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Decolonising the curriculum

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

  1. costermonger

    costermonger New commenter

    But the science we teach at GCSE and A level haven't changed much in decades. Unless someone comes up with a new methodology that works better (and I don't mean the usual snake oil sold by various chancers, I mean something with evidence) we should keep teaching it the same way. It works. It certainly worked for me.
    agathamorse likes this.
  2. MsOnline

    MsOnline Occasional commenter

    Not sure what age you are but do you think that if you sat in your parents' Science lessons you'd agree with everything they were taught?! Even before the time there was even a curriculum.

    There are scientific approaches and discoveries happening as we speak. If you're open or curious just try a simple search. Eg even in the field of remedies and nutrition - thought has moved on from how and when 'discoveries' were made in the underpinning context of imperialism.

    'When a slave (enslaved African man) in an early 18th-century... plantation was found with a supposedly poisonous plant, his European overlords... Suspected of conspiring to cause disorder on the plantation, he was treated with typical harshness and hanged to death. The historical records don’t even mention his name. His execution might also have been forgotten forever if it weren’t for the scientific enquiry that followed. Europeans on the plantation became curious about the plant and, building on the slave’s (enslaved man) “accidental finding”, they eventually concluded it wasn’t poisonous at all.

    Instead it became known as a cure for worms, warts, ringworm, freckles and cold swellings, with the name Apocynum erectum. As the historian Pratik Chakrabarti argues in a recent book, this incident serves as a neat example of how, under European political and commercial domination, gathering knowledge about nature could take place simultaneously with exploitation.'

    Said plant can probably be found in H & Barret.

    'Ross’s words also suggest how science was used to argue imperialism was morally justified because it reflected British goodwill towards colonised people. It implied that scientific insights could be redeployed to promote superior health, hygiene and sanitation among colonial subjects.'
    Ronald Ross, Nobel Prize winner.

    ' But science at this time was more than just a practical or ideological tool when it came to empire. Since its birth around the same time as Europeans began conquering other parts of the world, modern Western science was inextricably entangled with colonialism, especially British imperialism. And the legacy of that colonialism still pervades science today.'

    ' The call to decolonise science, as in the case of other disciplines such as literature, can encourage us to rethink the dominant image that scientific knowledge is the work of white men.'

    It is acknowledging we should be looking at the contributions of' other'
    josepea likes this.
  3. costermonger

    costermonger New commenter

    I'm mid 40s. If I had sat in my parents lessons I would have seen exactly the same science as I teach, but harder at a lower level. O levels taken at 16 are roughly equivalent to A levels now (in science anyway, don't know about other subjects).

    Science has moved on it's true, but not at the level discussed at GCSE and A level. We still teach atoms, molecules, enthalpies etc etc. It hasn't changed at all. Chemistry at the low level taught in schools is pretty static. An example of change from biology, my grandfather was taught that the molecules that carried the data to make a cell was probably proteins, because he attended schools before Crick and Watson. However, that kind of fundamental change is very infrequent.
    'Remedies' could mean medical science - again above the level of school science, or it could mean the sort of remedies sold by the health industry which are entirely marketing and dreams. Neither impacts on the curriculum.

    Not sure why this is relevant. Slavery is bad, stealing other people's work and taking credit is bad. It would make an interesting side note, but it's not science.

    I strongly disagree. Science is a tool for understanding how things work. It is politically neutral. A hammer can be used to build a school or commit a murder, but it's not the hammers fault if it is used for nefarious purposes. Modern western science implies that science is somehow 'favouring' the west, or white people. If an African scientist develops and proves a theory, that will become part of science.
    You don't get to choose what is true. You don't get different flavours of reality for different parts of the world.

    This one is tricky. Much of the groundbreaking work has been done by melanin poor men. Not all, but lots. So what? There are scientists that have contributed of all 'races' genders and orientations. No one is excluded if they can back up their hypothesis with data.
    I suspect what really offends some people is that science is absolutely not egalitarian. If you are right, I am wrong. No debate possible or necessary. We aren't all equally right. There is no sense of 'differing viewpoints' (except when the science is unclear). On top of that, you can be an expert and have more authority, which some apparently feel is wrong. There is one reality and science is attempting to work it out. That some people use it to oppress others is a function of ape tribalism.
  4. TCSC47

    TCSC47 Star commenter

    I know this is not what the string is about, but this statement has to be challenged. As someone who sat O level physics, in the 60's and taught A level Physics in the 00s, I can assure you that the then O levels are not equivalent to today's A levels in Physics. Quoting the rubbish spouted by the anti-teaching media only exacerbates the problems faced by teachers of today.
    josepea, phlogiston and MsOnline like this.
  5. costermonger

    costermonger New commenter

    I beg to differ on all counts. I am not anti teaching or anti teacher. I am, after all, a teacher. Teachers teach the syllabus, set by boards. We have no input. The degradation of exams is not merely a personal opinion, it is demonstrable fact. Every year exam grades 'improve'. This is either because that average science capability of an entire cohort goes up by a percent or two every year without fail, or the exam boards are fiddling the results. Option one is impossible.
    The boards do this so that they can persuade schools to go with them instead of the competition. It is a result of the madness of having schools pretend to be businesses in competition with each other. Of course they will choose the syllabus that gives them the best shot. It's a race to the bottom.
    I have an A level in chemistry (and a degree). The A levels I sat had more content than the A levels I now teach. Every time the syllabus is fiddled with, I (and I am sure many of my colleagues) go looking for what they have taken out this time.
    The dumbing down is not controversial (I mean, it shouldn't be happening, but that it is happening is not a controversial idea), I wonder why you are so offended?
    ParakeetGreen likes this.
  6. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    Well I did my O levels in the mid 70s. The content was broadly similar to GCSE, the style of exams very different.
    Back then most kids didn't do O level chemistry, and the system was happy for most kids to fail or not do exams.
    I challenge you to name one topic on the 1975 O level chemistry spec that is now taught only at A level.
    There is of course much less inorganic chemistry than in the past. What I remember member of class of 75 that it wasn't hard.
    Since I started teaching in the early 80s, there has been an unremitting focus on increasing inclusion and pass rates. We now don't have kids leaving before the end of year 11 it is now expected that all kids participate at a much higher level. Remember the Science at Work stuff we thought was the best half a cohort could do?
  7. costermonger

    costermonger New commenter

    You have answered your own question. Nearly all the inorganic chemistry has been cut. However that's not where the majority of the dumbing happens. O levels required understanding of the material, GCSE's ask trivial questions. The questions are written in a 'nudge nudge' language, and they are getting worse year on year. More and more clues about the answer are included in the question. If you want evidence of how modern kids respond to 1950s exams, that bunch of ignorant trolls the RSC performed an experiment.
    Just to be clear, modern kids are not less capable than their predecessors. However, nor are they more capable. They are being let down by a system designed to make the government look good at the expense of education.
  8. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    But it's not taught at A level either.
    A level inorganic is essentially identical to '80s and what I did in '75.
    Meantime loads of instrumental methods added at A level.
  9. SparkMaths

    SparkMaths Occasional commenter

    Depends on if you are teaching the history of physics or the actual physics which won't be changing.

    I don't think "decolonising the curriculum" is about giving theories neutral names or alternate inventors, that's a really small fix. It's about not accepting scientific truth as the only truth.

    Even changing names I don't agree with. The centre of scientific discovery shifted throughout history, each civilisation has made it's mark somewhere. Mathematics was developed in India/Middle East, the printing press was from China and a lot of our agriculture is from Mexico. Western Europe was mostly a barbarian backwater until the Renaissance, I don't think it's right that Europeans can't take their place in history, especially since we are moving on to progress happening elsewhere like in Japan and Korea.

    I think it's really cynical to assume that people can't appreciate the work of people from other parts of the world or have them as role models, so we have to pretend discoveries are wrong or hide their origins to be "fair". Is that the education we want to be giving?
  10. ParakeetGreen

    ParakeetGreen New commenter

    I've had these conversations in the past and agree with the above. In fact the juvenile facile conversations that take place instead of addressing the above is highly dubious - this thread a case in point!

    A more useful consideration than this thread: How science is taught imho suffers from a lack of exposure to students of problem-solving PRACTICALLY.

    The problem with science in many schools is that it is teaching more academic theory. It's not PRACTICING Science by DOING science. Even the higher calibre "grammar able" kids I notice are great at Q&A on paper but flounder when it comes to practical hands on problem-solving... to say nothing of not inspiring weaker students via abstract arcane science knowledge teaching...

    In fact the way science is conveyed today, is as Secular Religion: It's deivered as "the foundation of our progress" and thus is as much conveyed at theology and MUCH LESS as a system of investigation of the phenomenal world - and ourselves...
  11. Jonntyboy

    Jonntyboy Lead commenter

    Great to read such a sensible, fair-minded and rational post.
  12. Jonntyboy

    Jonntyboy Lead commenter

    I sometimes feel the same on here...
  13. SparkMaths

    SparkMaths Occasional commenter

    I was never taught who came up with theories so I was never taught that "science was the work of white men". I wasn't taught about times when science was wrong either. My teachers taught to the exam.

    I do enjoy showing students Pythagoras' crazy half wrong ideas about how the solar system worked though.

    I get that you can teach a more diverse set of texts in English, even if students don't pay attention to the authors they still get a different experience/point of view in the story. That potentially seems like a worthwhile project.

    But you can't teach different science, the people who discovered it discovered it and things that are most important are the most important.
    ParakeetGreen likes this.
  14. Jonntyboy

    Jonntyboy Lead commenter

    I wonder whether this would work with music. Unquestionably the majority of the greatest baroque/classical/romantic composers have all been German or Austrian. Bach, (x several), Mozart, Haydn, Brahms, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Handel, Telemann, Mahler, Wagner, Schubert, Schumann (x3), Strauss (x3) just off the top of my head. Far outnumbering in works produced at the highest level of skill and genius anything that any other race or culture has managed.
    Notwithstanding the odd outlier from other countries, no music scholar would deny the primacy of these greats, all from one relatively small population in a relatively small part of western Europe.
    So for me it's a race thing, but it doesn't bother me at all, not being of those races. I don't want to be "equal" with these people, because a) I can't be and b) I'm happy that my own lot have also done other things equally good.
    My point being that we are all certainly not equal, and some groups are far better than others at some things, no doubt for all kind of reasons. No problem for me. That's the real meaning of diversity, and in my view that is what makes the world, and travelling through it, such a fascinating and amazing place. Real differences, new experiences, diverse cultural experiences. Great stuff!
    mrajlong likes this.
  15. SparkMaths

    SparkMaths Occasional commenter

    Yes but a positive and inclusive outlook like that doesn't generate jobs for our excess humanities graduates, everything has to be interpreted in the most negative awful way possible so there are things for them to be busy writing about and fixing.

    You do a GCSE course that's Y10 Classical Music and Y11 Jazz, they'll be complaining about only teaching about Germans for a year. I can be very cynical sometimes!
  16. bessiesmith2

    bessiesmith2 New commenter

    Music is a very good example. If you chose to base your curriculum entirely on the western classical tradition then you would be restricted almost entirely to the works of privileged white men. However, if you look at the development of popular music including the fields of jazz, rhythm & blues, soul, funk, reggae, rock & roll, hi-hop, salsa etc. then it becomes much more diverse in terms of class, race and gender. It is not only easy to decolonise the music curriculum, it is important in terms of career preparation as many of the jobs in the music industry are connected to the popular music industry and it is highly relevant to our experience of music as a society today.

    I agree that maths and science are probably more difficult to address - I was rarely taught who had come up with the particular theories that we were learning about - and of course, many of these were discovered independently in different parts of the world. The Chinese had 'Pascal's triangle' about 600 years before the Europeans and the Arabs knew that a projectile in a vacuum will not stop unless acted on before Newton so even the names I did learn were only the first Europeans, not the first humans to state these laws.
    Jonntyboy likes this.
  17. SparkMaths

    SparkMaths Occasional commenter

    If Europeans don't teach European then who will?

    I do teach that the Chinese potentially had Pythagoras' Theorem earlier than the Greeks and the Mesopotamians definitely did though.
    alex_teccy and phlogiston like this.
  18. costermonger

    costermonger New commenter

    Except that musical genius is a matter of taste / opinion / interpretation. There is no absolute standard for the best music.
    bessiesmith2 likes this.
  19. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    I share @Jonntyboy 's love of the Austro-German classics, but extend that to include a fair number of Bohemians, Spaniards, Finns, Russians etc. If people dare to criticise me for narrowness of taste I point out that the music I love covers a wider range of time periods, nationalities and languages than many other people's musical taste.
    More works commissioned by privileged men.
    The danger of @bessiesmith2 's list is that it is somewhat time-limited, and I suspect much of it would turn out to be written by English speakers.

    Our nearest neighbours have had many interesting ideas, much stimulating art and all sorts of contributions to science. I would hate to pretend they don't exist - this doesn't mean I want to rule out culture from other continenets.
  20. Jonntyboy

    Jonntyboy Lead commenter

    Not wholly. That's relativism ad absurdum. You cannot rationally argue that the instrumental/vocal complexities of harmony and counterpoint of a Bach mass, a Wagner opera or a Mozart piano concerto are at an equal level with beating a drum made out of a gourd.

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