A Reflection On Black History Month

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Rob King

Following University, Rob worked as a TA within an SEND Department, working with a wide range of students with various needs. He then completed his PGCE in History at the Institute of Education, London. He had the opportunity to train with amazing and inspiring colleagues,...
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Is your school curriculum fit for the 21st century?

As we draw towards the end of October, and the end of Black History Month it is right that we reflect on our Curriculum offering. October should have been a moment of celebration and inclusion. A moment to focus on the diversity of Black History.

The importance of being inclusive

Markedly, twenty-first century Britain is a country of complexity.  With a wide range of diverse communities and rich cultural traditions from all over the world.

Historically, Britain has had a difficult relationship with its imperial past.  As a result, much of the diversity we see in Britain is because of the historic actions of the British Empire. Undoubtedly, this history very much underpins many of the tensions that have been present in decades gone by. However, it is also the reason Britain enjoys such diverse cultural traditions. It is right that we should seek to move away from the old historic imperial narratives and that we seek to embrace the Britain of the 21st century. The Britain of the future.

Black History Month means different things to different people. Many see the month as an opportunity to explore and celebrate the personal and cultural histories of those of African and Caribbean descent.

Actions not words

If on reflection, October was not all it could be for you, your school and your community. If you did not give the curriculum time over to explore, embrace and celebrate. Now is the time for you to change.

Undeniably, sentiment is good, but actions are better.

Think about the students you teach, the students in your class or school. Has your curriculum done their personal and cultural histories justice? Have you widened the perspectives of those pupils without the cultural capital you take for granted?

Change yourself

Firstly, allocate your professional development time in the year ahead to change what you know.

Clearly, it is the confidence and knowledge of the teacher in the classroom that dictates the quality of Black History/cultural education.

Seek out courses, read widely and engage with people who are experts or have lived experience. In this connected world we live in there are numerous websites, blogs and twitter threads which offer an opportunity for betterment.

Change your curriculum

Arguably, the national curriculum has long dictated a stale and reductive student experience; pushing an over-simplistic white British version of history and cultural tradition.

Despite the fact that academies do not have to stick so rigidly to the national curriculum, many schools still insist on the slow plod through time from 1066 to present day, making the stops at the usual suspects, spanning a variety of bearded white men. Clearly, it is not a quick fix but you should change your curriculum to represent and embrace Britain’s diversity. Look for examples of Black History to support what you already teach. World War One is a classic example, so many schools focus on the trenches of the Western Front and completely fail to recognise the contributions of soldiers from around the Empire.

This change of curriculum can go beyond the History classroom. In the Art classroom, the Food Technology classroom, the English Classroom, and just about every other subject there is ample opportunity to explore the cultural traditions of an increasingly diverse school community, as well as further educate non-diverse communities.

October is only the start…

Black History Month has been criticised by some, including actor Morgan Freeman, who considers the concept of a month of black history to be ‘ridiculous’. That is to say, it can be reductive. Black history is British history. It is world history.

Consequently, October should be used as an opportunity to spotlight the achievements and contributions of black people to the development of British and world history. Whilst building on a year long, consistent inclusion of black history and cultural traditions in the wider school curriculum.

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