Jean-Baptiste Belley, painted by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson (1797). Image via Wikimedia/Musée de l’Histoire de France.
Black History Month (BHM) is an educational initiative whose aim is to celebrate the contributions of black people in history, via changing the curriculum and altering socio-political views. It began in America in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and was adopted in Britain in 1987 under the aegis of the GLC. It takes place in the month of October.
The purpose of BHM is to expand reading and content to include accounts that have been ignored or only briefly acknowledged. The socio-political aim is an aspiration to improve the social status of black people today.
Most educationalists would acknowledge that the curriculum needs improving to take account of new developments in knowledge. But while the curriculum always involves a selection of texts and accounts from a vast range of sources, it could be argued that the selection currently in fashion is not always and wholly a result of unequal power relations in society.
That’s why a team of educators have united under the banner “Don’t Divide Us” to produce a set of resources for schools wishing to address Black History Month. The “Don’t Divide Us” contributions – by each of the three of us – are not intended to be comprehensive or narrowly prescriptive. We want to provide teachers and pupils with fresh ways of addressing history that take account of some developments in historiography and substantive knowledge.
Calvin’s contribution focuses on the role of the Commonwealth in the Second World War. The British Commonwealth of nations made significant contributions to the War effort, accounting for roughly 3.5 million of the 8.5 million troops engaged in battle across the globe.
Calvin’s teaching and learning resources build on Robert Peal’s fantastic second World War resources, providing diversity in context through an extensive look at the contributions of Sikh infantrymen, East African troops in Burma, Jamaican pilots in the RAF, and other Commonwealth soldiers.
By continuing to share these stories, we can ensure that the sacrifices of these brave service personnel – and many made the ultimate sacrifice – are remembered and respected as heroes who helped build the Britain we live in today.
Alka Sehgal Cuthbert’s KS3 resource considers Britain’s empire in India. The aim here was to avoid presenting the concept of the British Empire as a single linear, undifferentiated process of oppression. This is not to deny that oppression and violence were heavily involved at certain points; nor is the aim to argue that the Empire was beneficial in some ways. But to understand the complex historical phenomenon of Britain’s empire, we need to consider a wider range of factors, not all of which had the same weight all the time. History is complex.
And Tarjinder Gill has compiled a list of resources for primary school level.
All of the aforementioned resources are free from Critical Race Theory propaganda and therefore offer a great start for schools wanting to address the issue without compromising themselves.
The Department of Education made it clear this month that schools should not be teaching politically contested ideas such as “white privilege” uncontested. To do so would be a breach of the 1996 Education Act.
A majority of the teaching resources for Black History Month available elsewhere are completely infected with CRT. We hope the resources presented here offer a positive alternative.
This is a small start, and we hope others will join us in improving and extending resources that can help teachers introduce pupils to historical thinking.
Tarjinder Gill is a primary school teacher who has worked in London, Great Yarmouth and the Midlands.
Alka Sehgal Cuthbert is a teacher, researcher and writer on educational issues.
Calvin Robinson is a school governor, education consultant and former Assistant Principal working on the History Matters project as a Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange.
For more information about these issues, visit dontdivideus.com