A report on ethnicity challenges in university by the Office for Students published this month has questioned the ways we ‘draw on ‘non-western’ and non-white forms of knowledge in our teaching’. It asks, ‘in what ways can we revise our curricula to ensure we offer ‘decolonised’ approaches to our teaching and assessments?’ Finally it addresses the way many curriculums’ current values ‘perpetuate white westernised hegemony and position anything non European and non white as inferior’.
Yet although both the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle and shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner have shown support for decolonising the curriculum, it’s an issue that’s come with a fair amount of retaliation.
Doug Stokes from The Spectator described calls to decolonise the curriculum as ‘selective’ and ‘geopolitically dubious’. Melanie Phillips from The Times was a little more blunt, writing it is ‘Marxist gibberish’.
But decolonising the curriculum is all about calling for a greater representation of non-European thinkers, as well as better historical awareness of the contexts in which scholarly knowledge has been produced. It asks us to look at our shared assumptions about how the world is, and the relationship between the location and identity of the writer’s we study.
Decolonising the curriculum isn’t about retelling history. It’s about telling it in a way that involves all sides.
Dealing with such gaps does not entail compromising academic standards, abandoning academic freedom or avoiding controversial topics. Nor does it involve taking everything that is said at face value. Rather, it involves cultivating an environment in which all of us can have an honest, respectful and rigorous discussion about what is happening, how it can be set right and what that entails.
In a society still shaped by a long colonial history in which predominantly heterosexual, white, upper-class men are at the top of the social order, most disciplines give disproportionate prominence to the experiences, concerns, and achievements of this one group. Perhaps this doesn’t put western society in a perfect light, but we simply need to be honest about this in order to rectify it.
Ultimately, decolonising the curriculum isn’t just about what we are taught, it is about how we are taught and what is available to us if we do try to branch out.