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Decolonise the curriculum

One month of Black history is not enough

Hero for Decolonise the curriculum
A woman protesting outside The Monument to the Women of World War II, on Whitehall, during the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests 2020. BLM protestors called for an end to racial discrimination in criminal justice as well as reforming the education system, which includes teaching Black British history Credit: Julian Zerressen
By Catherine Loveday 19 October 2021

This October marks the 34th Black History Month in the UK. Across the country, events are being held to recognise and celebrate the successes of important African, Asian and Caribbean figures that are too often missing from our history books. This year, Barnet has its own offering for Black History Month, including a discussion on the legacy of Black Service personnel from the RAF museum, a virtual Black History walk exploring Georgian London, and an exciting programme of events across Barnet Libraries.This October marks the 34th Black History Month in the UK. Across the country, events are being held to recognise and celebrate the successes of important African, Asian and Caribbean figures that are too often missing from our history books. This year, Barnet has its own offering for Black History Month, including a discussion on the legacy of Black Service personnel from the RAF museum, a virtual Black History walk exploring Georgian London, and an exciting programme of events across Barnet Libraries.

However, while this is clearly a great opportunity to shine a light on Black history, many argue that one month is not enough and that our school curriculum should be inclusive and honest about British history. In fact, one group of Barnet schoolchildren were so appalled by the selective way that history was being taught that they wrote to Pearsons, the publisher for their key exam text. In particular, they asked why their textbook presented slavery as an economic benefit with no mention of the brutality, or of the estimated 56 million deaths that resulted from colonialism.However, while this is clearly a great opportunity to shine a light on Black history, many argue that one month is not enough and that our school curriculum should be inclusive and honest about British history. In fact, one group of Barnet schoolchildren were so appalled by the selective way that history was being taught that they wrote to Pearsons, the publisher for their key exam text. In particular, they asked why their textbook presented slavery as an economic benefit with no mention of the brutality, or of the estimated 56 million deaths that resulted from colonialism.

Diversifying and decolonising the school curriculum is a key focus for the local anti-racist group, Barnet Stand Up To Racism. They have convened a working group to focus specifically on educational issues and I am proud to be part of this. We hope to motivate and inspire local teachers and librarians, as well as provide a central hub of useful resources and promote sharing of good practice. We acknowledge that some people are uncomfortable with the term 'decolonisation' and hope to help people understand what this really means and why it is important. Diversifying and decolonising the school curriculum is a key focus for the local anti-racist group, Barnet Stand Up To Racism. They have convened a working group to focus specifically on educational issues and I am proud to be part of this. We hope to motivate and inspire local teachers and librarians, as well as provide a central hub of useful resources and promote sharing of good practice. We acknowledge that some people are uncomfortable with the term 'decolonisation' and hope to help people understand what this really means and why it is important.

Collins Alwyn Joseph of Trinidad in the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire of No. 132 Squadron. Joseph was a WW2 Caribbean Aircrew RAF pilot who was killed on December 31, 1944, when his Spitfire was hit by ground fire.Collins Alwyn Joseph of Trinidad in the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire of No. 132 Squadron. Joseph was a WW2 Caribbean Aircrew RAF pilot who was killed on December 31, 1944, when his Spitfire was hit by ground fire.

In an educational setting ‘decolonisation’ is about making sure that no one’s history is erased or ignored, as well as ensuring that all children feel that their own histories and cultures are accurately represented. It is not simply a question of including more diverse scholars, but of challenging the perspectives of established texts and empowering educators to facilitate that.In an educational setting ‘decolonisation’ is about making sure that no one’s history is erased or ignored, as well as ensuring that all children feel that their own histories and cultures are accurately represented. It is not simply a question of including more diverse scholars, but of challenging the perspectives of established texts and empowering educators to facilitate that.

Last year Barnet Stand Up To Racism held an online event for residents, parents and teachers with presentations from experts, teachers, school librarians, and parents with lived experience. Since then, they have been building a network of interested people and are working on a website that will provide a central hub for useful educational resources.Last year Barnet Stand Up To Racism held an online event for residents, parents and teachers with presentations from experts, teachers, school librarians, and parents with lived experience. Since then, they have been building a network of interested people and are working on a website that will provide a central hub for useful educational resources.

Sarah Jackson, Secretary of Barnet Stand Up To Racism says, “Barnet is a diverse borough with over 40% of the population describing themselves as Black, Asian or Ethnic Minority. If we omit the histories of 40% of Barnet’s population from our schools, libraries and community spaces then we are sending the message that they are not part of our country or our heritage, which is simply not true.”Sarah Jackson, Secretary of Barnet Stand Up To Racism says, “Barnet is a diverse borough with over 40% of the population describing themselves as Black, Asian or Ethnic Minority. If we omit the histories of 40% of Barnet’s population from our schools, libraries and community spaces then we are sending the message that they are not part of our country or our heritage, which is simply not true.”

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Photos: @julianzerressenPhotos: @julianzerressen