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Decolonising the School curriculum. UK Parliament Week 2020
The Political Studies Association is a proud partner of UK Parliament Week. During #UKPW the PSA will be sharing a number of blogs written by teachers and students of politics. UK Parliament Week is an annual festival that engages people from across the UK with their UK Parliament, explores what it means to them and empowers them to get involved. For more information click here.
This year’s Parliament Week follows a summer which has seen marches focusing on racial justice and calls for an increased focus on calls to decolonise the curriculum. How do we incorporate issues which have played out in our cities and social media and which have a very real impact on students’ lives into the set guidelines of the teaching of GCE parliament and politics?
As early as June 2020, commentators were calling Summer 2020, the summer of discontent. A long summer lockdown resulted in teachers and lecturers switching at short notice to online teaching, adapting curricula to online platforms. Across the Atlantic, in reaction to the killing of George Floyd, marches and protests erupted across America as justice was called for. Here in the UK, the BLM movement organised protests, and questions were asked in parliament on the inclusion of Black History within the school curriculum. As Colston’s statue came down, conversations on the way Empire shapes our cities landscapes played out over lessons, social media and the countries newspapers.
Within higher education, there has long been a focus on decolonising the curriculum in higher education, beginning with campaigns such as Rhodes Must Fall, and Mariya Hussain’s Why is my curriculum so white. For colleagues working in schools, little guidance is provided on how we can decolonise the curriculum and how this can be implemented alongside the national curriculum by teachers already dealing with the pressures of teaching under a changing environment under Coronavirus. As Shafi Nandi writes “Whilst there is more flexibility at secondary schools, academic research has identified it as ‘curiously limited in scope’; geographically, politically and in terms of the various axes of differentiation that would inevitably crop up in any meaningful account of imperial relations”. How do we then introduce issues of diversity and decolonisation to the school curriculum, particularly concerning the teaching of politics?
An Intersectional approach
The first part of this blog suggests how the adopting of an intersectional approach would allow for a more comprehensive teaching of politics and parliament. Although Kimberle Crenshaw’s term emerged in law, the term is increasingly used in politics to enhance student learning within higher education. This approach moves on focus on from individual axis of race, class, gender and sexuality. It allows us to examine better issues of inequality and representation within the teaching of politics. Interpreting set texts from this example will enable us to investigate issues of participation in a way which looks at marginal voices. The Edexcel A level parliament content calls for an overview of the UK government, examining the constitution and the parliament. By incorporating what Edexcel calls ‘non-core’ political ideas of feminism, multiculturalism through an intersectional approach into core subjects, issues of diversity become embedded within the curriculum.
Decolonising the Curriculum
Decolonising the curriculum in its most basic inception is learning history from a non-colonial view. The campaigns argue that history is often told through the viewpoint of the coloniser country. Decolonisation of the curriculum calls for us to consider the stories and accounts of those countries shaped by colonialism. It is about centring marginalised voices. Suppose in our teaching of Ideas in Politics A level we examine Mill. In that case, we should also acknowledge his views on Empire and learn the stories of those impacted by colonial practices whose legacies continue to shape politics today. Decolonising the school curriculum allows us not only to examine the history of voting in the UK but also stories such as Ignatius Sancho, the writer and composer who was the first black man to vote in the elections. Sancho was one of the key influences on the abolitionist movement. Projects like Colonial Countryside examine the links between country houses and Empire, show how these influential landowners, many who would have held seats in parliament, made their wealth in Empire. Decolonising the curriculum is more than introducing authors to the curriculum based on diversity, it is acknowledging the stories and histories of countries which were impacted by the Empire.
In 2015 when we began the Colonial Hangover project in the Politics Department, at Warwick University, we started with the simple premise that we wanted to create a space where our students could explore the stories of those who were colonised. We wanted to speak to the silence around this. The Colonial Hangover project wanted to let the students explore their personal history and map these into accounts told. The project began through an examination of colonial legacies – by seeking to understand how scholars like Adam Smith had interacted with the Empire. Through our work, we were struck by how many of these legacies remain hidden. Commentators in Victorian England spoke of the ‘spirit of enterprise abroad’ and celebrated the buildings which shaped our cities as a result. These buildings, the legacies of Empire, had become part of the built environment that we walked through daily. Of course, enterprise in the Empire, was the plantations, the exploitation of wealth in colonised countries and the practice of owning slaves. Students often relate to Empire in different ways and connecting these to personal stories and local cities, allows them to view history and politics in a new light. Ours is not the only project; both the Black Curriculum and the Runneymede Trust Our Migration Story offer lesson plans for schools. University outreach project likes the Connected Sociological Review also provide further resources.
Dr Shahnaz Akhter (PAIS, University of Warwick). Shahnaz is an ESRC IAA Postdoctoral Innovation Fellow and the Widening Participation Officer at PAIS Warwick. Find out more about Colonial Hangover, a research-led WP project, via @colonialhangover