YOUNG MINDS: There is a need for more diverse British history in classrooms, says the Black British History Education Project
BRITISH HISTORY “is full of falsehoods and lies”, a leading researcher has said at a meeting to discuss what could become a landmark project to take more Black British history in to schools and colleges.
Author and lecturer Onyeka, who was told as a child that it was impossible for his grandfather to have fought in the Second World War because he was black, said: “There are children who are being fed verbatim nonsense and lies. These teachers need to be re-educated.
“The entire curriculum on British history needs to be reinvented because it is full of falsehoods and lies and untruths. Some from ignorance. Some wilful.”
He was an invited speaker at the first public meeting of the Black British History Education Project on Tuesday, November 7.
The project aims to mimic the success of the Institute of Education's Holocaust Education Development Programme and create a resource that can be shared with students and teachers of all ethnicities to broaden the wealth of what is currently taught.
Ideas being considered includes a module focusing on Black British history for an MA teacher’s training course, a guideline and in-service training for secondary school teachers to develop subject knowledge and schemes of work within the National Curriculum.
If it gets the green light, the project is estimated to cost in the region of £2million, half of which could be raised through grants and the other half through fundraising and donations.
The project has the backing of the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) and the Black and Asian Studies Association (BASA) and comes amid the Government’s ongoing review of the National Curriculum.
“There is a struggle to get this out there, recognised and taken seriously”, said history education lecturer Dr Robin Whitburn, the driving force of the project.
“People are being written out of history even within the past 25 years. How many more across the centuries could be so easily written out?”
Despite the example cited by Onyeka, Dr Whitburn was keen to point out that his experience was not typical of present day British schools.
He added: "There have been strong developments in history lessons in some schools that the project would hope to disseminate more widely."
Left wanting by the whitewashed British history on offer in books that generally excluded its black inhabitants beyond slavery, Onyeka began poring over official records and claims the African presence in Europe as far back as Roman times with some buried in cemeteries around Hadrian’s Wall.
Onyeka explains: “Africans of the 15th and 16th Century changed the shape of Renaissance Europe, but they changed it quietly without noise.
“Their quietness means that sometimes we can’t hear them. All we can hear is Henry VIII or Elizabeth I. We hear about Francis Drake but not Diego Negro, the one who advised him how to circumnavigate the world.”
College student Jordan Morris, 18, was the beneficiary of a unique project looking at multi-ethnic Britain from 1945 at his secondary school, St Mary’s, in Hendon, north London. It left a lasting impression.
He said: “Throughout school, we learned about Hitler, Gandhi, World Wars and Cold Wars but the only black history was Malcolm X or Martin Luther King.
“When we learned about Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and Colin Roach, it was enlightening to see where we had come from as a nation. For me, to learn black history is to learn my history as well.”
The project’s success will rely on community support and black academic Dr Lez Henry was one of the first to pledge his support.
“Many have been talking about something for years, what interests me most about this project is the level they plan to take it,” he told The Voice.
“It is important to get behind this. Someone said it here tonight – to avoid the black face in British history takes some effort. It means you are deliberately trying to avoid it, or go around it. We can’t allow that to happen.”