Monday, 27 April 2015

The Case for an Inclusive Curriculum

As initiatives such as “Why is my curriculum White?”,“Free Education MCR” along with other similar campaigns  are seeming to gather a larger following as time progresses, questions underlining why an inclusive curriculum is necessary, what it would comprise of and how it would be introduced are beginning to enter mainstream educational discourse. Taking personal experience in to account, this article aims to respond to some of these questions.

To begin with, the concept of discourse itself has long been a point in question. Not only may people from sidelined backgrounds feel as if they are denied a voice in the academic sphere in terms of representation and platforms to air their findings (see Spivak: “Can the Subaltern Speak?”). So too are their voices denied when uncovering these findings. Citing  White Men” as Professor Sara Ahmed outlines is:

“another form of academic relationality. White men is reproduced as a citational relational. White men cite other white men: it is what they have always done; it is what they will do; what they teach each other to do when they teach each other. They cite; how bright he is; what a big theory he has. He’s the next such-and-such male philosopher: don’t you think; see him think. The relation is often paternal: the father brings up the son who will eventually take his place.” Owing to this tradition, Professor Ahmed continues to argue that, "Not to cite White men is not to exist; or at least not to exist within this or that field. When you exercise these logics, you might come to exist, by writing out another history, another way of explaining your existence, [eventually] citing yourself into an academic existence might require citing yourself out”.

If our understanding of history within our curricula, academia and media remains written by and addressed for solely a White, male, middle/upper class audience, what of the remainder of us? We are constantly reminded of how “equality” flourishes in the UK and beyond, yet only a select few are permitted to challenge and contribute, whilst the remainder of us may just listen. Some history is thought to be important, and other history is airbrushed. Some function on superiority complexes, and others as a result inferiority complexes. Anthony Feldman’s renowned book used for science majors entitled “Scientists & Inventors: The People who Made Technology From Earliest Times to Present Day” eptimosises this “citational relational”. In it, there is one page which highlights the different historical developments of science throughout history without a mention of any other civilisation beside those founded in Europe – namely, Greek, Renaissance and beyond. Where is the mention of native North American civilisations? Civilisations in the Caribbean? Mesoamerican civilisations? The Sassanids? The Babylonians? The Ancient Egyptians, who according to some historians, such as Theophile Obenga, highlight memoirs of famous Greek philosophers such as Socrates having visited Ancient Egypt to study under them? The Indus valley? Various dynasties in Chinese civilisations? Muslim dynasties? And I could continue.

This textbook is not a one off example, either. We have a whole system which knowingly or unknowingly ellipses other civilisations contributions on a regular basis. We refer to it as the fortification of a superiority complex in Europe and the “Global North” which leads to the fortification of an inferiority complex outside of Europe and North America in the “Global South”. As a result, peoples from underrepresented backgrounds aim to study and popularise all histories and all contributions of all peoples. When these findings are shared however, we receive criticism of endorsing “whiggish history” and “histiography”.  What could well be referred to as the “reverse racism” argument of the academic world. “History is not linear” we are told. “You can’t pick and choose what aspects of history from x civilisation you wish to portray, you have to be objective”. Objectivity pushed by those with superiority complexes we have learnt in reality is a form of subjectivity to fortify inferiority complexes in others. It might not be exclusively said or outlined, but this educational establishment, academia, and media outlets at present may well be argued to have a linear portrayal of history. They may well be accused of being “whiggish” as they often refer to how the Renaissance, enlightenment, “Industrial Revolution” etc. appear to be the sole factors which shaped the modern world. This is without a mention of how formidable architectural structures were built in West Africa, how agricultural revolutions took place in China, how Indian mathematicians contributed to the numerical system, how mechanical engineering flourished in the Muslim world and so on and so forth. These revelations are not “whiggish” or “histiographical”, they are inclusive and pay homage to civilisations that are well due it.

There is a famous maxim in English that: “history is written by the victors”, but with the unearthing of sources, the questioning of said history is leading many to rethink current curricula, wider academia and media portrayal of “other” civilisations. We have to be rid of these notions of nations at competition with each other, and who has the larger proverbial stick in terms of “civilisation”. All had and continue to have a part to play. This can be achieved by having a multi-tier system functioning simultaneously in academia and the public sphere in focus. This could include: encouraging fair representation, providing platforms for all, publicising and promoting research publications of all peoples – especially those who are “othered”, teach-ins led by underrepresented peoples – preferably led by said peoples also, lobbying local and national educational boards and actively seeking to reference people from other traditions than that of the status quo.

From past experience with delivering seminars focusing on Chinese, Indian and Muslim contributions to STEM subjects and civilisation with local youth, many have shared positive feedback. Some stating their desire to learn more about said civilisations and the importance of promoting all civilisations contributions so as to create a just society.

These findings make us hopeful and they inspire us to continue with our work because it is making an impact. It is inviting people to reperceive. It is fostering inclusion and seeking healthy examples of collaboration in the past to benefit from in the present and future. It gives all people from all backgrounds the opportunity to celebrate the diverse nature of this world and in a time of war and destruction, it encourages us to unite and build. History is not a ball game for superiority or inferiority complexes. It is lessons we can all learn and benefit from and surely, making it more inclusive in our curricula, wider academia, and in the media would be of great benefit to all.

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