Posts Tagged ‘National Curriculum’

Jeremy Corbyn in Bristol: It Is Important Children Understand the History of the Empire

October 14, 2018

This is a short clip, of just over a minute, of Jeremy Corbyn at Bristol’s City Hall, put on YouTube on Thursday by the Daily Fail. Corbyn speaks on the need to educated children about Britain’s role in the slave trade and the British Empire, and mentions Bristol as one of the cities involved in the trade, like Liverpool, and some of whose merchants became rich from it. He states that it’s important people understand the treatment of Black people across the Empire and the contribution they made to it. He says that Windrush has highlighted this need, and the making sure all our children understand the history of the Empire will make our communities stronger. The video shows him descending the ramp leading up to the Council House’s entrance, and inside standing in a dock watching a video on the Empire, or slavery.

The blurb for the piece runs:

Jeremy Corbyn today unveiled proposals to ensure schoolchildren are taught about the legacy of Britain’s role in slavery and colonialism. The move comes on the same day as Labour faces accusations that it is ‘putting ideology first and children second’ with its plans to impose a new rule book on all schools. The National Curriculum already recommends that children learn about the slave trade, the British Empire and colonies in America. Mr Corbyn said that ‘in the light of the Windrush scandal’ it is ‘more important now than ever’ that children learn ‘the role and legacy of the British Empire, colonisation and slavery’. Pictured top right, a drawing showing a slave ship and bottom right, immigrants arriving on the Empire Windrush in 1948.

Thangam Debonnaire, the Blairite MP for Bristol West, also got into the I on a related issue. She had stated at a council meeting that the statue of Colston in the centre of Bristol should be taken down. Colston was a Bristol slave trader, who spent most of his life actually in Mortlake in the London area. He used some of the profits he made from his slaving to do charities in Bristol, including Colston Girls school. Redcliffe School, an Anglican faith school in Bristol, which Mike and I attended, was also endowed by Colston. Every year there is a Colston Day service at which a select group of pupils are given a Colston bun. The big concert hall in the city centre is also named after him.

He’s obviously a very controversial figure, and the Black community has been demanding since the 1990s to have the statue of him taken down. Debonnaire has added her voice to the campaign, saying that we shouldn’t commemorate those who have oppressed us.

Mark Horton, a professor of archaeology at Bristol University, was also on the local news programme for the Bristol area, Points West, on Thursday as well, talking about the statue, the debt Bristol owes to Africa and the need for museums here on slavery or Africa. When asked about Colston’s statue, he made the point that it wasn’t even a very good statue. It’s not actually very old, dating from the late Victorian period. He felt that instead there should be a plaque explaining Colston’s role in the enslavement of Africa’s people, and the statue should be packed in a crate in the City Museum.

He stated that if we wanted our children to be world citizens, we should also have a museum dedicated to slavery and Africa, like Liverpool’s Museum of slavery. David Garmston, the co-host of the news programme, said that Bristol already had a gallery on slavery at the M Shed here in Bristol. Horton agreed, but said that it was a small one. He then referred to the exhibition at the City Museum back in the 1990s, entitled ‘A Respectable Trade’, which went on at the same time as the TV series of the same name, based on the novel by Philippa Gregory. This had a huge number of people attending. Mark said that he had worked in Africa, and had seen for himself the damage imperialism had done, and a museum to Africa was the least we could do.

Listening to him, it struck me that what was really needed was for the Empire and Commonwealth Museum to be revived and brought back to Bristol. I did voluntary work in the slavery archives of that museum from the 1990 to the early 2000s. It was a private museum housed in one of the engine sheds in Bristol’s Temple Meads station. And it did a good job of representing the peoples and cultures of the British Commonwealth, including marginalized indigenous peoples like the Australian aborigines. Unfortunately, in the early part of this century the Museum was offered the premises of the Commonwealth Institute in London. They accepted and went off to the capital. The Museum failed, and the last I heard its former director, Dr. Gareth Griffiths, was being investigated for illegally selling off the Museum’s exhibits. He claimed he was only doing so as the trustees hadn’t given him enough money to keep it running. In my opinion, the Museum should never have been moved from Bristol. If it had still remained here, I’m sure it would still have been running, and would have been a major part of Bristol heritage sector.

I’ve got mixed feelings about these proposals. I’ve no objection to a museum of slavery in Bristol. Liverpool has one, and other cities around the world also have them. Roughly at the same time Bristol was mounting its ‘Respectable Trade’ exhibition, Nantes was also mounting a similar one on its history as France’s main slaving port, called ‘Les Annees du Memoir’. The slave fort at Elmina in Ghana, one of the main areas from which western ships collected their human cargo, also has an exhibition on its part in the slave trade. However, I feel that every care needs to be taken to prevent such exhibitions being used to inculcate White guilt, to express the attitude that White Bristolians are somehow indelibly and forever guilty because of what their ancestors did.

And there are grave problems with any museum of slavery which does not include the wider background to the European transatlantic slave trade. Slavery has existed in various forms across the world since antiquity. The Arabs also conducted a trade in Black slaves from Africa. They were driven across the Sahara into the North Africa states, and sometimes beyond. During the Middle Ages, they were imported into Muslim Spain. The Arabs also exported them across the Indian Ocean to what is now India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as Arabia. Indigenous African peoples were also involved in the trade. One of the chief slaving states in West Africa was Dahomey. In East Africa, in what is now Kenya, Uganda and Malawi, the slaving peoples included the Swahili and Yao. The Europeans didn’t, as a rule, enslave Africans directly themselves. They bought them off other Africans, who could also make immense profits from them. Duke Ephraim, one of the kings of Dahomey, had an income of 300,000 pounds a year in the 1820s, which was larger than that of many English dukes.

After the British banned the slave trade and then slavery themselves, they launched a campaign against it across the globe. the east African countries that became Uganda, Kenya, Malawi and Rhodesia were invaded and conquered as they were centres of the Arab slave trade and the British wanted to prevent them from exporting their human cargo to British India. In some parts of Africa, slavery lingered into the early years of the 20th century because those countries weren’t conquered by the British. Morocco continued importing slaves from Africa south of the Sahara until c. 1911 because the British prevented the other European countries from invading. At the same time, North African Arab pirates preyed on and enslaved White Europeans until Algeria was invaded and conquered by the French. It is estimated that 1 1/2 million Europeans were enslaved over the centuries in this way.

Slavery also existed in Indian society, and the British were responsible for trying to suppress that also in the 19th century. Then Indians, and also the Chinese, were also virtually enslaved too in the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’ in indentured Indian servants, who were imported into the British Caribbean and elsewhere, to replace the Black workers, who had been freed. The Indian and Chinese workers were technically free, but were bound to their masters and worked in appalling conditions that were actually worse than those endured by the former Black slaves.

The history of slavery is complex. It is not simply a case of White westerners preying on people of colour, and I feel strongly that any museum set up to show the history of this infamous trade should show that.

The Tories’ Use of ‘Red Scares’ in Teaching

September 18, 2013

privatisaOne tactic that Conservatives have frequently used against the teaching profession is to create ‘Red Scares’ about ‘loony left’ political indoctrination in schools. This generally takes the form of one or more of the Right-wing newspapers publishing a supposed expose of how the teachers in a particular area are attempting to indoctrinate their vulnerable charges with radical Left, anti-racist or gay or feminist propaganda. Under Thatcher in the 1980s there was a controversy over the inclusion of Peace Studies in the curriculum in some schools. The Conservatives also passed the notorious Clause 28, which attempted to stop schools from promoting homosexuality. In one of her speeches, Mrs Thatcher also attacked ‘anti-racist mathematics’ introduced by ‘Fabians’ and ‘champagne socialists’. The Express ran a story about teachers in Yorkshire teaching explicitly Communist propaganda. The Evening Post in Bristol followed a similar line about a Communist pamphlet that had been circulated amongst the pupils by staff in one of the city’s schools. Most notoriously, teachers in Lambeth and Brent in London were supposed to have altered the nursery rhyme ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’ to ‘Ba Ba Green Sheep’ to remove the rhyme’s racist content. It’s been revealed since as an urban legend, though I’ve met a number of people, who came from the boroughs, who remember being taught it. These stories then get expanded into an attack on teachers as a whole. From being separate incidents in particular areas, they are then presented as being representative of all of the profession.

It has also been used to attack the funding and control of education by local councils. In the 1970s schools were financed and controlled by the Local Education Authority, which were also responsible for maintaining standards. Under successive Conservative administrations, their role has been radically reduced. This has partly been done as part of the Conservatives’ ideological commitment to the free market. The idea has been that if schools become independent from local authority control, and are able to control their own budgets, competition between schools will result in higher standards. They also claimed it would give parents greater choice in education by allowing them a variety of different schools from which to choose. It has also been promoted as a way of freeing schools from the influence of ‘loony left’ local government officers intent on promoting their ideological agenda in education.

Now some of these fears aren’t unreasonable. Before the introduction of the National Curriculum the subjects taught and the materials used could differ greatly between schools. This could be difficult for children moving between schools, such as when they moved house. Educational standards in some schools could be low due to the extremely radical political views of the staff. The most notorious of these was a school in London where the staff subscribed to an extreme form of the view that children should be encouraged to learn only what they want to learn in their own time. In this school, children simply weren’t taught at all, but encouraged to go and play under the view that this would develop their creativity. When someone told one of the teaching staff that the pupils there couldn’t read, he remarked ‘Well, neither could they in the Middle Ages, but they built cathedrals.’ Eventually the scandal became so great that there was an official inquiry and the teachers dismissed, never to teach schoolchildren again. It was partly due to this and similar, less extreme cases that the Conservatives introduced the National Curriculum. The question of how much children should be taught about sex and at what age is also a very good, and extremely important question, especially as children are becoming increasingly exposed to explicitly sexual material at younger and younger ages. In some areas, the Thatcherite Conservatives have lost the debate. Many schools now run projects for Black History week in October, as a way of correcting what they see as the White bias in the history curriculum and tackling low educational performance amongst many Black pupils. More traditional Conservatives have complained that Clause 28 has for some time been a dead letter. As Cameron himself has now backed gay marriage, it is unlikely that it will be revived although the issue has caused sharp division with his party.

It is not true, however, that teachers as a whole are intent on using their position to indoctrinate, rather than educate, their students. Indeed, current legislation explicitly prevents them from doing so. The law states that they may not promote a particular political ideology or religion, except in faith schools. If the teacher’s own religious or political views are raised during teaching in class, they cannot present their views as objective fact. They may only say that they personally believe them.

In any case, from my experience most teachers aren’t members of the hard Left. They include people with a wide range of very different views across the political spectrum. Some are Left-wing, others Conservative, some Liberal, and many aren’t terribly interested in politics at all. Most teachers have entered the profession, not because they see it as a platform for advancing a particular ideology or cause, but simply because they want to stand in front of a blackboard and teach their subject or subjects. Privately they have their own beliefs, and may, and often are, concerned about government policies and the way this affects their job and the educational achievements of their pupils. In front of their class, however, the vast majority of them are rightly very careful about what they say.

The question of whether Thatcher’s reforms have really benefited the educational system, and provided parents with genuine choice is a separate issue, and one which I hope to tackle later. In this blog post I merely want to rebut the use of scare tactics over radical teachers by the Conservatives to attack the teaching profession as a whole, and promote their own policies of an increased workload, reduction of pay and conditions, and privatisation. With a very few, notable exception, teachers simply want to teach – Maths, English, science, whatever. They aren’t interested in turning the next generation of schoolchildren into wild-eyed Che Guevara-style revolutionaries, intent on destroying the bourgeois order. Unfortunately, it is all too often ignored. I’m aware that the examples I’ve used have come from thirty years ago back in Maggie Thatcher’s administration. These were the most extreme instances of the tactic, which I particularly remember. Nevertheless, it is still being used, both here and across the Atlantic. I’ve seen it used in Conservative blogs against teachers in America and Canada. I’ve no doubt that if the Conservatives meet with further opposition from the teachers and their unions, it will be used once more against them over here. That this image of teachers is largely untrue and unrepresentative of them as a profession really needs to be remembered and brought to public attention, the next time the Mail or the Express runs a story about ‘Loony Left’ teachers pushing Communism or trying to turn them all gay.