Decolonising the Curriculum

Lesson from How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Subnormal

How a people, nation, tribe or group think of themselves is often wrapped up in myth but presented as historical “facts”.  Such “facts” may sustain an image of the nation’s self but can in many cases be damaging not only to others but to those who fail or are unable to critique them.

Caribbean Labour Solidarity (CLS) believes that its new initiative of decolonising the curriculum will provide an accurate understanding of the history of the United Kingdom and its Empire.  In so doing it will be of benefit to the people of the UK, including the children of the Empire.

The purpose of this enterprise is not to diminish anyone’s view of themselves nor to make anyone believe in their superiority but to create an understanding of what took place in the UK and across the globe.  Such knowledge will free people of such destructive mental impediments such as racial superiority and the notion of altruistic beneficence.

History is made up of the political, economic, cultural and social components of a nation and has clear philosophical and ideological aims.  Its purpose is to reinforce and strengthen the national self as defined by the ruling class.  For this to continue generationally such history has to be taught to those who will form the future population.

In the real world, the destructive mental impediment mentioned above had a very real effect on the children of Empire, who arrived with their parents in the post-war years and are referred to as the “Windrush Generation”.  Although read by few many will have heard of the publication “How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Subnormal in the British School System: The Scandal of the Black Child in Schools in Britain”, first published in 1971.  Here Bernard Coard analyses the harmful effects of racism on the children of Windrush.

In 2005 the Guardian published “High Quality Education for All”, a review by Coard of his original work in which he states that the denial of proper education for the British working class was also a tool of subjugation, similar to that meted out not only to the Windrush Generation but their forebears throughout the Empire.

This behaviour by the ruling class toward the poor of Britain was masked by the propagation of racist tropes about the darker skinned population of the empire.  With the atomisation of education in England and Wales and calls by some right-wing fanatics for tertiary education to once again be limited to a tiny minority of the population.  This attempt to deny education to poorer people must be unmasked.

Coard spells this out in the final paragraph of his review where he states: –

“…to win the war of educational transformation – and hence of poverty elimination and defeat of racism and other ills – we must put sectarianism aside, and join forces with those who have the same goals of an end to discrimination, and the establishment of high – quality schools for all children regardless of class, race, gender, religious or economic circumstances.  If all adopt this approach and organise and fight in a focused way for it, victory becomes possible; victory will be achieved!”.

In the 50th anniversary republication of the book, Coard’s work is subject to a critique by Professor Hubert Devonish, of the University of the West Indies. In the section entitled “What is the Origin of Racism?”  Devonish summarises the development of racism as being a central component of enslavement, which brought wealth to European nations.

This racism continued after the “abolition” of enslavement in 1833.  He contends that the adoption of this racism by White workers has helped to reduce the earning power of Black workers.  However, this “…kept wage rates down by paying Black workers less than whites, even while duping white workers into thinking how special they were to be, by virtue of their skin colour, earning more than Blacks…”.

Thus decolonising the curriculum, and by extension, other parts of European life is about being more accurate, inclusive, intellectually and inter-culturally responsive in our knowledge.  In this way, we not only benefit from expanding our knowledge but do not harm ourselves by harming others.

Bernard Coard is the author of How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Subnormal in the British School System…,  Coard was also Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade during the Grenada Revolution of 1979 to 1983 and for over 26 years one of the Grenada Seventeen Political Prisoners following the US invasion of the country.