The lesson is on MLK. An older, well-respected History teacher is conducting a lesson for a room full of Secondary pupils. The teacher is white, and at the end of the lesson, as a sort of plenary, the teacher points out a Black student in the class:
“So if it weren’t for MLK, [Black student’s name] probably wouldn’t be here.”
What is the teacher’s likely intent? Probably to bring the lesson home, make it feel immediate and meaningful. Probably to face students in his class with the shocking idea that their friend and classmate could be excluded because of his colour. Also, because the teacher is knowledgeable enough to know better, he likely skirted the glaring problem of MLK being American and his student being British to create a dramatic ‘moment’.
What is the impact? The Black student’s classmates turn to stare at him. He feels deeply uncomfortable. Suddenly he is lucky to be there, unlike his white classmates who naturally belong there. He knows this is not true, on an intellectual level, but he still experiences the dissonance of knowing his teacher thinks otherwise. He has to choose who to trust, and he no longer trusts this teacher.
Many teachers are reading more deeply and widely to educate themselves and diversify their curriculum. Some even aspire to decolonise – to look critically at what they already teach and at the framing of their content, to reflect the global nature of their discipline.
But pedagogy – particularly student-teacher interactions – must be addressed as well. In any lesson, a teacher’s personal knowledge and interactions with students are as much a part of the curriculum as the texts they teach.