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?
There does appear to be a consensus about how we study black history. However, if we look deeper into what actually goes on in the classroom I think we will indeed find some disagreement.
In another debate on the forum about the teaching of the British Empire, John D. Clare has argued: “The role of the professional History teacher in this, I would suggest, must be to frame relevant and appropriate questions, to guide the pupils towards reliable data, to make sure that both sides of the issue are fairly addressed, and to ensure that the debate is correctly conducted and that the pupils form opinions not prejudices as a result.”http://www.schoolhis...topic=1497&st=0
On the surface this seems a very sensible approach. However, I think it raises two important issues that are worth discussing.
First of all, how successful are teachers in making sure “that both sides of the issue are fairly addressed”. Anybody who has produced New History type materials knows that you have to make judgements about the topics you are going to cover or the sources you are going to use. This involves issues such as “will this interest the students”. However, it also involves thinking about the possible political impact the material will have on the students. For example, when I wrote my book on Hitler I did a source-based activity on Racism in Nazi Germany. I used ten sources. Five of the sources had been produced by Nazis. There were two cartoons ridiculing Nazi racist ideas, a photograph of two Germans accused of breaking Nazi laws, an extract from a German religious leader attacking racism and a statistical account of the number of Jews killed in Europe. In theory this was a “balanced” approach. However, it was not, and I did not intend it to be. I carefully selected the five sources putting forward racist ideas. I was worried that some students might find these ideas attractive and would provide evidence for their own deeply held prejudices.
The possible consequences of using certain sets of statistics were also taken into account. I could of used statistics of the number of Jews who successfully left Germany during the 1930s. Instead I chose the use the statistics that showed the percentage of Jews that died in each of the different European countries.
I decided against using Nazi cartoons putting forward racist ideas but did use two anti-Nazi cartoons. Once again this decision was motivated by my assessment of what impact these sources would have on the student. The Nazis were very good at producing images to encourage racist views. There was no way I would give them the opportunity to continue this work in my classroom.
Although I selected an equal number of primary sources that appeared to reflect the two sides of the question, it was far from being a balanced approach, in the sense that I could not predict what point of view the student would take on the issue after they had completed the assignment. I clearly wanted them to end up feeling repulsed by what the Nazis did to the Jews during this period. Would it not have been immoral of me to do anything different?
It will be argued that studying Nazi Germany is different from other subjects and that it is the one case where the teacher should not take a balanced approach. I disagree with this view. I think there are numerous cases where teachers do not attempt to provide a “balanced view”. For example, I doubt very much if teachers provide a balanced account of Stalin’s Purges or the Hungarian Uprising. Nor, do I think they should do. What is important is for the students to understand why these events took place?
Should we as teachers provide a balanced view of the British Empire? Most would no doubt argue that we should. After all, the people behind the British Empire cannot be compared to figures such as Hitler and Stalin. Maybe not, but I believe the long-term consequences of the British Empire are comparable to those of Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia. The major difference is that Hitler and Stalin were not British and therefore can be looked at critically without implications for our view of ourselves.
As I have argued earlier in this debate, it is very difficult for teachers to be completely objective when teaching about subjects such as the British Empire and the Second World War. We are the products of a culture that has encouraged us to be proud of our past. That we have a collective national consciousness of the past. Although we are aware of such crimes as Amritsar or the bombing of Dresden, we see this as part of a much larger picture concerning the overall merits of our country’s behaviour. We are willing to take a critical view of these events as long as it is balanced with a look at the positive aspects of the topic. This may be an acceptable approach when studying the Second World War but I don't think it is when we are dealing with the British Empire.
The main reason for this is that we teach in a multicultural society. In our classes will be the descendants of those who suffered as a result of the British Empire. As a result we have to think very carefully about how we teach this subject. I do not think it is appropriate for teachers to take a conventional “balanced” approach. In fact, I think we should take an approach similar to that taken when studying Nazi Germany. That is to say, that by the end of the topic, very few students, if any at all, do not approve of what happened in Nazi Germany.
When studying the British Empire we need to challenge the way this subject has been interpreted by British historians. This includes the real reasons why slavery was brought to an end and why countries within the empire gained their independence. We need to compare the different theories about why the British Empire was created and why change took place (economic factors/Christian morality, etc.) and the roles that individuals and different groups played in this. Most of all, we need to look at the long-term consequences of the British Empire. If we do that, I don’t think our students will approve of the British Empire. Hopefully, it will also go some one in undermining the racial stereotypes that traditional teaching of the subject has in the past has helped to develop.