A rationale for Black* History and Black History Month

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A rationale for Black* History and Black History Month

“We need a history because everyone who lives here needs it in order to fill in the background to the debate about citizenship and nationality we’re having now. We need a history, which serves us all, rather than isolating us from each other. We need a history whose relevance is part of our experience, part of where we grew up, where we were created, and where we’re going to live. This is where the museum and archives sector has to intervene if it’s serious about cultural diversity. To claim our history is to claim our identity. There’s no escape, and we’re all part of rediscovering and reconstructing this history.

Mike Phillips Greater London Authority – Mayor’s Commission on African and Asian Heritage
The Black British History Experience?
28 January 2004

In a speech at Hampton Institute in 1921 Woodson addressed the issue head on: "We have a wonderful history behind us. ... If you are unable to demonstrate to the world that you have this record, the world will say to you, 'You are not worthy to enjoy the blessings of democracy or anything else'. They will say to you, +Who are you, anyway? Your ancestors have never controlled empires or kingdoms and most of your race have contributed little or nothing to science and philosophy and mathematics."

Carter Woodson, credited founder of Black History Month in the U.S.A. (http://www.dal.ca/~acswww/grwwnbhm.html as quoted in http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/

The histories of the different cultures that make up this country have been “hidden” from mainstream British history, whether through conspiracy or compete indifference. The National Curriculum for history has virtually ignored the histories of Black British people. Although there are optional units like “The Rise of Islamic civilisations” and “Black Peoples of the Americas”, they are optional and therefore are not as well resourced as the core units.

There are many reasons why all pupils in our schools need to study the histories of Black British people:

  • to empower certain groups in our community and enable them to develop self-knowledge and identity through history;

  • to value the contribution of everyone who make up this country;

  • it is important that black children understand and appreciate that they are all equally important to society. Allowing black children to understand that their culture is something to be valued and worth celebrating is vital to their self esteem and sense of identity;

* The term “Black” relates to those from the African, Asian and Caribbean Diaspora

  • to illustrate the richness of our history as a result of contributions from different cultures and communities of people;

  • for children to have a true sense of identity and the possibilities of what they can become, they need a true understanding of themselves and their history;

  • there is a direct correlation between children’s perception of their history, perception of the way that they feel they are valued and their attainment;

  • to challenge ignorance and stereotypical views of the wider community regarding the histories of ethnic minority communities;

  • “to prepare all pupils for life in a world where they will meet, live and work with people of different cultures, religions, languages and ethnic origins.” (National Curriculum Council, 1991)

  • to promote social cohesion;

  • it is particularly important to people of African descent in post-plantation societies that we fill the gaps in the curriculum;

  • the people of African, Caribbean and Asian origin in Britain have a right to their history and culture and this is a right which society itself should assist with;

  • as citizens of the 21st century, we all have the right to be enlightened about the world in which we live and be taught a balanced view of history;

  • it helps to maintain cultural traditions.

Black history should include positive images and events. When the slave trade is taught, it is important to share the fact that many Black people fought against the slave trade. Black history should be embedded in the curriculum in a natural and on-going way as should cultural diversity throughout the curriculum. People from the different communities that make up the U.K. need to be consulted about their History and invited to talk about it and share it.

Black History Month should underpin and highlight the work that is going on during the rest of the year. It should be a time for celebrating ethnic minority groups in history, not just be a series of tokenistic gestures. It needs to be planned and budgeted for by schools. Its profile can be raised by

  • having a member of SMT champion it;

  • making its organization part of the performance management of teachers;

  • incorporating it into the school development plan or raising attainment plan;

  • consultation about its content with the wider community;

  • asking a committed group of school students e.g. school council representatives to organize some activities for it;

  • publicizing it through newsletters, websites, assemblies, display boards, community events.

  • Showing how activities are contributing towards community cohesion

  • working towards a leading aspect award for the school in teaching and learning through a culturally diverse curriculum.

By ensuring cultural diversity through the curriculum and particpating in Black History Month, schools are fulfilling their duties under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act (2000), to be proactive in promoting equality of access and opportunity for all pupils, promoting good race relations and tackling racial discrimination. They are also fulfilling the requirements of the National Curriculum to “plan their approaches to teaching and learning so that all pupils can take part in lessons fully and effectively and so that all pupils are prepared for life in a multi-ethnic society”.1 The “Aiming High” report (DfES 2003, 36, 3.1.2) calls on the SMT to “encourage teaching which ensures that the curriculum is inclusive for Black pupils”.Top of their list in an SMT’s action plan (DfES 2003, 36,3.1.3) are: “Schemes of work and supporting curriculum resources reflect the background of A-C pupils.”

School will be fulfilling the following priority in the Birmingham Education Plan 2004-2009:

PRIORITY 1: Improve engagement between all learners, their families and providers in order to realise their potential and narrow achievement and attainment gaps, particularly Strategic Goal 1.2: To develop and implement primary and secondary strategies in order to raise achievement still further and ensure impact across the curriculum.

In addition, schools will be helping to meet the following objectives of the African-Caribbean Achievement Plan:

  • ACAP 3 Community partnership

3.8 Collaborate with African-Caribbean youth groups to promote positive images of African-Caribbean people and curriculum development, including African-Caribbean history;

  • ACAP 6 Teaching & Learning:

6.1 Ensure schools have resources which reflect African-Caribbean history, culture, arts and that these are used as an integral part of the curriculum;

  • ACAP 7 The Curriculum:

7.2 Develop and disseminate appropriate materials for other curriculum areas;

7.10: Investigate ways in which contemporary and local African and African-Caribbean culture can be used to raise attainment;

  • ACAP 19 Other initiatives, 19.1 Black History Month.

Schools will also be fulfilling the following objectives of the Asian Heritage Achievement plan:

  • AHAP 6 Teaching and Learning:

“Teachers are able to reflect the cultures and identities of the Asian heritage communities in the school in their lessons.”

  • AHAP 7 The curriculum:

“Pupils’ culture, history and values are reflected in their school experience. Teachers have the competence and materials to use the existing flexibility within the curriculum to make subjects more relevant to Asian Heritage pupils’ own experience and to reflect their cultural heritage.”

  1. DfES (2004) “Aiming High: Understanding the educational needs of minority ethnic pupils in mainly white schools: A Guide to Good Practice”.

  2. DfES 1 ( 2003), Aiming High: Raising the Achievement of African Caribbean Pupils, DfES, London

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