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Decolonising the curriculum

Discussion in 'Education news' started by physicsfanboy, Jun 12, 2020.

  1. physicsfanboy

    physicsfanboy Occasional commenter

    As a result of the BLM protests, lots of people are calling for the restructuring of the curriculum. I have no issue with including a broader range of thinkers. However, I teach physics. There are staff insisting that what I teach must change.
    Newton, Einstein, Heisenberg, Pauli, Lorentz, Tesla, Becquerel etc etc etc had light skin. It's completely irrelevant to the science they described. The physical laws of the universe do not change no matter who discovers them.
    What really bothers me is a film clip I saw a few years ago. I've tried to find it since and can't. It's a lecture given about decolonisation. The speaker says something about how one tribal group believe they can control lightning with their minds. Another prof says 'But it's not true' and is immediately rebuked. If we can't speak basic truth about the nature of reality then science is done.
    I don't give damn that Newton was white. If he had been black or asian his theories would still have been elegant, useful and beautiful.
    WB, alex_teccy, uoo and 3 others like this.
  2. Spoofer4114

    Spoofer4114 Established commenter

    Why don't you ask the staff who said your teaching must change?
    JL48 and MsOnline like this.
  3. CheeseMongler

    CheeseMongler Lead commenter

    So do you teach about Ibn al-Haytham, the Kerala school in India and the other giants upon whose shoulders Newton stood?
    I'm not trying to downplay Newton, but it's an illustration of the bias that's inherent in science. Particularly before the modern era and the widespread acceptance of peer review, progress in science was akin to history - it was only written by the "winners". Add to the fact that in general, only white privileged individuals would receive an education and have to means to pursue scientific research, it's hardly surprising that the vast majority of scientific discoveries have been recorded by white men.
    It's awkward because we can't pretend that these discoveries have not been recorded by white men first. However, we can try to educate students that does not mean white people are necessarily better scientists.
    JL48, josepea and Rott Weiler like this.
  4. physicsfanboy

    physicsfanboy Occasional commenter

    I do teach about Ibn al-Haytham. He was brilliant.
    It's true that before peer review, the science that became known was generally that science discovered by the wealthy elite (including Ibn al-Haytham btw). It is historically true that northern Europe was a collection of wealthy global powers for centuries up to the end of the 19th century. Because they were rich, they had an industrial revolution, and thus a scientific revolution, first. As a result, much of the science was discovered by white people. As I said above, the colour of skin of the scientist is irrelevant. Their ideas either work or don't. It's not awkward to say Newton was white, because it's simply a fact (but not a particularly useful or interesting one).
    Neither I, nor any scientist I have ever met, would suggest that this is because white people are better at science.
    agathamorse likes this.
  5. physicsfanboy

    physicsfanboy Occasional commenter

    Because the main person insisting is very shouty, and prone to slinging accusations of racism around. I can't be doing with getting into that argument.
  6. CheeseMongler

    CheeseMongler Lead commenter

    Of course, us scientists are good at evaluating evidence and drawing appropriate conclusions. We understand that "lots of white men made scientific discoveries" does not equal "white men are better at science". Students won't understand that this correlation does not equal cause; teaching them this may be a way to keep the shouty person off your back.

    Alternatively, if shouty person is just wanting to tick a box on their clipboard, rather than addressing the underlying issues, maybe just stick up some posters of BAME scientists -here's a link (they're all women too so that may be another box that can be ticked!)
    alex_teccy and agathamorse like this.

    ACOYEAR8 Star commenter

  8. hhhh

    hhhh Lead commenter

    Many students don't think of the 'people' in Science, or Maths for that matter, just of the science.They might look at the people in Arts subjects. Is it a problem? Arguably, learning about Curie could help girls get into science (sexism is as serious as racism)-on the other hand perhaps it's irrelevant, and we should just look at the science, and not fixate on whether a person was male, female, or of a particular 'race'. Why not just challenge any examples of racism or sexism? Just because relatively few scientists have been female, that doesn't stop me. If someone says they'd prefer a man to do my job, by all means challenge that. Otherwise, it doesn't matter, we're all part of the human race, and my daughters are lucky enough to do whatever they want. Let's embrace that, instead of complaining about the days when it was 'weird' for a woman to do certain things.
    agathamorse likes this.
  9. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    I think I remember that clip. It was depressing, and more about shouting loudly than understanding the material world.
    I have been reflecting on these ideas for a while. Scientist educators expose their learners to a wide range of thought, from the ancient thinkers of the Mediterranean via ideas from many times and places.
    Much of this thinking is from a wide range of Europeans and Americans, but an ionic bond doesn't care who first exposed the ideas that led to understanding it.
    I am open to ideas for increasing the cultural diversity of what I do.
  10. ACOYEAR8

    ACOYEAR8 Star commenter

    I think we certainly need to reform our ideas of " who invented?" etc. China would be very surprised to hear half the stuff mentioned as ' firsts ' .
  11. alex_teccy

    alex_teccy Lead commenter

    Agree 100%.
    ACOYEAR8 likes this.
  12. ACOYEAR8

    ACOYEAR8 Star commenter

    We might well call for the 100 m Olympic finals to be more racially balanced. After all, white people can run as well.
    Jonntyboy and alex_teccy like this.
  13. MsOnline

    MsOnline Occasional commenter

    Is this about sticking up posters and box ticking to you?

    If anyone thinks this is what this is about then it's probably best not to bother. It starts with a will to education oneself so that when you teach pupils it comes across as genuine. If it's not then it will come across - you won't be able to hide it.

    "I need (or want!) to make my lessons more reflective/ diverse/ plan with more critical-thinking in mind. Does anyone have any links they could share." how about this starting point?

    To the OP - of you're not sure about how to do something or how to embed something - what would you usually do? Some might read up about it, seek support from fellow teachers in the same field (who already successfully do this) or ask for training. I hope your school seeks out quality CPD.

    Good luck.
    josepea likes this.
  14. ParakeetGreen

    ParakeetGreen New commenter

    This is pure absurdity.

    It's like saying, "it's hardly surprising that the vast majority of scientific discoveries have been recorded by bipedalists. It's awkward because we can't pretend that these discoveries have been recorded by bipedalists first. Afterall they'd never have discovered these without the use hands and opposable thumbs! However, we can try to educate those with feathers or quadrupeds, that bipedalists are not necessarily better scientists."

    Modern science came about in the West due to the confluence of culture and knowledge domains - a lot of that came about due to a lot of cultural cross-over and transition of social models and changes due to many nations interchanging with each other eg war, ideas and more over centuries.

    That's why the likes of Newton and Einstein on the back of this system of education could express their own intellects to such degree in a field of knowledge such as science amongst other fields with consequent great technological applications. Thus on the back of THAT they have their place along with their theories so prominently in curriculum.

    All anyone is expressing is the sort of stultifying emotional conditioning that would have REDUCED scope for science in the first place in any cultural systems by insisting on the "sociologization of science". Deep irony if it were not so tragic.
    Jonntyboy likes this.
  15. CheeseMongler

    CheeseMongler Lead commenter

    No, I don't think this should be about sticking up posters or box ticking, hence my first post (#3). That was merely a suggestion to placate the shouty person mentioned in #5.

    Do you have any helpful suggestions for how the OP can restructure the curriculum? You appear to just say they need to education (sic) themselves and then try to rephrase their question before suggesting generic training. Is there a particular course that you recommend?
  16. CheeseMongler

    CheeseMongler Lead commenter

    I'm lost as to what your point is here. Are you suggesting that it is absurd that white men are not necessarily better scientists?
    In your analogy, a biped would have a biological advantage for making scientific discoveries over a quadruped. They would be able to write, manipulate equipment etc. far better than a quadruped. As far as I am concerned, the amount of melanin produced by the skin does not confer the same biological advantage for making scientific discoveries. I must also point out that I find this analogy troubling as it equates variance within a species (skin colour) with significant variation between species (number of limbs, feathers?!).
    josepea likes this.
  17. MsOnline

    MsOnline Occasional commenter

    OK Cheesemonger, I've seen your post 3. I'm glad you've acknowledged it's more important than posters and box ticking. It's a fight people poc have had for decades and have seen the token cartoon posters once a year, hence not seeing any humour in it.

    Re suggestions - I've made them in my post - above.

    If people 'professionals' are willing they will find a way and treat this like any other gap in their knowledge.

    If educators are outraged at the fact that the curriculum needs to change I can't help them and it's not by job to do so either - rather conserve my energy.
  18. costermonger

    costermonger New commenter

    I have no issue with the idea that black thinkers, writers, sportsmen, creators etc etc need to be included in education. I just don't see how it applies to my classroom because my subject is about how atoms and molecules interact. Like the OP, no-one really gets a look in because the people are pretty much irrelevant except as fluff.
    agathamorse likes this.
  19. crumbleskates

    crumbleskates New commenter

    This is a really interesting debate. I wouldn’t say Science is my strong point as a teacher, but was suddenly struck by something. In arts subjects it’s well acknowledged that it should include performing ie practical, theoretical, and historical, and ideally the modern contemporary application and cultural interplay with maybe a bit of philosophy thrown in. The arts curriculum also explicitly calls for world and cultural influences to be explored. In some subjects that is possibly less the case. There will be lots out there that know more than me but am I right? I don’t mean as some bolt on unit, but the themes above embedded across all units. Do we study the ‘art’ of Geography for example? Even in English we look at the impact of the time and place on the writing, but less so on the impact of that same writing on the world of its time and after. This is another victim of silo curriculum thinking maybe? And why pupils have a poor grasp of chronology. Also might be why they say I like this subject and not that when actually there are so many common threads, a background tapestry that we maybe don’t make clear enough. Just a rambling thought...
  20. MsOnline

    MsOnline Occasional commenter

    Some interesting points Crumblestakes.

    I agree that subjects don't exist in silo. I think that now more than ever (on a global level) pupils need to be prepared to be world citizens - this includes an understanding of the world.

    So I think the best learning is cross-curricular so children can discover links and cross references. Eg All subjects have a historical context and theories are developed within a social context. Granted, this might seem easier in a primary classroom where you teach all subjects - not sure.

    This needs a holistic approach to learning and a curriculum that must remain fresh, relevant and engaging. So things will need to change. Pupils shouldn't be taught the same subjects, topics and projects as in the 80s,90s...even 10 years ago - we must move.

    There are so many ways teachers embed opportunities to think outside the box, debate and think critically. If we think this is a good thing then teachers must do the same. Let's be open to change.

    crumbleskates likes this.

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