Diversity and the curriculum

Dr Richard Harris, Institute of Education
r.j.harris@reading.ac.uk

Overview

LLA

The focus of this work is on what I do and how I try to ensure that the curriculum I create reflects the diversity in society; this in turn impacts on the trainee teachers I work with and how confident they are in teaching a more diverse curriculum.

Objectives

  • To identify how far my curriculum actually reflected diversity in society.
  • To examine reasons why this might be and therefore what could I do about it.

Context

I have to train history teachers and therefore they need to be able to address issues of diversity within their teaching. However I am from a white, middle class background, so how confident and comfortable was I in supporting my trainee teachers in this goal?

In addition I am aware that some students from BAME backgrounds do not perform as well as their white peers. The reasons for this are complex but one issue appears to be the curriculum and the absence of people from BAME backgrounds from much of the curriculum.

Implementation

The first step was to analyse my practice and myself. There is a lot of useful literature on ‘whiteness’ and the privilege that comes with ‘whiteness’ in our society that is largely taken for granted and unnoticed by those who part of the white majority.

Critical Race Theory was helpful in examining the curriculum I actually taught and for making me reassess my own beliefs and prejudices.

It is only by understanding ourselves that we can understand the unconscious messages that we send out, which portray our values, attitudes and beliefs.

For me, the following had a profound impact on how I thought about the curriculum: “Knowledge taught in schools is a form of cultural capital and is a social construction that reflects the values, perspectives, and experiences of the dominant ethnic group. It systematically ignores or diminishes the validity and significance of the life experiences and contributions of ethnic and cultural groups that historically have been vanquished, marginalized, and silenced.” Gay, G. (2004) ‘Curriculum Theory and Multicultural Education’ in J. A. Banks and C. A. McGee Banks (eds.) Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 30-49.

Impact

Having done a Critical Race analysis of my curriculum content I was able to see how ‘white’ it was, and therefore realised that I needed to find other curriculum content that could be included within my teaching. In addition it was important that this was not simply ‘bolted-on’ but was part and parcel of what I would do. Creating a focus on ‘black’ history, for example, simply serves to make it appear different, rather than looking at ‘history’ in all its diverse forms. Instead I have been able to incorporate a range of topics within my workshops, so that diversity is embedded and part of the ‘background noise’, rather than being something that has to be squeezed into the course. There are sessions on teaching diversity but these are much more geared towards raising trainee teachers awareness of what they need to be consider.

Working to develop trainee teachers is a complex business but it is important that they feel confident in what they need to do. Raising awareness of the issues over the curriculum and exploring their perspectives and what has shaped them allows them the opportunity to think differently. In many ways they have to go through the same process that I have been through. In particular it is important that they do not adopt a ‘colour-blind’ approach to curriculum development. We need to see who is in front of us before we make decisions – for example if we had someone with some form of additional need, such as dyslexia, we would take that into account in our work – and as Linda Valli, an American researcher argues, we need to see ‘colour’, so we
can do something about it, and then let the ‘colour fade’. We should then be in a position where we have constructed a more diverse and inclusive curriculum.

Reflections

This approach is not itself a one-off T&L activity, but rather a process of deep reflection to understand and address a specific issue.

It is also potentially unsettling as the problem often rests with us, and we have to accept that. It is very easy to blame students for failing to engage with a curriculum or some form of support provided, whereas in fact the real issue is much more to do with the unintended messages we often send out about what is and is not considered valuable. If our curricula are not inclusive, why should we expect students from particular backgrounds to engage with what we teach?

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