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Brief Published: 22 Jun 2020

Students Push Schools to Decolonise Education

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US and UK students are pushing for curriculum overhaul to address the history of white supremacy

Students are leveraging the Black Lives Matter protests to push for a reassessment of how current lesson plans whitewash history and perpetuate systemic racism. This reconsideration of conventional historic narratives comes as US and UK schools pivot learning to prepare students for tomorrow’s workplace – as we describe in Future-Proof Education.

  • Protests Address Education: In Baltimore, young students protested to pressure the city’s public school system to overhaul lesson plans and address the history of white supremacy, incorporate more literature by Black authors and highlight Black history beyond slavery and the Civil Rights movement.
    The movement for inclusive curriculum is also accelerating in the UK, where over 435,000 people have signed a petition started by a 20-year-old Black student to add books addressing racism and immigration to England’s GCSE exams reading list.
    Black British students note the current curriculum omits racist atrocities committed in the name of empire and leads one-third of students to believe Britain was better off as a colonial power (YouGov, 2020). Erasure of Black British history from classrooms inspired a group of students to launch The Black Curriculum in 2019, an advocacy group demanding British schools teach the role Black Britons played in building the empire from pre-colonial enslavement to modern day.
    Founded this year, UK group Fill in the Blanks is also campaigning to mandate the teaching of colonial history. In January 2020, the organisation stoked public awareness by printing 5,000 fake issues of the free newspaper Metro and filling it with stories arguing for a balanced teaching of imperial history.
  • Decolonised Curriculum: In the US, select schools are rapidly readjusting modules to explain the power structures perpetuating racism. For longer-term solutions, organisations like Embrace Race (founded in 2016) provide strategies that schools and parents can use for racially inclusive lesson plans, books and teaching styles.
    Since autumn 2019, Chicago public high schools have taught the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which weaves together historic and contemporary stories of Black Americans to explore the effects of institutionalised, systemic racism. It’s a practical use that demonstrates the potential for progressive media companies and brands to take a more active role in promoting anti-racist education.
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