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#BlackLivesMatter in education

Marlon Moncrieffe, University of Brighton

The sickening death of African-American George Floyd by suffocation at the hands of a White-American policeman has justifiably fuelled the force of the #BlackLivesMatter movement across the world. They have proclaimed: ‘Enough is Enough!’.

In the UK, this movement has awoken a plethora of unresolved grievances from the past and in current times experienced by Black-British people through their egregious institutional mistreatment. The recent ‘Windrush scandal’ provides a clear example of institutional ignorance.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also revealed the true inequality of British society’s ethnic multicultural co-existence, specifically where it was reported that patients of Black and Asian backgrounds appear to be treated less favourably than White people, and are two or three times more likely to die from the virus. The Covid-19 crisis has exposed the privilege of ‘Whiteness’ (Eddo-Lodge, 2017; Di Angelo, 2011) in British society.

‘The epistemic violence of Eurocentric national curricula, particularly history, suffocates Black children’s life opportunities.’

When thinking about the death of George Floyd, it relates clearly to the early strangulation of Black children’s lives in the education system, where the epistemic violence of Eurocentric national curricula (particularly history) (Moncrieffe, 2018) suffocates Black children’s life opportunities (Andrews, 2013).

Commentators on the #BlackLivesMatter protests in the UK have turned our focus towards history, from the tearing down of the symbolically violent statue in Bristol of the slaver Edward Colston to calls for the decolonisation of the Eurocentric curriculum, including teaching Black history alongside and with White history in schools (Moncrieffe, forthcoming; Moncrieffe, 2020). It seems that future advancements for teacher training on history education in schools could do with centring historical consciousness as a key skillset for the development of teachers as critical curriculum thinkers (Moncrieffe, forthcoming)

Society’s default perspective for history is framed by the majority ethnic group, and in Britain that is the privileged ‘White’ perspective (Moncrieffe, forthcoming). According to Di Angelo (2011), White people are taught to see their perspectives as objective and representative of reality, allowing them to view themselves as universal human beings who can represent all of human experience. This is a standpoint of White privilege – a place from which to view the world – a norm against which the other is judged. The school teacher workforce census (DfE, 2020) presented 85.9 per cent of all teachers in state-funded schools in England as White British; 92.9 per cent of headteachers were White British. Just 2.2 per cent of teachers were Black people. These figures indicate the dominant influence of White-British teachers in the school population. Could this then mean that they will be more inclined to maintain the cultural reproduction of White-British history for teaching and learning in schools and classrooms through their privileged ‘White’ perspectives? Boronski and Hassan (2015, p. 122) argue:

‘…if Whites mainly interact with only each other, then this can result in the sharing of similar cultural and racial experiences. This can influence the formulation of shared attitudes, thereby reinforcing their socialisation and the developing ‘White socialisation’ […] this allows for further White supremacy ideologies to prevail because in a setting where shared values and attitudes about non-Whites dominate, White privilege becomes invisible.

For White supremacists, the #BlackLivesMatter movement is dangerous. This is because it takes a stand against the physical and symbolic violence of White supremacism which, as a pandemic, has oppressed Black people for over 400 years. In the UK, #BlackLivesMatter speaks to the need for curriculum transformation through evidence-based educational research (Moncrieffe, forthcoming). #BlackLivesMatter tells us that perhaps the biggest challenge to achieving a genuine sense of equality in society is through the transforming of fixed Eurocentric mindsets held by the majority of White-British teachers – the default position from which they begin to think about teaching and learning through curriculum.


References

Andrews, K. (2013). Resisting racism: Race, inequality, and the Black supplementary school movement. London: Institute of Education Press.

Boronski, T., & Hassan, N. (2015). Sociology of education. London: SAGE.

Eddo-Lodge, R. (2017). Why I’m no longer talking to White people about race. London: Bloomsbury Circus.

Department for Education [DfE] (2020, January 28). School teacher workforce (webpage). https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/workforce-and-business/workforce-diversity/school-teacher-workforce/latest

Di Angelo, R. (2011). White fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3(3), 54–70. Retrieved from https://libjournal.uncg.edu/ijcp/article/viewFile/249/116

Moncrieffe, M. L. (forthcoming). Decolonising the history curriculum: Eurocentrism in primary school education. London: Palgrave Macmillan

Moncrieffe, M. L, with Race, R., & Harris R. (Eds.) (2020). Decolonising the curriculum: Transnational perspectives (special section). Research Intelligence, 142. Spring 2020. London: British Educational Research Association. https://www.bera.ac.uk/publication/spring-2020

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