Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Tackling the Taboo: Solving the Dilemma for History in UK Schools

“Need to Take What’s Yours”. So said a 9-year old kid at the very well attended launch of the British Black History Education Project held on Tuesday 8 November at the Institute of Education. The Project is the joint initiative of the Institute, Black Cultural Archives and Black & Asian Studies Association. It seems to sum up the prevailing mood of the meeting that it was down to everyone to take ownership of the Black in British History.

The Project aims to develop and research work on teaching Black British history in secondary schools, through Key Stage 3 and beyond. It is being planned as a joint declaring that the history of peoples of African and Asian descent is already a part of England’s National Curriculum history, and is not to be simply designated as ‘non-British history’; that teachers can be led into much more creative and authentic ways of interpreting the demands of the National Curriculum after the forthcoming changes, to enable students to learn a diverse range of ‘British histories’, and also to pursue those studies in examination courses in the 14-19 phase.

The organisers state: ‘Studying African-American history, and even African history, is quite common across schools and universities, and some even think that Civil Rights (U.S.) will soon be up alongside Hitler and Henry VIII in the common school history diet. We want the history of Black people in Britain to be as well known. It will take a lot of work to develop such courses and to give teachers the confidence to move it forward, and the project we are proposing would do that. The United Nations declared 2011 to be the 'Year for People of African Descent', and we hope this event will play some part in honouring those who have in recent centuries followed the whole of humanity in 'coming out of Africa'.’

The launch was mainly taken up with speakers, and two unduly short sessions to address two key questions. Marika Sherwood spoke about  the anger she still had about the lack of teaching of black history when she started teaching in the 1960s. O spoke about his personal journey of discovery about black history after being told at primary school that he had lied that his grandfather had fought in the Second World War. A group for former Year 11 pupils at School talked about the impact on them of undertaking a project on Britain’s multi-cultural history. Hakim Adi spoke about some of the problems in the University world.

While there was a good buzz among the audience, to me it felt like being back years ago. There was no recognition of the changes that have taken place, the enormous amount of research and writing that there has been on British Black History. It was a pity that two of the best teachers present were not asked to talk about their work: Martin Stafford and Dan Lyndon.

To my mind key issues facing the development of the Project include:

(1)    the continual battle to have British history re-told to include the Black (and as Hakim said women and workers).

(2)    the approach to teaching about Britain’s centuries old multi-cultural history because the increasing diversity of the population means we cannot ignore those who do not regard themselves as Black (whether in its colour or political meanings), or African (as many ‘Caribbeans' do not) and those from Chinese, European and other heritages.

(3)    the promotion of the enormous range of resources already available.

(4)    making materials available to teachers in a format they can understand and use.

(5)    recognising the difficulties schools have in including special projects into their timetables.

If the Project starts with a negative approach of out-of-date criticism then it will have no influence at all.

For further information please contact Dr R Whitburn :

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