Focus on slavery is putting black children off history, teachers warned

Teachers must stop devoting so much time to slavery because it puts black children off History, the Royal Historical Society has said.

A new report by the society has found that the “seemingly relentless focus” on the exploitation and abolition of slavery can be “intellectually limiting and, at times, alienating” for black pupils.

Aside from slavery, the history of British black and minority ethnic (BME) communities are “often absent” from the classroom, the report said. In order to foster a more inclusive environment for black students, teachers must “go beyond these limited vantage points”, it added.

“It is important that the history of race and ethnicity is integrated fully into the curriculum, rather than being relegated to a dedicated session or course,” it said.

The report, titled Race, Ethnicity & Equality in UK History, seeks to identify why History students from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds lag behind their peers in terms of academic attainment. It also examines why BME students and staff are underrepresented in History departments across British universities.

The Royal Historical Society was founded in 1868 by Royal Charter Image Copyright: Brian Snyder

The report says that creating History reading lists for students which do not feature black authors can a “barrier” for BME students.

School teachers and university academics told to

“question the absence of BME historians from reading lists”

drawn up by their colleagues. When compiling their own reading lists, they should

“include and draw attention to” BME writers, it added.

Teachers and academics should also “diversify” the content of their courses so that they are not “composed primarily or entirely of White (or White male) European authors”, the report said.

The Royal Historical Society, which was founded in 1868 by Royal Charter,  polled over 700 of its members for the report. It found that 86 per cent reported that in recent years, their department has sought to broaden its curriculum beyond Britain and Europe.

However, almost a fifth (17.5 per cent) reported that such moves had been met with resistance, with some respondent saying that attempts to widen the curriculum were seen by their colleagues as “not ‘real’ history”.

Students and academics at a number of universities have called for courses to be “decolonised” and include more works by writers from BME backgrounds.

Baroness Amos, the Labour life peer who runs the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas), has said that the university is decolonising its curricula as part of a culture shift.

Students at Soas have previously called for figures such as Plato, Descartes and Immanuel Kant to be largely dropped from the curriculum because they are white, while insisting that “the majority of philosophers on our courses” should be from Africa and Asia.

Soas students’ union said that when studying philosophy

“the majority of philosophers on our courses” should be from Africa and Asia, as part of wider campaign to “decolonise” the university, as it seeks to “address the structural and epistemological legacy of colonialism”.


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First Published 18.10.18:

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