Dr Nicola Abram writes:
In the Department of English Literature here at Reading, undergraduate students can choose from several modules that focus on texts from postcolonial contexts. These courses include ‘Black British Fiction’, ‘Nigerian Prose Literature’ and ‘Writing Global Justice’. On Tuesday 29th April, lecturers from Reading gathered together with many others from further afield, to enjoy dialogue, debate, and even productive disagreement about how to teach what we teach. The ‘Towards a Postcolonial Pedagogy’ workshop was organised by Dr Nicola Abram, with funding from the Higher Education Academy and the School of Literature and Languages.
The workshop programme boasted an array of engaging and enterprising researcher-teachers. Professor Alan Rice (University of Central Lancashire) began with a presentation on ‘teaching black Atlantic presence in a world of amnesia’. A varied series of case studies followed, giving an insight into four teaching professionals’ approaches to their different classroom contexts. Professor Susheila Nasta (Open University) spoke first, on teaching Sam Selvon’s classic 1956 novel about post-war migrants, The Lonely Londoners – one of the texts on our ‘Black British Fiction’ module. Next, Dr Sarah Lawson Welsh (York St John) tabled her approach to an intersectional pedagogy, drawing on her experience of introducing ethnicity into a compulsory first year module that announces itself as primarily concerned with writings about gender.
After lunch – and a few words from Dr Nicole King, Discipline Lead for English, Creative Writing and English Language at the HEA – Dr Shirin Housee (University of Wolverhampton) shifted the disciplinary focus of the day to Sociology, with a presentation on anti-racist pedagogy. Giving the final of the four case studies, Dr John Preston (University of East London) raised some important points about the intersections of class and ethnicity, and offered creative suggestions for destabilising white supremacy while avoiding the unproductive phenomenon of white guilt.
The afternoon placed delegates in a simulated classroom environment, encouraging participants to reflect on the experience of being students again before articulating the application of the day’s content for their own specific classroom contexts. A final plenary session, framed by Professor Alison Donnell (University of Reading) and Dr Julia Waters (University of Reading), consolidated the day’s events.
I’m grateful to the seminar leaders, plenary session facilitators and case study presenters, who responded so generously to my invitation. And I’m particularly pleased that the conversations after presentations, between sessions, and across coffee proved so rich in suggestions – from insisting on comparative analytical approaches to using cartography (and colouring in!) to engage students in discussing colonialism and its consequences. The workshop was intended as an opportunity to consider the power dynamics at play when teaching texts concerned with global inequalities. So, it seems fitting that its greatest asset was the quality of collaboration, dialogue, and energy among the delegates. In fact, the conversation is far from finished. Some ongoing questions include:
- How can we address students’ preconceptions responsibly and sensitively?
- In increasingly international and intercultural classrooms, how can our conversations engage diverse student populations equally?
- How far should we police the vocabulary of the classroom?
- Which specific texts or critical approaches might develop students’ awareness of global justice, (trans)national identity, and local community cohesion?
- Where should this material be placed in our curricula?
I’d very much welcome your responses!