Teaching Black History

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02 October 2017 by ATL
On the 30th anniversary of Black History Month, ATL member Shakila Said shares her thoughts on the importance of teaching Black history.

Students in England’s schools, following the National Curriculum, learn the history of the world from a variety of sources. In year 2 or 3, most primary schools cover a unit of Africa. During my son’s time in year 2, they spent time learning about East Africa which soon led to his first visit to East Africa for Christmas. He was very surprised. He had seen images of the place from pictures sent by relatives, programs on TV and advertisements by various charities. He did not expect to find motorways, modern shopping malls or the majority of the population to speak English. Upon his return, he was happy to share his experiences with his teacher and classmates in the hope that they would alter their flawed teaching on the region.

Secondary school has meant that the Africa topic has been re-visited from a variety of perspectives. Fortunately for him, he has had enough personal experiences in East Africa to challenge teachers on some aspects of their teaching and their portrayal of the continent and its people. Kibera is not representative of growing up in Nairobi or indeed Africa just as Kensington is not representative of life in Britain. The holocaust may be covered two or more times in the course of secondary school yet slave trade is barely taught and colonialism does not form part of the Curriculum so it’s no surprise that Black pupils in this country go through the school system without any understanding of their history.

The school years are vital in the development of self-esteem yet Black pupils are not given a platform on which to understand their history in order to take pride in their identity as Black individuals. If young Black people are to become positive contributors to our society, accurate Black history must be given a bigger role in the Curriculum.

The issue of diversity and the media is an ongoing one and an issue at the forefront of my mind when my son was very young. I was conscious of the fact that my dual heritage child did not see many other children that look like him. I tried hard to show him positive role models. I was quick to point out sports personalities and entertainers that looked like him and spent time explaining their passion and drive whenever the opportunity arose with the aim of teaching him that heritage should not be a barrier to his achievements in life. I even got former President Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father” on audio book to drive this message home.

I made the very wrong assumption that all children were brought up in this way. When I was training to be a teacher, I noticed how Black pupils reacted to me.

When I would go, and sit with them to help them with tasks, they would sometimes ask me questions that had nothing to do with the task but they would ask me why I became a teacher. In my first permanent position, I noticed that Black sixth form students would always come to find me to ask me questions about university, the working world and how I found life as a Black woman in the area. It didn’t hit me until much later, that for some of those students, they saw me as a real life role model whose opinion they truly valued. I did not foresee this when I chose the teaching profession.

In a time of funding cuts and more teachers leaving the profession than ever, Black education professionals have an even more integral position as role models. Providing an environment that attracts and retains those individuals in education is essential.

Shakila Said, Equality and Diversity Committee

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