Diversity, History, Reflection

Teaching Diverse History

Lydia Hasan – History Teacher

“But Madam, I don’t want to learn about stuff I can’t relate to…”

The amount of times I have heard students tell me that, and it breaks my heart because I remember exactly what it was like to be in their position. In fact, it was not until I was 19 years old, studying history at university, that I first learned histories of countries other than the ‘typical trio’ that schools give you: Britain, Germany and Russia.

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Whilst of course the typical ‘secondary school history experience’ gives you doses of other countries; it is always from a white perspective. Take the Transatlantic Slave Trade for example, usually taught in year 8, this is more than likely the first mention of Black people in the typical history curriculum a student would learn. But is that enough? Is it enough to just ‘dash’ an entire race of people into an already existing ‘British Empire’ scheme of work? For students of that heritage, it feels horrible sitting in a class knowing you’re a descendant of a slave and that’s the only time someone from your culture gets mentioned in history lessons. It’s not nice. So, going back to university, it was no surprise I got involved in movements such as: ‘Why is my curriculum white? and ‘Decolonize the curriculum’.

 

Fast – forward five years and I am now in a position where I am in control of what history I can teach my students so they will never have to ask, ‘Why is my curriculum white?’. This is very important because one of my main reasons for coming into teaching is to give students the experience that I never got; something that also happens to be part of the school’s ‘Education for All’ ethos. When you look at the demographics of the students in this school, you will notice the large majority are from BME backgrounds. This is something I share with those students; being half Caribbean myself and having the 70th anniversary ‘Windrush’ celebrations last year has given me a passion to design a historical enquiry exploring the history of the ‘Windrush Generation’.

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My main inspirations for designing this enquiry came from: my research into ‘Cultural Relevant Pedagogy’; the schemes of work in Robin Whitburn’s ‘Doing Justice to History’ book; and Robin Walker’s ‘Black British History Teaching Materials’. Also, for anyone wanting to read more about this topic, I highly recommend David Olusoga’s ‘Black and British: a Forgotten History’. It’s also been made into a BBC documentary, it’s okay, I watched it before reading it too!

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The title of the enquiry will be ‘How far were the ‘Windrush Generation’ ‘Welcomed Home’ in Britain?’. The reason for this title is that the first activity the students will have to introduce them to the enquiry will be to answer questions based on a picture of the cover of the London Evening Standard the day the SS Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury. The lessons will go from 1948 right up to the current day, including a wide – range of events such as: the Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963; the ‘Rivers of Blood’ Speech; the Brixton Riots and the murder of Stephen Lawrence. The enquiry will end by students exploring the modern relevance and creating a memorial to commemorate the contribution of the ‘Windrush Generation’ to Britain.

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As part of my action research, I will be evaluating these lessons throughout the planning and teaching stages. I will also (hopefully!) get some feedback from student and colleagues; ‘student voice’ from ‘Black’ identifying students will be particularly useful as it will allow me to see if it is true that students are more engaged when learning about history that they can relate to.

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