Now isn't the time to 'decolonise' the curriculum

7 April 2021

3:55 PM

7 April 2021

3:55 PM

Who will educate the educators, when the educators get things wrong? This week, one of Britain’s leading teaching unions passed a motion to ‘decolonise’ all subjects in the secondary school curriculum: not just history or English, but all subjects, including food technology, computer science, geography, and maths. Black history must be ‘fully embedded’ across the curriculum, NASUWT’s president, Michelle Codrington-Rogers, said.

What started out as a laudatory attempt to teach black students that their history is much more than slavery and colonialism, has led to a sad, pathetic, hyperbolic overreaching.

Black Maths? What is that? The only name of any mathematician I ever learnt at high school was Pythagoras, and no one ever thought of him as a heroic white dude – Pythagoras didn’t even mean a ‘person’, it meant ‘triangles’. People groaned and moaned when his name popped up, but no one mentioned what colour his skin was. So what will decolonised mathematics look like?

It’s also worth wondering whether we can trust those championing the cause of decolonisation, when they can’t even teach black history. Codrington-Rogers said in her rousing speech on behalf of all black people:

‘We built the pyramids, developed modern numbers, built universities. Our ancestors were philosophers, scientists, military strategists, authors, writers, activists and so much more.’

By all means, teach black students that they have done and can do wonderful things – but why would you teach them that they built the pyramids? They didn’t. And race was hardly a concept that existed in ancient Egypt. So why are we attempting to revise history?

What’s so sad about all this ‘decolonising’ stuff, is that you can do most of it already. The exam board, AQA, in their History GCSE, have modules on Asia (1950-72), Afghanistan (1990-2009), the East and the West (1945-72), and others on migration, colonisation, revolt, and empire.

At A-Level, AQA topics include: Christianity versus Islam (the Crusades), the national and racial schism of America (1845-1877), and American dreams and American nightmares (1945-1980), etc. And at any other board, such as Edexcel, you’ll find the same thing: the British Empire, the Spanish Empire, Mao’s China, the American West (1835-95).

When I was at high school, which I left in 2012, I studied Henry VIII, World War One, World War Two, and read about Britain being colonised by Rome, and then, Britain being colonised by the Normans. I also read about the civil rights movement, Hitler’s Germany, and Mao’s China. Yet my class didn’t need advanced courses in ‘postcolonialism’ to understand Martin Luther King or Malcolm X, to see the horrors of white supremacy, or to appreciate the terrible and awesome revolutions of Mao.

Today though, everything has to be renamed and racialised. Will the Civil Rights Movement become Anticolonialist America? Should Henry VIII be seen as a white supremacist?

As Leicestershire teacher Luke Akhurst pointed out to NASUWT at the conference, teachers can and already have changed the curriculum, but they never needed to call it by a new-fangled name.

The government can’t laugh at the left here, since they’ve already made themselves look like fools by telling schools they can’t use materials to teach from organisations which have expressed a desire to end capitalism. But teaching unions shouldn’t be lowering themselves to their level either. Children have missed enough time in the classroom already this year; they need to concentrate on the syllabuses they do know, not be given classes that are full of posturing and silliness.

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