The teacher trying to add 'black joy' into lessons – BBC


Branwen Jeffreys
Education Editor
@branwenjeffreyson Twitter

In 2020, the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down and rolled into the water at Bristol's docks.
The controversial protest came at the height of anti-racist demonstrations across the UK after the death of George Floyd in the US.
It gave an added impetus to efforts of schools in the city to address the past and its impact in the present.
A network of history teachers came together to write and publish a book about Bristol's involvement in the slave trade.
And Tanisha Hicks-Beresford is one of the teachers continuing the work of creating a more inclusive education for pupils. Some call the approach decolonisation.
"I went to school in Bristol and there was hardly any representation of people who look like me," she said.
Across the city there are more than 3,000 teachers, and Tanisha says those who are black are in a tiny minority.
She came into teaching, wanting pupils to have a very different experience from her own education.
"The emotional impact is huge when the only history you're taught is that you come from slaves, and that everybody else comes from kings and queens. So you start thinking am I less than everybody else?"
Now she teaches citizenship and English at Bristol Cathedral Choir secondary school, which draws its pupils from many different communities across the city.
Tanisha wants to redress what feels like a stream of negative stories in the news, from the death of George Floyd to the recent controversy over the strip search of a black teenage girl known as Child Q.
She describes it as bringing "black joy" into the classroom.
"It's not just about racism, there's so much more to this world. You don't want our students to come out and just feel 'I'm oppressed'. They need to see themselves in the world, and be agents of change."
In practical terms, she encourages pupils to discuss and celebrate each other's culture and family histories.
Tanisha looks for examples of black people shaping their own destinies, whether in campaigning for the abolition of slavery, to writers who bring different stories reflecting a wider cultural range of experiences.
It is an approach taken across the school, with teachers looking to add lesson content that connects with the backgrounds of more of its pupils.
So in history, the Haitian revolution and ancient African kingdoms have been added, while in English literature an anthology of short stories by writers from diverse racial backgrounds is included.
In the art department, teenagers are working on a mural inspired by the style of the AfriCobra art movement that began in Chicago in the 1960s to find creative expression for black identity.
It is a montage of contemporary role models from Barack Obama to Marcus Rashford.
In music, West African percussion instruments are among the additions.
This search for references, examples and books that reflect the range of racial backgrounds in a school is part of what some describe as decolonising lessons.
Including different perspectives on some parts of British history, including colonisation and slavery, is also now commonplace in schools.
Year 7 English pupil Arthur, 11, said he felt it was important for him and his classmates to learn about the history of their families and the countries from which some had come to the UK.
"It gives us an understanding how our city became what it is now."
He doesn't think it was right to pull down the statue of Mr Colston.
Respectful debate of different views is encouraged here.
Teah said: "It's really diverse our world, it's quite cool to learn about different races and religions. It really solves the puzzle of our world."
There is no agreed understanding of what decolonising learning means, and some think it is an unhelpful label for making sure lessons are relevant and relatable.
Up to the beginning of GCSE courses, schools have some leeway to look for creative ways of reflecting their pupils' backgrounds and different cultural perspectives in what they teach.
After that, what is taught in lessons is largely driven by exam boards.
Pearson exam board told us it is continually reviewing content, so from this autumn four new texts will be added to A-level English literature, including Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry and Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie.
It follows changes already made to its English literature GCSE curriculum, which have led to 25% of the texts specified being by authors from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Many schools are quietly getting on with reviewing what they teach, while a rather more heated and politicised row rumbles on.
In February this year, the government published the first guidelines for England's schools on how to interpret their long-standing duty of political impartiality.
The guidelines say when teaching pupils about racism, "teachers should be clear that racism has no place in our society".
But they also warn where schools want to teach about organisations with a more campaigning stance, such as Black Lives Matter, "they should be aware this may cover partisan political views".
It cites the call to defund the police as one of these partisan views which should be balanced with an opposing view.
Teachers have warned the guidelines could have a chilling effect on debating controversial subjects with older pupils in lessons, something the government denies.
At the annual meeting of the National Education Union on Monday, teachers debated what are described as government attacks on the "woke agenda" and Black Lives Matter.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said schools had an important role as places where children learned to be citizens.
"I do think the government's war on woke is being weaponised against the complex exploration of these issues in the classroom," she said.
Ministers have also faced calls to ensure that what is taught in schools through the national curriculum reflects a more diverse range of cultural views than has been the case.
It has promised a new model history curriculum to help teachers teach "migration, cultural change and the contribution made by different communities" by 2024.
The BBC understands the group of independent advisers for the work has not yet been appointed.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We are developing a new model history curriculum that will support the teaching of high-quality, knowledge-rich content.
"It is not being designed to 'decolonise the curriculum'. Its purpose is to tell the story of how the United Kingdom came to be, and how we shaped, and were shaped by, our relationships with the rest of the world."
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