How should schools respond to the tragic death of George Floyd?
Do you believe that schools are preparing all children for the realities of life and the workplace? What might a curriculum that is ‘future-proof’ involve? Here are a few ideas…
Firstly, on George Floyd. I am saddened and appalled by what has happened.
Secondly, I am acutely aware of my colour, my privilege and my position of influence. I know I must do better. I must speak up and I must support others. I am anti-racist, how about you?
George Floyd and British Institutionalism
For the first twenty years of my life, I was immersed in British institutionalism, prejudice and unconscious bias. This, despite living and working around disadvantaged people for all of my childhood and teenage life. Fast forward from 1973 and Great Britain is a very different place, or is it?
In terms of innovation, transport links and diversity, for example, perhaps. But what about racism?
I don’t claim to be qualified to talk about race, but I’m ‘having a go’ and I think that’s what I should be doing.
For the past 27 years, living and working as a teacher in London has helped made me become conscious. Fact.
London especially has allowed me to become immersed in diverse cultures, has shaped my views on Brexit and my politics. I do believe teaching by default does bring with it a wider lens on the world, regardless of where you teach, but I don’t think that by itself tackles some of society’s deeper issues, or my own.
Social media too can help with improving our bias, it brings diversity to our devices and a dose of reality, even to those who are not immersed in diverse landscapes. Yet, we know it heightens polarisation – a focus of my doctoral studies.
What about our school curriculum?
For my entire teaching career, I’ve supported and celebrated Black History Month as one example. Yet I find for most of it, I’ve been merely an observer, watching others teach the content, standing at the back of assemblies to facilitate guest speakers and pupil events.
Of course, I’ve spoken out where needed, but I reflect on my career and think, did I do enough?
I don’t think I have.
In some respects, my episodic memory supports my unconscious bias: That if I fail to talk about race and the curriculum choices we make, I perpetuate the problem. Black History Month, albeit a month to reflect and raise awareness, underpins the issues with our National Curriculum.
It is out of date and not fit for purpose.
Social media and cyberbullying. Gender, race, poverty and diversity. Managing finances. Having sex. Cultural literacy. Dealing with bereavement and mental health. A small snapshot of the essential issues in our lives, swept aside for ‘enrichment days’ in schools.
It is our accountability system which drives this problem.
There is so much we could discuss about the purpose of a curriculum. How do we develop our students to leave school and become successful contributors to society? How do we get to a place where exclusions decrease and student mental health improves?
How can we begin to fix some of the issues in our society, such as crime, poverty and pollution? How can we teach and celebrate diversity and equality? And how can we do all this without ostracising young people in our communities and widening the gap between rich and poor?
I have a never-ending list of questions.
We must keep questioning our decisions…
As educators, these are just some of the questions we should be asking ourselves.
We need curriculum pathways suitable for all students. We should also be discussing what information should be taught on the curriculum and evaluating the impact of what has been taught before.
How do our choices connect with teacher attrition, mental health, and behaviour? Why do LGBT teachers struggle in rural schools? And yes, how does all this connect with our performance in PISA league tables?
But what about racism?
For example, what’s the point of teaching children about Shakespeare if evidence later suggests that it promotes social exclusion, and poor performance in exams?
Many colleagues have been pushing to decolonise the curriculum, to broaden reading lists and move beyond a eurocentric outlook. What can we do in the here and now to ensure our curriculum is fit for purpose for our current students?
We all need to talk about race and racism. Myself included, no matter how uncomfortable some of my White teaching colleagues feel.
I believe our school leaders need to look very carefully at their history and PSHE enrichment curriculum – and more than just having a knowledge-rich overview. We must get deeper into the details about our young people knowing more about the real issues in our world.
Do we really wish to continue teaching young people about British history if we ignore certain aspects of it? Do we wish to keep Black History teaching to just one month of the year? Should all of us be speaking up about inequality, race and gender?
Yes, we should.
We need a future-proof curriculum
I believe we must enable teachers to teach content that is applicable to their school community without being penalised by external accountability. Why should our curriculum focus on some aspects and not on others?
Of course, at a national level, this becomes more complex when we have to consider what is and isn’t statutory, but I’ll leave this discussion for the time being…
Teachers must be able to empower students and set them off into the big, wide world with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful. This includes raising the profile of equality: Religion, gender, age, disability, religion, beliefs and race.
The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu proposed that a large part of our knowledge is based on interactions in our daily lives. Much of a child’s education, therefore, remains largely outside of the school gates, as they spend the vast majority of their time outside of school – their episodic experiences, not just the semantic knowledge the develop in school.
We have yet to get it right…
The protests across America and in the UK in response to George Floyd’s death are a reminder to us all, that we haven’t got it right. I believe schools still play a critical role in levelling the playing field. We need to rethink our curriculum for our future generation.
Connect Futures, a charity founded to create a change of thinking and bring people together, have published a reading list in response to the murder of George Floyd. How many books have you read? How many are on your school’s curriculum?
- Black and British: A Forgotten History. David Olusoga
- Back to black: Black radicalism for the 21st century. Kehinde Andrews
- People like Us. Hashi Mohamed
- Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World. Layla F Saad
- Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging. Afua Hirsch
- The Good Immigrant. Nikesh Shukla
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. Reni Eddo-Lodge
- I am not your baby mother. Candice Braithwaite
- So You Want to Talk About Race. Ijeoma Oluo
- White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Peggy McIntosh
- A tale of three cities: Public officials and senior representation in the NHS, University, Police and Local Authority. Zubeda Limbada
- Wellness for All: Anti-racism in the early years:
I’ve read three of the above books, and I know it’s not enough. So, I’m tackling my white privilege next. How about you? I’m certain I missed some critical points and by writing this, I will expose my unconscious bias and privilege. However, at least by writing it here to the world.
The bigger issue is how do we all unpick these systemic issues of power and structural inequality – and become more comfortable discussing this.
I’ve made a contract with myself. I am talking about race, our curriculum choices and what I need to do about it. How about you?