Black History Month 2021 | Celebrating Black History and Committing to Racial Justice at the School of Education

A collaborative blog post from the School of Education

As the School of Education welcomes many new and returning students to Berkeley Square, we also celebrate Black History Month and reflect on how addressing issues of racial justice continues to be central to both our research and teaching. Last year, we highlighted the importance of understanding Bristol’s Black History for new students at the School of Education, and looked forward to ways in which research and teaching at the School can promote racial justice. This year, we share some of our recent and ongoing activities, with an invitation to all to continue to participate and learn with us. 

Research Projects and Events 

Many ongoing research projects in the School and our research centres are directly engaged in work related to Black History and racial justice in Bristol and around the world.   

On October 12CIRE, the Centre for Black Humanities and EdJAM collaborated on an event to commemorate the legacy of Charles W. Mills, a Jamaican-American political philosopher whose critiques of liberalism’s entanglements with white supremacy have made profound interventions across the humanities and social sciences. The event involved a panel of expert speakers from across the University, including Dr Sharon Walker, a newly appointed lecturer in racial justice in education, Prof Arathi Sriprakash, doctoral researcher Zara BainDr Foluke Adebisi, Dr Elspeth Van Veeren, and Dr Julia Paulson as Chair. The panel provided insightful, poignant and moving reflections on Mills as a scholar and an individual, and it was well-attended by participants from across the University further afield. 

In July, the School of Education’s project Iftiin held an in-person community outreach and engagement event in Stokes Croft. This involved over 30 parents and young people in Bristol’s Somali community in a discussion on access to university, ways in which the University can better cooperate with the Somali Community, and strategies that parents and students can use to be successful in higher education. These events culminated more than 18 months of work researching experiences of British Somali Students’ experiences in education, including their experiences of institutional racism and ways they are excluded from continuing to study at university. 

In June, the Centre for Comparative and International Research in Education (CIRE) and the Race, Empire and Education Collective hosted a conversation between Dr Jarvis Givens (Harvard University) and Dr Derron Wallace (Brandeis University) to celebrate the publication of Givens’ new book Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching. A recording of the event is available here. Fugitive Pedagogy explores the theory and practice of Black education in America, demonstrating how African Americans pursued education through clandestine means, often in defiance of law and custom, even under threat of violence. Significantly, it was Carter G. Woodson who fought for the recognition of Black history, and what is now known as Black History Month. Read an excerpt by Givens on Carter G Woodson’s educational theory on this blog by Decolonising Geography, a national network for geography educators.  

The Race, Empire and Education Collective (REE) is co-convened by a team of international researchers, two of whom are based at the School of Education – Dr Sharon Walker and Professor Arathi Sriprakash.   REE offers a full programme of events to explore the dynamics of race and racism in education systems, available on the current term card for its Work in Progress sessionsIt also continues to collaborate with research groups in the School, working with CIRE on the ‘Arc of History’ seminar series, and again, to develop a summer 2022 term card with the SoE’s Memory, History and Reparative Futures Reading Group.  

Bristol Conversation in Education, the School’s main research seminar series, has also hosted events relating to racial justice in education. In March, Dr Jessie Abrahams chaired the panel “Black Bodies in White Educational Spaces,” which featured Dr April-Louise Pennant and Dr Constantino Dumangane Jr speaking on the experiences of Black British students and researchers in universities. In May, the Centre for Higher Education Transformations hosted Dr Riyad Shahjahan and Dr Kirsten T Edwards presenting their work on Whiteness as Futurity, which has been published in the journal Higher Education. 

Teaching and Practice 

Through our relationships to schools, teachers, and community organizations, the School furthers efforts to fully consider Black History in education. The return to in-person teaching at Berkeley Square offers new opportunities to engage with issues relating to Black history, racial justice and education, which feature in various ways across the School’s undergraduate, master’s, initial teacher education, and doctoral programmes. 

With support from EdJAM, PGCE history lecturer David Rawlings together with poet Lawrence Hoo and colleagues from CARGO Movement support a group of history teachers from around Southwest England to work with the recently launched CARGO Classroom resources. These resources celebrate the histories of African and African descendent peoples through stories of resistance, leadership and agency, countering the silences and victim narratives that often characterise these histories in standard curricula. The resources include poetry, artwork and lesson plans around historical figures including Imhotep, Queen Nizinga and Nanny of the Maroons. CARGO is developing further resources, including recent figures like Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees and Green Party Councilor Cleo Lake. 

In June 2021 around 60 primary and secondary teachers working in Bristol schools participated in an online event titled Decolonising the Curriculum in Bristol: across the subjects, from school to university. Organised by the School of Education for Teacherfest, an annual CPD festival hosted by the Bristol Education Partnership, the session featured presentations from six teachers engaged in decolonising and anti-racist work in the city – including Tanisha Hicks-Beresford’s presentation on reflexive questions to inform anti-racist curriculum planning (image below), and an initiative to incorporate Somali poetry within the English curriculum. A recording of this event has circulated widely amongst teacher networks (with more than 1000 views to date), and is available here. 

Many taught units in the School’s undergraduate and post-graduate programmes also involve learning about issues related to Black History and racial justice. For example, in the unit “Education Policy in a Global Context,” over 100 master’s students will examine racism in educational policy, including the historically segregating effects of school choice policies, ongoing international attempts to remove Critical Race Theory from discussions about education, and the forms of resistance and critique of these efforts. Similarly, the design of the undergraduate unit “Education Viewed from the Global South” centres Southern viewpoints in thinking about education, including leading Black scholars such as Frantz Fanon and Ngugi wa Thiong’o. 

All this activity shows how racial justice and Black History play an important role in the School of Education at Bristol. Black History month is an excellent opportunity to celebrate this work and to renew our commitment to racial justice in education.