‘Broad and balanced’. These are the two terms that are used to define the British school curriculum, but how is this possible if schools only focus on European history?
Eurocentrism is a big problem within the British school curriculum. Although it is most obvious in history classes, eurocentrism manifests itself throughout the other subjects at all levels with many unaware.
The focus on European artists in art and music and white authors, poets and playwrights in English are some examples. History however, is definitely the most problematic.
For example, in schools, many are taught that Black people from British colonised countries e.g., Nigeria arrived in the UK after WW2 to assist with building the economy through low paying jobs. Yet what isn’t taught is, that there were many black people in Britain during the Roman empire which dates at 43AD.
Which leaves us to wonder why that is?
History classes are intended to educate students on British history all the way from the medieval times to World War 2 but there’s one recurring trend- everything and everyone is white. Whenever black history is taught, it is usually in relation to slavery and the American civil rights movement.
Although they were despicable moments in history, must Black history be defined by these topics? For example, many are unaware of who Charles Ignatius Sancho is (first Black man to vote in the British election) or when Abolitionism became illegal in the UK during the 18th century.
In light of the Black Lives Matter movement and in recent years, many are asking for the curriculum to be reformed and for Black history to be taught, to shed light to the history that has been colonised. In 2014, a petition entitled ‘introduce Black history into the primary curriculum’ was developed and received 40,000 signatures over the course of six months. However, the government’s response was:
‘The content and structure of the new history curriculum provides plenty of scope for black history to be covered. However, this is not prescribed in detail within the statutory programmes of study. Instead, schools have the flexibility to deal with these topics in ways that are appropriate and sensitive to the needs of their pupils.’
By not expanding Black history beyond slavery and the civil rights movement, the UK government is by default telling our young people that they just don’t need to know about the dreadful truth of the British empire and colonialism that paints Britain as a ‘powerhouse’.
As a result, many believe that the UK is not racist because the cruel, negative parts have been cut out whilst they depicted the empire as triumphant and revolutionary.
The Royal Historical society has identified from a study that ‘it is this [overbearing] focus on slavery and exploitation that is disinteresting black students from history classes.’
To combat this recurring problem, Lavinya Stennett, a 23-year-old historian and writer, established The Black Curriculum in 2019. She aims ‘to challenge the Eurocentricity of the school curriculum at a nationwide level’ whilst ‘reimagining the future of education through Black British history’.
The social enterprise is committed to hold workshops all year around to not only educate, but to also instil a sense of identity and pride for black students. It is this commitment alone that has already seen over 1000 students attend since September 2019.
Black students deserve to feel pride and proud of their history and all that they had achieved. If we want to make Britain less ignorant, incorporating Black history is the answer.