The importance of teaching black experiences

Emily Folorunsho

Emily has been teaching for 5 years & is passionate about teaching & learning and diversity within the curriculum. She is head of KS4 History in an inner city school in London, lead practitioner, SLE & governor. She is almost always learning & has fun doing so.

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Image credit: The Lost Child // BBC World News. Image credit: The Lost Child // BBC World News.

The only time black history is celebrated is in October. This connotes a separatism between stories in history, which creates an implicit understanding of ‘our’ history and ‘their’ history. I do not agree with treating the black experience as a separate entity. The black experience should be interweaved throughout the curriculum when possible.


One method for doing this could be through EHP (extended homework projects). For example:

  • When I taught the Romans to Year 7 students, students had to research Emperor Septimius Severus and his impact on the Roman Empire. Severus was unique amongst the Roman emperors as being the first black African citizen to hold the highest office in the empire.
  • When teaching the Tudors, students researched John Blanke, the black trumpeter, and Diego the Circumnavigator.
  • When studying the Victorians, students could study the story of Queen Victoria’s African goddaughter, Sara Forbes Bonetta (pictured above).
  • Alternatively, when studying the Georgians, students could study about England’s first black Queen - Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
  • You might even create a whole SOW on Ancient African civilisations or African literature. There are many opportunities to incorporate black history into each unit of study.


This should not only be done in schools where the majority of the cohort are black - it must be done in mono-culture schools in order to enable students to understand different cultures for today’s multicultural Britain. Our schemes of work should represent diversity “Our schemes of work should represent diversity and multiculturalism.” and multiculturalism. Learning about black experiences through different historical contexts has helped to broaden student understanding, knowledge and eliminate misconceptions. It helps students to understand a more colourful and diverse history. That said, there are many opportunities to incorporate black studies into any subject, be it Food Tech or PE (examples are below).


In a lot of History lessons, I’ve found that some students have misconceptions that black history starts at slavery and ends in 1964, when African Americans obtain civil rights. This is partly due to how our schemes of works are designed.


Revising our vision of what constitutes ‘black history’ is also crucial. As a result, this month my KS3 students were given 10 questions to answer each week for homework on David Olusoga’s Black and British documentaries. A lot of students reported back saying how surprised they were about the new information they discovered. These documentaries helped to limit the focus on African American history, making the learning more relevant due to the focus on Britain.


History has the power to shape identities. Therefore, as educators we must be mindful of how we create our schemes of work and deliver certain topics. Without taking this into account, we can fall into the trap of telling a story of victimisation, portraying black people as subjects rather than participants of history.


I understand that some educators may not feel confident in delivering a lesson on black experiences, and may be restricted in time in order to update their subject knowledge. Thankfully, there are different organisations out there that would be willing to help departments revamp their curriculum, such as Facing History, Justice 2 History, Journey To Justice and the British Museum, who have resources that can aid with this area.


I am happy and grateful that there is a month dedicated to black culture and history, as this demonstrates huge progress in education and society. However, it leads me to ask: How is black history/culture celebrated throughout the year? What is the purpose for the month of October? When we can establish a purpose, the quality of our delivery is improved. Some schools may just do one assembly on Black History Month and/or create a display for the corridors and think that is enough. However, this is not the case, as it does not create an inclusive or diverse curriculum. Lets create a hidden curriculum of diversity!


Here are some examples of how to incorporate black experiences into lessons:


English

  • Study the works of black British authors/poets, eg Malorie Blackman.
  • Study African, Caribbean or Somalian literature, eg Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.


Maths

  • Students carry out an EHP (extended homework project) on three famous black mathematicians and their contributions.
  • Introduce a famous black mathematician as part of a starter activity - eg ‘How does this equation link to this person?’ or ‘Who is s/he and why is s/he important?’


Science

  • Students carry out an EHP (extended homework project) on three famous black scientists / inventors and their contributions.
  • Introduce a famous black scientist / inventor as part of a starter activity - eg ‘How does this image / item link to this person?’ or ‘Who is s/he and why is s/he important?’


Business

  • Students carry out an EHP (extended homework project) on three famous black entrepreneurs in Africa, the Caribbean and Britain.
  • Introduce a famous black entrepreneur as part of a starter activity - eg ‘How does this item/ business link to this person?’ Or ‘Who is s/he and why is s/he important?’


Art / Technology

  • Study African arts/artists.
  • In Textiles, take a look at African prints and / or clothing. Then try to design something similar, getting students to create something of their own in the same style.


Food

  • Make an African or Caribbean dish.


PE

  • Students carry out an EHP (extended homework project) for the whole of October on 10 famous black athletes and their contributions.
  • Alternatively, they could introduce a famous black athlete as part of a starter activity.


Music

  • Study African/Caribbean music and musicians.


PSHE

  • Study black feminism, looking as figures such as the scholar Barbara Smith.
  • Discuss black British campaigns, such as the Bristol boycotts. How were they different / similar to the Montgomery boycotts? What can we learn from their campaign methods?


Drama

  • Study African or Caribbean playwrights and their work.


Here are some examples of the work I’ve been assigning:





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