Teaching on a Moving Train: Curriculum Bias & Radical Curriculum Change

By Ruth Mather

Students' expectations of historical gender roles were challenged during the project

Students’ expectations of historical gender roles were challenged during the project.

Historical writing always has some effect on us. It may reinforce passivity; it may activate us. In any case, the historian cannot choose to be neutral; [s]he writes on a moving train.

So begins Howard Zinn’s essay on radical histories, in which he argues for history writing which encourages empathy across time and place, with the aim of promoting social justice in the present. Historians are not neutral, nor are history curricula: the ways in which we interpret the past informs how we think of the present. I write this piece in a week in which the Times Higher Educational Supplement published an article linking the lack of black history students to the under-representation of black people in the history curriculum, following discussions at the History Matters Workshop in London.This comes hot on the heels of a speech by Michelle Obama, in which she called upon museums to engage young black people by representing their histories, making clear ‘that their story is part of the American story, and that they deserve to be seen’. As I write, more than 8,000 people have viewed an article in The Conversation which calls for academics to take university curricula back from ‘dead white men’. Students themselves are increasingly challenging the representational dominance of white, straight, cis-gendered and able-bodied men in the educational environment, through campaigns such as ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ and ‘Why isn’t my professor black?’ There is an evident and urgent need to re-examine what is taught in our schools and universities and why, and to recognise the impact curriculum decisions have upon our students. This paper suggests one possible means of interrogating curriculum bias in a school setting, and discusses the benefits to both students and educators of doing so. (more…)