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Crafting an antiracist curriculum: Unfiltering

Yusuf Ibrahim

Wales first Anti Racism Curriculum – miniseries:  Having set the context for crafting a new curriculum, this second article explores the importance of ‘unfiltering’ our understanding of history and education.

When at school, you may recall your history teacher saying that ‘history is written by the victors’.  I certainly remember this.  The phrase itself is attributed to Sir Winston Churchill although it falls into the category of possible sayings rather than a statement of fact.  How ironic it would be for me not to disclose the frailty of sources when discussing history itself.  Attributions aside, if we assume the statement to be broadly true, then it stands to reason that our curriculum, what we are taught and how we are taught has been shaped by the same authors. 

Unmasking the Western-Centric Lens in Education

If I think about my own education, it certainly does on reflection have a heavy tilt towards a ‘Western-Centric’ lens.  Starting with what we are taught, I remember learning about the Ancient Egyptians.  I also remember learning about the Ancient Greeks, the Romans, medieval England and its relationship with the other ‘Home Nations’ & Western Europe, USA from the nineteenth century(ish), followed by more ‘recent history’, the First and Second World Wars (focusing specifically on Europe and the USA) finishing in Italy and Russia in around 1960.  I remember studying philosophy at university, where we focused on Epicurus, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.  This was Ancient Philosophy. 

Following this, Descartes, Hume, Hobbs, Kant, touching on Freud, Jung and then Russell and Wittgenstein, taking us through the Renaissance through to Modern & Post-Modern Philosophy.  I remember at time being frustrated. A monopoly of knowledge clearly in play.  I remember asking one of my philosophy lecturers at the time why whenever we look at a philosophical debate it excludes Eastern Philosophy? His look said it all.  What on earth would Eastern Philosophy add to the discussion, given that it has been discredited by modern science?  This was the crux of the position.  An assumption (conscious / unconscious) that knowledge of non-western origin is inferior or less significant.

This assumption has shaped ‘what’ we are taught.  It has filtered from ‘common’ history the immense contributions in knowledge of Africans, Indians, Arabs, Asians and the many other founding civilisations from across the world.  From denial to ignoring, from deleting to minimising, the influence of the historical global majority has clearly been diluted and in some cases washed away. 

Overlooked Pioneers

Lewis Howard Latimer is a casing point.  Many of us know of the contributions of Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell.  We are taught of their pioneering inventions.  They are herald as the great innovators of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Yet the contribution of Lewis Latimer is not as well known.  It was Lewis Latimer who created the carbon filament lightbulb.  An innovation that enable light to shine for longer.  A development which turned the lightbulb in a mass commercial proposition.  A technological advancement which lit up the world.  We don’t learn about Lewis Latimer (and his hundreds of inventions). 

We don’t learn about Ibn Sina who one thousand years before Sigmund Freud conceived of the Id, Ego and Superego, suggested that soul/mind consisted of vegetative, animalistic and rational parts.  Nor do we learn about Fatima al Fihri, who 1,100 years ago founded of the world’s oldest existing degree-granting university, the University of Al Quaraouiyine, located in Fez, Morocco. It is one of the only universities in the world established by a woman whose alumni include Jewish philosopher Maimonides, Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd, and Pope Sylvester II.

Building an Antiracist Curriculum to Illuminate Global Contributions

This filtering or washing of history has a profound impact on the design of our curriculums, which in turn shapes what we teach and ultimately what our learners believe to be true.  It affects our collective understanding on the worth and value of different global cultures.  It is in a very subtle way, an act of mass dehumanisation.  Diminishing the significance of the great contributors to knowledge (past and present) who fall outside of the Western-Centric paradigm.  The designing of an antiracist curriculum is therefore an attempt to complete a picture, to add light to where shadows have been cast.  It is an attempt to engage an enthuse a reimagined understanding of the world.  One which is shared and reflects the significant global majority populations who reside in a Western-Centric world.

By Yusuf Ibrahim, Assistant Principal at Cardiff and Vale College

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