BAME people and cultures are represented. Are your students exposed to the beauty of African civilisations, such as the kingdom of Benin, through art, history and architecture?  Or do they just see images of famine and civil unrest? Do you include the presence of BAME soldiers in both world wars and other major conflicts? Do your students understand that the numbers and letters we use in maths and English are linked to Arabic academia?  Or do you only discuss the Middle East in light of religious fundamentalism and violence?

Highlighting the racist treatment of Crooks in Of Mice and Men is important, but where else in the English curriculum is there a positive, powerful representation of BAME characters and culture? Where in your curriculum is there space to explain how statistics on BAME deaths from Covid-19 might be linked to current social disadvantage and systemic racism – and how we can change this?

Teachers will have to step out of their comfort zones. As Christine Counsell, a former director of education at the Inspiration Trust, suggests, dedicate CPD to filling out knowledge of the “hinterland” of your subjects, but look outside of white, western European borders for sources of disciplinary depth and richness.

Overhauling the curriculum becomes a lot easier after reading seminal anti-racist texts and gaining a better understanding of systemic oppression. And if you don’t know where to find this material, ask. This is how teacher networks such as BAMEed and DiverseEd can be powerful sources of support. Once teachers are on board with developing subject-specific, global knowledge, that’s when you can review schemes of work. Give your staff the time to add in meaningful and culturally diverse material.

Quite simply put, it is no longer acceptable to claim your school celebrates diversity because there are posters of black sportspeople in the PE department corridors, or because there is an effort to put in an assembly on black history in October every year. Diversity can’t be a bolt-on to your curriculum.

An honest review means acknowledging where our curriculum has failed all our students, BAME or otherwise. The result might be that your school delivers a curriculum that usualises and commemorates diversity, so that more of our students understand that the murder of an black person is not a joke, but an affront to our common culture and decency.

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