23 SES 06 D, Values and Education
The aim of this paper is to draw on a recent curriculum policy in English schools, Promoting Fundamental British Values, (BV) (DfE, 2014) to expose and disrupt colonial discourses in a school Geography text book. Introduced in 2014, British Values policy forms part of the British Government’s anti-terrorism policy ‘Prevent’. Schools are required by law to actively promote BV and teachers are required to operate as national security agents by identifying and reporting to the authorities those students considered to be vulnerable to radicalisation. The policy was introduced in response to global terror attacks, the rise in Islamophobia, anti-immigration groups, ‘home-grown’ British terrorists and claims of fundamentalist Muslim influence in school governance. Defining British Values as ‘democracy’, the ‘rule of law’, ‘liberty’, ‘mutual respect’ and ‘tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’, the policy seeks to promote the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils through, amongst other goals, ‘further tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions by enabling pupils to acquire an appreciation of and respect for their own and other cultures’ and ‘encourage respect for other people’ (DfE, 2014). The inquiry examines the textbook chapter for evidence that may contradict these goals through the reproduction of white privilege and colonial logics.
The theoretical framework has five dimensions: first, is anti-colonialist Franz Fanon (1967). Second, Michael Apple’s (1996) proposal that curriculum knowledge is a ‘cultural selection’ connects Fanon’s work with the third dimension that curriculum and pedagogical relations ‘lend[s] substance’ to the constitution of student subjectivity (Todd, 2001). Fourth and fifth are the works of Derrida and Levinas. Jacques Derrida shows how language is unstable. Instead of a memetic relationship between a word (signifier) and its meaning (signified), words are related to meanings through deferral, dissemination and undecidability (Derrida, 1976). In other words, words can never be understood definitely or accurately. In contrast, in school curriculum texts, language and meaning are assumed to correspond, words are considered to have stable meaning, leading to the pre-supposition that the school text is the harbinger of truth. The final theorist, Emmanuel Levinas (1996) is interested in ethical relations, how humans are (their being), how they become and the importance of language and goodness in shaping their subjectivity. The assumed transparency of language overlooks the other’s alterity and the unavoidable, unreciprocal, asymetrical responsibility towards our comrade beings.
The research questions guiding the inquiry are:
- What political and ethical discourses about global development and justice underpin the English school curriculum in Geography?
- How can we tease them out?
- With whom does the responsibility to identify, engage with and address these global issues lie?
- How to imagine curriculum and pedagogy otherwise?
I analyse ten pages about global development comprising Chapter 12, ‘Development Dilemmas’ (Dunne et al, 2013, p. 202-214) in a popular textbook for students aged 13/14-16. Although a long tradition of UK geography education research critiques Eurocentrism and racism in textbooks, I take a different epistemological route by drawing on Continental philosophy to expose one textbook chapter’s reproduction of what Tikly (2004) calls ‘the new imperialism’.
This pilot inquiry relates to a single textbook chapter and policy extracts. The approach can be tested on other Humanities subject texts in England and internationally. In the current climate of global migration, racism and nationalism, teaching students (and teachers) how to challenge, at face value, the knowledge they encounter through schooling will prepare them to transfer such deconstructive skills to family, press, social media, marketing and government policy contexts.
The approach was proposed by Winter in 2006. The first step involves ‘reading otherwise’ by continually questioning assumptions underpinning word meanings. The reader rejects the author’s legitimised rendition, avoids the conservatism of reproducing that meaning and engages further thought by looking for, puzzling over and addressing the cracks in the argument and the tensions in the language and concepts dominating the text. The second step asks why this stance and with what effects? Who authorised it? When? How? What alternative ways of thinking does it exclude? We draw on our knowledge of the provenance and politics of the stance to unpick its pre-suppositions in order to release the play of difference of language and meaning to reveal what it conceals. Third, as disruptors, we trouble the colonial language and concepts underpinning modernist school geography to ‘think outside the box’ by cracking open totalising assumptions. The reader keeps everything under review towards transgression and the arrival of politically and ethically just ways of engaging with curriculum knowledge. Disruption offers an opportunity for something new and inventive to arise. Curriculum can open up a space of intersubjectivity where new senses of being and fresh meanings arise through the vitality and instability of language (Standish, 2008). By pinning down meaning and engaging a totalising system of racism, this school text harbours the potential for student alienation. School textbooks carry a political authority since they encourage students to demonstrate their engagement with their definitions and conceptual meanings by responding ‘correctly’ to tasks. Furthermore, in an assessment-driven, high-stakes school culture, pressures to ‘teach to the test’ stifle incentives towards intellectual curiosity or alternative ways of thinking. The analysis reveals three key themes: ‘development’, ‘numerical indicators’ and ‘learning to divide the world’. ‘Development’ is defined as economic and social improvement, bearing national benefits. In contrast, post-development theorists understand it as ‘a discourse for exercising global power and domination’ (Power, 2003, p.84), constructing the West as powerful and the ‘Third World’ as powerless. Portraying a country’s levels of development through numerical indicators conceals the political and technical decisions behind the formulation of the number (Porter, 1995), reduces the singularity and uniqueness of people and places and allows the reconstitution of colonial and white supremacist thought. ‘Dividing the world’ is achieved through comparison between the West and the non-West, whereby the student is constituted as ‘the more developed self’, encouraging ‘patronizing ethnocentric attitudes’ (Yapa, 2002, p.43).
Responding to the research questions, first, uncritical engagement with established orthodoxies concerning development and statistical indicators may promote a sense of difference in race, culture and nationhood that perpetuates powerful messages about global superiority, inferiority and who belongs where (Willinsky, 1998). Second, the inquiry deployed a novel methodological approach to interrogate a seemingly innocent school geography textbook. Third, Peake and Kobayashi (2002) argue how geography’s legacy of racism is subtle, pervasive, dangerous, difficult to root-out and address. A de-colonising mindset featuring ontological and epistemological refurbishment is required to imagine curriculum and pedagogy otherwise (question four). At first glance, the analysis illuminates an incompatibility between the ‘white curriculum’ of the Geography textbook and BV policy goals of ‘respect’, ‘tolerance’, and ‘harmony’, suggesting an obstacle to positive inter-cultural relations and social cohesion. But, further probing signals BV policy as another example of white colonial power. Revival of ‘civic nationalism’, increased alienation and stigmatisation of Muslims as a result of BV policy (Richardson, 2015), normalisation of white supremacy in English schools (Gillborn, 2005) and evidence of the embeddedness of racism in BV policy (Winter and Mills, forthcoming) raise further questions around the comforting myths of BV policy language. Additional policy bans ‘partisan political views’ in schools (DfE 2014, p. 11) and requires a balance of opposing political views (DfE, 2013, p. 9). Policy’s universalising conciliatory tone of harmonious domestication ignores the need for political critique and racial justice (Gillborn, 2006). This analysis indicates that the textbook chapter defies these policy guidelines, by promoting partisan political views of white privilege and colonial logic and by failing to present alternative political views. The language of both the textbook chapter and BV policy, infused by the same white colonial values bears implications for teaching, learning and race relations in an increasingly multicultural society.
Apple, M.W. (1996). Cultural Politics and Education. Bucks: Open University Press. Derrida, J. (1976). Of grammatology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkin University Press. DfE (2013). Improving the spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development of pupils. Departmental advice for independent schools, academies and free schools. Ref DFE-00271-2013. Crown Copyright. DfE (2014). Promoting Fundamental British values as part of SMSC in schools. Departmental advice for maintained schools. Dunne, C., Holmes, D., Warn, S., Cowling, D. & Hurst, C. (2013). GCSE Geography Edexcel B. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Fanon, F. (1967). The wretched of the Earth. London: Penguin. Gillborn, D. (2005) Education policy as an act of white supremacy: whiteness, critical race theory and education reform. Journal of Education Policy, 20(4), 485-505. Gillborn, D. (2006) Critical Race Theory and Education: Racism and antiracism in educational theory and praxis Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 27(1), 11-32. Levinas, (1996). Meaning and Sense. In A.T Peperzak, S. Critchley and R. Bernasconi (Eds.). Basic Philosophical Writings Bloomington, In: Indiana University Press. pp. 33-64. Peake, L. & Kobayashi, A. (2002). Policies and Practices for an Antiracist Geography at the Millennium The Professional Geographer 54, 50-61. Power, M. (2003). Rethinking Development Geographies. London: Routledge. Porter, T. (1995). Trust in Numbers: the Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life New Jersey: Princetown University Press. Richardson, R. (2015). British values and British identity muddles, mixtures and ways ahead London Review of Education 13(2), 37-48. Standish, P. (2008). Levinas and the language of the curriculum. In D. Egea-Kuenhe (Ed.). Levinas and Education: at the intersection of faith and reason. London: Routledge. pp. 56-66 Tickly, L. (2004). Education and the new imperialism Comparative Education 40, 173-198. Todd, S. (2001). Bringing more than I contain’: ethics, curriculum and the pedagogical demand for altered egos Journal of Curriculum Studies 33, 431-450. Willinsky, J. (1998). Learning to Divide the World: education at empire’s end. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press. Winter, C. (2006). Doing Justice to Geography in the Secondary School: Deconstruction, Invention and the National Curriculum. British Journal of Educational Studies, 54(2), 212 - 229. Winter, C. and Mills, C. (forthcoming) The Psy-Security-Curriculum ensemble: British Values curriculum policy in English schools. Yapa, L. (2002). How the discipline of geography exacerbates poverty in the Third World Futures 34, 33-46.
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