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Should Black History Lessons Continue?


John Simkin
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Sharon Foster, the black author of last night's BBC drama, Shoot the Messenger, recently argued that white teachers in Britain should stop teaching special lessons on black history. She also told the TES that white teachers should not take part in such initiatives as Black History Month in October. Foster said: "I think black history is the black community's prerogative... If black parents think their children need it so bad, they should give it to them themselves."

This is not a new argument. This was the view of the Black Power movement in the 1960s. I was attacked in the early 1980s for writing books on black history by a London teacher's group. Their view was that white teachers should leave this subject alone.

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Sharon Foster, the black author of last night's BBC drama, Shoot the Messenger, recently argued that white teachers in Britain should stop teaching special lessons on black history. She also told the TES that white teachers should not take part in such initiatives as Black History Month in October. Foster said: "I think black history is the black community's prerogative... If black parents think their children need it so bad, they should give it to them themselves."

This is not a new argument. This was the view of the Black Power movement in the 1960s. I was attacked in the early 1980s for writing books on black history by a London teacher's group. Their view was that white teachers should leave this subject alone.

A lot of this argument seems at best confusing. Whilst I would consider the absence of teaching specifically black history in an equal and just society without (a history of) racial tension etc and where teaching of history included the history of the whole society (regardless of colour, gender.........) a magnificent achievement, it isn't a realistic option.

I'm not really a fan of teaching black history because I'd like the experience, influence etc of black people (and all currently marginalised people) to be part of all the history that was taught, but that would be an 'ideal world' approach. Offering a critique of the marginalisation process as part of the history that makes black history an issue might benefit many.

I am minded of the flak Dan L received over his website, which is a powerful argument FOR teaching black history, and evidence that the ideal world isn't here. It follows that teaching black history is essential. THe same should be said for gender history.

If "white teachers" should leave black history alone, would the reverse be true? An evident nonsense.

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I missed that John - I tried to search for it on the TES website but couldn't find the quote you mentioned. Like you I have had the same kind of comments, most notoriously on a BBC Radio London debate, when I was heckled by members of the Pan Africanist Youth Congress (only to be supported by the Nation of Islam of all people!). I would be delighted if there were more Black history teachers and I would be even more delighted if I was helping to create future Black history teachers. When that happens I will happily retire, mission accomplished, until then I will continue to promote equality in the history classroom, as you and others like you have done.

I am afraid the TES does not put its newspaper online.

I agree with you that in an ideal world black teachers would be producing materials on the subject. However, until this happens, white radicals have a duty to play a role in this process.

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A lot of this argument seems at best confusing. Whilst I would consider the absence of teaching specifically black history in an equal and just society without (a history of) racial tension etc and where teaching of history included the history of the whole society (regardless of colour, gender.........) a magnificent achievement, it isn't a realistic option.

I'm not really a fan of teaching black history because I'd like the experience, influence etc of black people (and all currently marginalised people) to be part of all the history that was taught, but that would be an 'ideal world' approach. Offering a critique of the marginalisation process as part of the history that makes black history an issue might benefit many.

I am minded of the flak Dan L received over his website, which is a powerful argument FOR teaching black history, and evidence that the ideal world isn't here. It follows that teaching black history is essential. THe same should be said for gender history.

If "white teachers" should leave black history alone, would the reverse be true? An evident nonsense.

I agree in an ideal world we would not be teaching “black history” or “women’s history”. However, until the introduction of the National Curriculum, all the main educational publishers virtually ignored the role played by blacks and women. Even now, the tendency is to portray them as helpless victims. My intention in producing teaching materials on these subjects was to show the positive and active role that blacks and women played in history. For example, even now, teaching materials on slavery still tend to over-emphasize the role that middle-class white males played in the anti-slavery movement. Women and blacks are rarely mentioned in this campaign against slavery.

Interestingly, I did not intend to become involved in producing teaching materials on “black history” or “women’s history”. I initially was concerned with showing the positive role that working-class played in history (another group that are still largely ignored in history textbooks). This eventually led onto looking at other groups who had suffered at the hands of our “white masters”.

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