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Teaching Black and Asian History in Schools


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#16 Dan Lyndon

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Posted 09 July 2003 - 05:00 PM

sociological research has shown that black and asian students perceive certain subjects as ethnocentric and choose not to take them. History is one of them.  Further still, if the course content is more black/asian "friendly" they are still suspicious as it is perceived as being delivered from a white male perspective.

This is an interesting area - I am one of the white middle class male teachers that is trying to promote more black and asian history. The colleagues that I mention in my seminar are white, the contributors to this forum are (I would hazard an educated guess) overwhelmingly white, so what is to be done to tackle this? In my opinion we need to have some form of positive discrimination to encourage ethnic minorities into teaching. There has been a successful attempt to encourage more men into primary teaching, so a precedent has been set.

As an anecdotal aside, I took a group of year 11 students to a debate on Black History Month hosted by Radio London at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill last October. I was asked about my opinions about Black History Month and as I responded I was loudly heckled by a group of sixth formers from the pan-africanist youth congress, who were rather upset that a white man was speaking about issues that he could have no understanding of, and that I was engaging in another form of cultural imperialism. My students were rather shocked at the level of vitriol, but I was happy to debate with the pan-africanists. I explained that whilst black history month should not be needed I was very proud to have used the opportunity to challenge the status quo of white m/c male history and the students backed me fully on this. I was also glad that my students were able to see a group of politicised black youth, who were prepared to argue (rather than fight) to express their differences. What was also interseting was to be defended from the platform and from the floor (by the Nation of Islam no less) for the stance that I was taking.

I have also just returned home from a Year 6 prospective evening and the final parent that I spoke to (a black woman) came up to ask me specifically whether the school celebrated Black History Month. I think she was a bit surprised by the overwhelming wave of enthusiasm that rushed out of my mouth as I described the great plans that I have, the website that I was writing to ....

Edited by Dan Lyndon, 09 July 2003 - 07:30 PM.

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#17 Carole Faithorn

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Posted 09 July 2003 - 11:08 PM

I also wanted to respond to the above points raised by Carole (but ran out of time in the lunch hour!):

quote 1: We are in danger of creating a self fulfilling prophecy here - ..........

quote 2: I find this particularly interesting as someone who did a joint honours B.A. in History and African / Asian Studies and an M.A. which specialised in suffrage history......

Thanks for picking up on the points I raised. You are of course right about a self-fulfilling prophecy and also about the fact that should one choose to do so it is perfectly possible to find History degree courses which include a study of topics such as the ones you mention.

Gremlins were at work last night as I typed my reply but I had also intended to make the points that:

* Information about the contribution made by Black and Asian people to our History needs to be integrated within the curriculum rather than a bolt on extra and John Simkin has now provided some very useful links to information which many of us will welcome I feel sure

* Until there are more people of Black and Asian origin teaching in our schools I fear progress will be slow - if only because white teachers lack credibility with the students. (as Paul has pointed out)

I am reminded of the expression "Were you there" during the Black Power movement in the late '60s. At the time I was teaching in the Bahamas and nearly all my pupils were black. I fear they thought my youthful idealism was - in the last resort - touching but totally unrealistic. How could I empathise when "I wasn't there "? Thus I have a sneaking sympathy with the hecklers Dan faced at the Black History Month debate.

Of course it is quite easy bash holes through this ..... so go on (but without name calling if possible ;) )

#18 Richard Drew

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Posted 10 July 2003 - 05:54 AM

In my opinion we need to have some form of positive discrimination to encourage ethnic minorities into teaching. There has been a successful attempt to encourage more men into primary teaching, so a precedent has been set.

presumably, given the current teacher shortage this AA would not take the form of quotas. what from of AA would you be seeking? a few possibilities leap to mind:

~ higher PGCE grants/wages to encourage more members of ethnic minorities to become teachers
~ lower qualification requirements to get onto courses
~ all ethnic minority shortlists for jobs
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#19 John Simkin

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Posted 10 July 2003 - 11:07 AM

This seminar started by Dan Lyndon quoting a debate that took place at the Prince of Wales conference on history teaching. Much of this debate concerned the study of the British Empire. Scott Harrison showed some concern about the amount of time teachers spend on the British Empire. David Starkey disapproved of the methods we use and Niall Ferguson thought we should teach about the positive as well as the negative consequences of the British Empire.

Like Scott Harrison I also feel that teachers do not spend enough time on the British Empire. However, I would be opposed to any attempt by people like Harrison (chief HMI for history) to dictate how many lessons we should spend on any one topic. I totally disagree with Starkey and as I suspect most other forum readers will as well, and I donít think it is really worth explaining why at this point.

I do take issue with Niall Ferguson over the view that should teach about the positive as well as the negative consequences of the British Empire. I think we should teach the British Empire in the same way we teach the Nazi Empire and the Soviet Empire.

All three empires have similar characteristics. A powerful country decided it was in their best political and economic interests to take control of other countries. This initially needs a large amount of military power. That, however, is the easy bit. It is not coincidence that Hitler and Stalin were great students of the British Empire. What fascinated them was how does a small population control a much larger population. It was the same question the British asked in the early days of the empire. They answered it by looking at the Roman Empire. The only way it can be done is to convince the people living in the occupied country that it is in their interests to be conquered. It is helped if you can use some sort of philosophy to backup your claims (Fascism, Communism, Capitalism, Christianity, etc). You also need to convert very quickly a small group of powerful people to accept this philosophy. This was easier for Stalin as all the countries the Soviet Union occupied already had an existing communist organization. Hitler also had fascist organizations in the countries that he took over. Britainís problem was greater and therefore had to be done at a slower pace.

Britain, Germany and the Soviet Union also have to persuade its own population that it is economically beneficial to commit large resources (money and people) to maintain an empire. They also have to deal with the moral issues that are generated by having an empire. There will always be individuals who will question the morality of having an empire and campaign against it. Therefore, the government will also have to persuade its people that there is actually a moral argument for having an empire. That an empire allows you to spread something that is good (Christianity, Communism, Civilisation). This involves presenting the people living in the occupied country as being in need of help. Closely connected with this is the belief that these people are inferior. This message if portrayed mainly through the media. In time this message is contained in the history books that the country produces. This view will become part of what is generally known as the dominant ideology. Racism is an inevitable part of this dominant ideology.

I assume that history teachers in Germany do not look at the positive and negative aspects of the Nazi Empire. Do teachers in Russia take this approach? It is a genuine question. I do not know the answer. I do know how the subject is taught in those countries that had the misfortune to be part of the Soviet empire.

But what about Britain? How do we teach the British Empire? Do we really believe that we should look at the positive and negative aspects of the British Empire?

How we teach about the British Empire is closely connected to the way we teach black history. I earlier mentioned the way textbooks deal with the topic of slavery. To the supporters of the dominant ideology, it is very important that the impression is given that the slaves were given their freedom as a result of some sort of moral decision taken by those in power. At the same time, it is important to underplay the role economics and the slaves/ex-slaves played in this achievement.

Edited by John Simkin, 10 July 2003 - 11:38 AM.


#20 Dan Lyndon

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Posted 10 July 2003 - 04:49 PM

It seems like there is a relative consensus from most contributors about the importance of integrating Black and Asian british History into the curriculum (there don't seem to be any postings arguing that it is not necessary), so I was wondering how many people actually practice what they preach? I mentioned yesterday that a parent asked me about Black History Month - What is your school / History department planning for next Octobers celebrations? I shall give you some examples of what I have done at my school, and the plans that I have started making for next year, then it's over to you (if you haven't started thinking about it, now is the perfect opportunity - it is only four weeks after the new term starts!)

Previous Black History month activities:

Drama project 'Slave / Teacher' in collaboration with the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith
Videoconference with the Public Records Office about the Atlantic Slave Trade
Black History Music project
International food Day
'Raising Horizons' seminar with leading Black role models (Theatre director, engineer, lawyer, Historian, sports entrepeneur)
Participating in a BBC London debate on Black history Month
Ask the teacher (Black and Asian teachers / learning mentors / governors) - question time style discussion
African / caribbean quizzes, games, videos, resources in the Library

Next October I am planning to widen out Black history month to include Asian culture, history etc:

Indian drumming sessions
Asian dance sessions
An MC competition where the boys have to write lyrics based on characters / events in Black and Asian british history
A fashion show based on traditional wear
guest performers including a Black poet

What is anyone else doing?
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#21 Carole Faithorn

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Posted 10 July 2003 - 11:44 PM

I assume that history teachers in Germany do not look at the positive and negative aspects of the Nazi Empire. Do teachers in Russia take this approach? It is a genuine question. I do not know the answer. I do know how the subject is taught in those countries that had the misfortune to be part of the Soviet empire.

I can't pretend to be very well informed about the way in which History is currently taught in the former Soviet Union, but the school from which I have just retired has had contacts with a school in Perm for approximately 12 years (ie since just after the fall of Communism). There was originally a proper exchange programme, but unfortunately we dropped teaching Russian to any significant numbers and the programme lapsed.

However, students from Perm still visit us (if only briefly) and more significantly one of their English teachers has spent a couple of sabbaticals with us in the last 10 years. She always expressed admiration for the way in which History is taught in the UK and on her last visit (autumn 2002) gave me to understand that at her school at least the History Dept made a determined effort to discuss what had happened in Russia during the C20th in a balanced way.

Over the last 16 years I have also taught significant numbers of Germans and Austrians (often 16+) who had already studied the Nazi regime in their own countries. In studying the subject (again) for A Level I always found them quite familiar with the notion that the study of history involved a requirement to be as objective as humanly possible.

#22 Richard Drew

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Posted 11 July 2003 - 06:37 AM

I assume that history teachers in Germany do not look at the positive and negative aspects of the Nazi Empire.

that would be strange:

because teacher in Wales do. anyone who teaches WJEC and the germany 1919-45 unit has to look at life in Germany during WW2. as such one of the topics we have to cover is how the nazi successes in the early years of the war improved the quality of life of the german people. to deny this would give no context to the later dramatic slump in living standards and quality of life as Germany began to lose the war.

I am sure, as carole says, that Russians would probably seek to do the same, give a balanced view and cover all aspects to give context to all other aspects.
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#23 John Simkin

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Posted 11 July 2003 - 06:47 AM

However, students from Perm still visit us (if only briefly) and more significantly one of their English teachers has spent a couple of sabbaticals with us in the last  10 years. She always expressed admiration for the way in which History is taught in the UK and on her last visit (autumn 2002) gave me to understand that at her school at least the History Dept made a determined effort to discuss what had happened in Russia during the C20th in a balanced way.



European teachers are usually impressed by the way we look at primary sources and different interpretations of the past. In fact, some find it difficult to grasp this notion. I regularly get complaints from teachers from other countries complaining bitterly about the way I include different interpretations of past events. On one occasion the prime minister of Finland was asked questions in parliament about my website. It concerned the fact that I included a couple of Russian textbook interpretations of the Red Army invasion of Finland in November 1939. Politicians were blaming him as there was a link from a EU website (partly funded by the Finnish government) to my website. There was a long-drawn discussion about the issue in the press and later questions were asked in the European Parliament about my website. I came under considerable pressure from European Schoolnet to take the page down (I was doing work for them at the time). People who I thought were liberal suddenly became in favour of censorship.

It is easy for us to laugh about how the Finnish people responded to my web page. But it got me thinking about the way we teach history in Britain. Although we use the New History approach to other countries, do we always do this when we are teaching about Britain. I suspect we also have a collective national consciousness that makes certain topics taboo. The behaviour of the British people during the Second World War is one example of this. Although it is acceptable to question some actions taken by politicians during this period it is not acceptable to question the behaviour of the masses. For example, here are some facts that are unlikely to appear in school textbooks:

(1) A large percentage of the British people wanted a negotiated peace with Hitler during the first two years of the war. This is reflected by by-election results. For example, in Kettering in March 1940 an anti-war candidate got 27 per cent of the vote.

(2) That the British people booed Winston Churchill and members of the royal family who visited bombed areas during the Blitz.

(3) Over 10,000 British soldiers deserted from the British D-Day invasion force.

(4) There was widespread looting of peopleís bombed houses during the Blitz. The government passed legislation making it a capital offence but it was so common that judges were unable to impose it.

The same is true of the way we study the British Empire. Of course we highlight some of the major acts of resistance that led to the deaths of hundreds of protestors. However, little is said about the economic policies that led to the starvation of millions of people from starvation (I was deeply shocked when I saw an Indian school textbook dealing with this issue). One of the reasons for this is that comparisons would have to be made with the Soviet Empire under Stalin.

As I said in an earlier posting, virtually all textbooks stress the role played by people in authority, inspired by Christian morality, in bringing an end to the worst aspects of the British Empire in the 19th century. In some cases, such as William Wilberforce, the facts are changed in order to support this theory. Little is said about the role played by the indigenous populations in these changes.

I believe that the reason this happens is that we are involved in protecting our collective consciousness of the past. Maybe that is acceptable when dealing with subjects like the Second World War. I donít think it is when we deal with the British Empire. We have to ask ourselves what is the impact of this on our black students. Will they see their ancestors as victims or heroes?

#24 John

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Posted 11 July 2003 - 07:50 AM

Imagine that the ethnicity Great Britain was predominatly Black or Asian and as a white minority you were forced to send your white child to a school that was entirely run by a Black and Asian staff, who spoke a different language to your child, and celebrated all aspects of Black and Asian culture. This obviously also inclueds a heavy bias to the role of the Black and Asian hero's of history. In your childs English lessons books were read that you had never read as a child. In your history lessons white history was marginalinised and Blach history promoted an the dominatant discourse. Now imagine the terror of a parents evening, when you are forced to go into a school to talk to the teachers in Urdu or Benglai which you only have a passing knowlege about, and all the teachers are giving you important infomation about your child's education which you can't understand.
This the propect that parents not just from Black and Asian communities, but all other non-white communities face in Britain. Everything is weighted in favour of the dominant ethnicity in any nation and change only has to start small to make a big impact for longer term goals.

Britain is an alien world that displaced races find themselves inhabiting, it is terribly difficult to get any grip on the system and mould it to the educational hopes for their children. My only extra comment would be that to improve reality of the situation in schools, closer ties have to made to parent organisations of Black and Asian communitiesand other non-white, non-English speaking communities whom also find communication a great problem. This really does help in the context of including everybody in the education of a child. I can also guarentee that after several years of intiatating these greater ties to community, your own ideas as educators start to take on a different forms.

Edited by John, 11 July 2003 - 07:51 AM.


#25 neil mcdonald

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Posted 11 July 2003 - 04:03 PM

The notion of positive discrimination would be something I would not endorse. 'Selection' for teaching has to be on merit. I fully understand the issues of race/education and the consequences of that but, that said positive discrimination is discrimination. History Teaching is the best in the curriculum is does needs to be taught by those who are the best at their profession not according to race, colour or creed. I whole heartidly agree that a greater role for black and asian history in our curriculum to recognise the diverse culture we have in Britian today - Dan can you send me details about the Black History Month.
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#26 Mary Beth Borden

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Posted 13 July 2003 - 02:58 AM

The school that I teach at has over 70% 'minority' enrollment ( I use the ' because actually I am a minority in this setting). In any case, we have many Hmong students and have a very involved Hmong PTO (parent teacher organization) and a fulltime interpreter and Hmong social worker. The remainder of our minority group is largely African-American. Black History Month is in February here in the States. I have some trouble with the concept of one month set aside for focusing on the history of such a large group of pupils. Personally, I made the decision a few years ago to have every lesson be as inclusive of all groups as much as possible. At first it was challenging, but now I find it very natural to do.

#27 Carole Faithorn

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Posted 13 July 2003 - 08:04 AM

In any case, we have many Hmong students and have a very involved Hmong PTO

Forgive my ignorance, ..... but 'Hmong'? Not an ethnic group I am familiar with. Can you explain?

The point Mary Beth make about making all lessons as inclusive as possible is a very important one I think and one I believe should apply whether the school has a large ethnic 'minority' or not. This is not to decry the current value of Black History Month as a way of celebrating the achievements of non-white people, but if everyone did as you do then a Black History Month wouldn't be necessary ..... would it?

As for positive discrimination in the employment of teachers from different ethnic groups I have mixed feelings. I agree with Neil about the importance of selecting teachers on merit, but on the other hand whilst teaching in the UK remains a predominantly white profession the role models that black and Asian children need remain absent. Somehow that barrier needs to be broken and if positive discrimination achieves that then I think I would be in favour of it.

Over the course of my career I have only taught with four colleagues of non- white origin and none of them were Historians.

#28 John Simkin

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Posted 13 July 2003 - 10:00 AM

I have produced a list of annotated websites on Black History. These can be found at

http://www.spartacus...VhistoryRR3.htm

Most of them cover Black History in the United States. However, I have tried to find as much as possible based on British History. Please let me know if you have knowledge of any good websites on British Black History and I will add them to the page:

You might find the following particularly useful:

Black and Asian History: This Channel 4 website is a gateway to websites about black and Asian history across the British Isles. You can search for sites by location (via a map), time-line (via timeline) or subject (via the search facility). The website also includes support material that accompanied recent television programmes on black history.

History of Black Footballers in Britain: Arthur Wharton was the world's first Black professional footballer and 100 yards world record holder. He was probably the first African to play professional cricket in the Yorkshire and Lancashire leagues. But while he was beating the best on the tracks and fields of Britain, the peoples of the continent of his birth were being recast as lesser human beings. The tall Ghanaian irritated white supremacists because his education and sporting triumphs refuted their theories. In the late Victorian era, when Britain's economic and political power reached its zenith and when the dominant ideas of the age labeled all blacks as inferior, it was simply not expedient to proclaim the exploits of an African sportsman. Phil Vasili's excellent website tells the story of Arthur Wharton and other black footballers in Britain.

Black Presence in History: A forum for people wishing to discuss Black History. Current subjects include Black Merchant Seamens Memorial, The Other Side of Slavery, The First Blackman to Vote, Black History Month, Black G.I's in the UK, Black People on the Home Front, Black Racism, Slave Reperations, Black People in Britain before the Second World War, Second Generation Jamaicans and the Black Irish.

Black Facts Online: This website is an online searchable database of Black History Facts that you can use to: Perform full text searches for Black History Facts! Find out what happened in Black History today! Find out what famous Black people were born on your birthday! Help you research papers and articles! Help educate yourself and your children on Black History!

Multicultural History: A collection of articles on Black History including Caribbean Family History (Kathy Chater), Slavery in Barbados (Karl Watson), British Anti-Slavery (John Oldfield), World War One and the West Indies (Glenford D Howe), Colonies, Colonials and WWII (Marika Sherwood), Slave Island in New York (TJ Davis), Multiracial Britain (Diane Abbot). This BBC website also includes biographies of Marcus Garvey, Mary Seacole, William Cuffay, William Davidson, Olaudah Equiano, Claudia Jones and Phillis Wheatley.

Black History: Operation Black Vote is the first initiative to focus exclusively on the Black democratic deficit in the UK. It believes that without a strong political voice for African, Asian, Caribbean and other ethnic minorities, the ideal of equality of opportunity - regardless of race and colour - will remain an ideal. On its website it includes news and articles relating to Black History. This includes: Bernie Grant, Militant Parliamentarian, Great African American Inventors and Engineers, Henry Johnson, Harlem Hellfighter, Janet Adegoke, Lord David Pitt, Mahindra Singh, RAF Squadron Leader, Nazrul Islam, and Walter Tull.

Black Presence: Asian and Black History in Britain: This website is a partnership between The National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office) and the Black and Asian Studies Association (BASA), funded by the New Opportunities Fund. This exhibition appears on Pathways to the Past, the National Archives' website for lifelong learners. The exhibition covers Black and Asian history in Britain from 1500 to 1850. Most of the digitised documents presented in this exhibition are held by The National Archives and appear in four galleries: Early Times, Africa and the Caribbean, India, Work and Community, Rights and Culture.

Edited by John Simkin, 13 July 2003 - 10:02 AM.


#29 Stephen Drew

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Posted 13 July 2003 - 10:44 AM

My quick research on the Hmong people tells me that they are an ethnic group found in countries such as Laos, Burma and China. The Hmong people were anti-communist during the 1960s and 1970s, and fought with the West, led by the CIA, against communist forces backed by China and the USSR.

After the Vietnam War, and the ending of US support for rebels in Laos, tens of thousands of Hmong people emigrated to the USA.

There is good article about the Hmong people in the USA on this website.

(I feel I have learnt something completely new on a Sunday morning - excellent!) :)
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#30 Carole Faithorn

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Posted 13 July 2003 - 11:17 AM

I was on the point of going off to try to find out about the Hmong people when I realised that Stephen had already done so. Thanks Stephen :flowers:

This is a story that I too was completely unfamiliar with. It's always good to widen one's knowledge.

In the UK parallels could be drawn with the contribution made by people of the British Empire and Commonwealth in WWI and WWII.




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