Paper presented to the PAIS Annual Research Conference, University of Warwick
On June 22nd 2022 I presented a paper alongside my co-author, Shahnaz Akhter, to my own Department's annual research conference at Warwick. The paper was entitled 'Decolonising the School Curriculum in an Age of Political Polarisation'.
Abstract: 'The objective of decolonising the school curriculum itself embodies an obviously political act, but it has arisen within a broader political context that could hardly be said to support such an aim. There is a clear tension here. As students move through the school year groups they are increasingly exposing themselves to important questions of why the world looks as it does, why some people’s experiences of that world diverge from others’, and why what they are taught in schools appears to reinforce the structural inequalities to which they are becoming sensitised. Today’s students have embraced their access to a knowledge-rich society to become much more aware through self-education of the limitations of their curriculum than arguably any previous generation. Yet at the same time teachers are confronted with ever stricter guidance from government ministers about how they are expected to stick rigidly to the centrally-approved curriculum in a way that is inconsistent with any attempts to decolonise the content of lessons, let alone the experience of school more generally. This might be through full-throated endorsement of a culture wars narrative, which labels any attempt to enlarge the content of the curriculum as a ‘woke’ attack on the very idea of Britishness, with associated emotional pleas to save the country’s children from indoctrination by critical race theory and/or cultural Marxism. It might alternatively be through the use of the House of Commons despatch box to threaten legal action against any teacher who is deemed to be in breach of the 1996 Education Act’s duty of political neutrality, as if the furious spats over the 2013 rewriting of the national curriculum can somehow be construed as evidence that the neutrality condition is alive and well. Our paper asks what the prospects are for a meaningful decolonisation of the school curriculum in an age of political polarisation, culture wars and threats to teacher autonomy.'