The following was my five-minute introduction to a debate on the curriculum in schools and universities.
We need a debate about the curriculum and the knowledge we teach pupils in schools and later on at university level.
The decolonising the curriculum movement isn’t it. The entitled demands of pampered middle and upper-class students is more about the failures of liberal parenting than what should be taught. The focus on race, gender and sexuality is the culmination of the left’s use of the education system as an ideological playground and the exercises in collective narcissism demonstrate the degradation of academic knowledge at all levels, perfectly illustrating why Michael Gove needed to make the changes he did to primary and secondary education.
Yet the decolonising movement has raised some relevant issues.
I have had to re-examine the concept of multiculturalism. In my mind, it was simply the existence of multiple ethnic groups. Yet I can see the concept of multiculturalism was the product of white middle and upper-class left-wingers who didn’t live among ethnic minorities. It was their way of coping with the changing make-up of society while making minimal changes to their mindset. What was the Empire abroad was thus converted in multiculturalism at home.
The BAME who moved to the middle class put on their pretences in order to fit in with this section of society and their concept of multiculturalism in order to get ahead which they have done by and large. More gradual but real improvements in race relations have gone unnoticed or unacknowledged to an extent because they occurred in groups the left don’t associate with much or consider worthy – e.g. conservative party, religious groups, ex-industrial English working class, etc, with only the negative interactions and experiences focused on.
I now see the decolonisation movement as a mirror being held to this section of society by those privileged BAME students who (unlike me) have grown up among them. This section of the left has spent so much time pointing out the speck in other people’s eyes using political correctness as a weapon that it hasn’t noticed the plank in its own. The adoption of a colourblind ideology has only served to deflect from the necessary private soul-searching that others have been expected to do on the matter of race. That is not to say there is rampant racism among this group but the tendency to be pretentious and a refusal to admit one is wrong is coming back to bite hard. Tragically the privileged BAME have turned to critical race theorists who are themselves stuck in academic echo chambers advancing ideas that don’t reflect British society and focusing on deconstructing to find the tiniest incidents of racism. So we get to the point where a small but powerful group are now engaged in an arms race of exaggeration to deal with what are increasingly minor issues of racism among their own group.
The students with their limited life experiences are misinterpreting the reaction they receive from other sections of society because they lack the knowledge to understand how life was and has been experienced outside of their sphere of influence. Thus, I from a working-class Indian background, do not see what they are doing as decolonisation at all but a racialisation, especially given the changes that have occurred over time in the groups I have lived among.
In terms of the curriculum, so many of the initiatives they are pushing for have already proved irrelevant or pointless at lower levels of education but this is not taken into account.
The inclusion of black writers on the curriculum has not made a jot of difference to the outcomes of black children – the differences between the black Caribbean and African children are accounted for by different factors. Chinese and Indian children have had no problem excelling despite few if any efforts being made to represent their identity on the curriculum. Also, it is clear to me that efforts such as Black History Month are not about teaching identity but about a brand of left-wing ideology and this is highlighted in the choice of stories, authors and theorists selected both at school and university level. It is no coincidence that it is Fanon, not Sowell whose inclusion is being demanded. The criteria by which dead white men are judged also seems to depend on how left-wing or post-modern they are – thus charlatans like Foucault get a free pass.
That white middle and upper-class men in the past were given more opportunities than others is not in doubt. Yet they did not get automatic inclusion in the canon or the curriculum. The real question is what is the criteria for their selection and to use this to set the bar for all others to avoid the accusations of tokenism. As Shelby Steele highlights in his book White Guilt, the removal of the criteria of excellence only results in mediocre efforts which we should dismiss.
What we need to recognise is that the decolonisation movement is ultimately, and without meaning to be, a case study in hypocrisy as it replicates so much of what caused the problems they state they wish to change. Some may enjoy watching the spectacle of ethnic minorities mining their ancestors suffering to barter with manufactured white guilt, which their middle-class white allies and professors are only too happy to provide. I would much rather we challenge the core ideas and assumptions of their activist professors who continue peddling outdated US-centric models of race relations based on the supposed prevalence of pseudoscientific ideas of race which were never embedded within British society anyway.
We are all human beings and all knowledge belongs to all of us. This has to be the starting point of any curriculum discussion at any institution.