Lately, I have been reflecting on what I learned in primary school as a little Black girl growing up in a barely post-segregation South. So few of the heroes and central players in history, literature and the arts looked like anyone from my neighborhood. As a matter of fact, I was an adult before I realized that the world’s population is mostly non-white.
While there is a decided push in this generation to include diverse stories, perspectives and peoples, the worldview of most people educated in the western hemisphere is decidedly colonized. A colonized world view is one that places the stories and perspectives of western classical education—as determined by European colonizers—at the center of learning.
Colonized curriculum places value on Eurocentric contributions to science, history, philosophy, the arts, etc., leaving out valuable contributions of peoples of non-European descent. If you are of European descent, it’s easy to miss because all the heroes look like you. But if you are not of European descent, and you are invisible, the messaging is clear even if it’s unintentional; your stories and contributions are insignificant or even non-existent, which must mean that people who look like you are inferior.
Decolonizing curriculum is important not only in diverse settings so that all students feel valued, it is also critical to fostering learners that grow up to become empathetic, global minded citizens.
5 Resources to Help you Decolonize your Curriculum
Multiperspectivity: A good place to start your journey into curriculum decolonization and sharing varied perspectives and stories with your students is your civics content. Civics and history are inherent in all content areas, and Teachinghistory.org will introduce you to the art of asking yourself “who else was there”. The website will provide you with an overview on multiperspectivity and resources to help you find primary sources that lend historical context to the oft one-sided stories we know.
Heroes of Medicine: Did you know that Onesimus, a man from west Africa, purchased and enslaved by a Puritan congregation for their minister, provided the knowledge needed to eventually eradicate smallpox? In 1706 in Massachusetts, he explained how in his home country, fluid from an infected person’s wound had been rubbed into a small scratch or wound in an uninfected person’s arm to help an uninfected person develop an immune response to the disease.
After this method was tried successfully by another slave owner, who was also a doctor, the way was paved for other inoculations and vaccines, many years before Edward Jenner was credited with developing the smallpox vaccine. Here is a resource for those of you wanting to read about other medical contributions of peoples of pan African descent.
The other Plymouth: For 12,000 years, the Wompanoag lived in southern Massachusetts — until Europeans came. When the Mayflower set sail from England, the Puritans it carried were searching for religious freedom. However, finding their freedom meant encroaching on the freedom of some of the 60 million people already living in North America. Among those nations decimated were the Wompanoag, a semi-sedentary nation of hunter gatherers with a political system that passed property down through the maternal line.
Ravaged by diseases and wars begun by colonial settlers intent on taking the land, their population was decimated and in today in remembrance on Thanksgiving, they, along with many other Native Americans, observe a day of mourning. Find out more about the stories of the Pilgrims and early settlers told from the perspective of the Wompanoag and other Algonquian tribes they displaced here.
The Mathematician’s Project: This project features an extensive list of math experts who are, according to the website, “not old white dudes”. There are bios from various renowned and awarded mathematicians known for work in dynamical systems, topology and set theory, and for discovering formulae like Adems Relations, etc. There are lists of men, women and non-binary people from diverse cultural groups that go far beyond Black, White, Hispanic and Asian. Read more about the computational contributions of diverse peoples here.
WeNeedDiverseBooks.org: One place most schools need to examine critically, when it comes to decolonizing education, is campus and classroom libraries. Most of us pick books according to our personal tastes and recommendation lists of other educators, whose tastes are similar to ours. When we do diversify, we are often at the end of our resources, not the beginning.
What if every class library reflected diverse perspectives from K-12? What if the great kings and queens of Benin were stories as familiar to all children as are the stories of civil war generals? What if students who are non-binary saw themselves reflected in children’s books early on? Would racism be less prevalent? Would suicide rates go down among LGBTQ youth?
WNDB has a diverse staff dedicated to ensuring that K-12 campuses have access to a wide variety of cultural topics and authors who write first-hand about their cultural groups or simply about their stories. Consider this a WNDB window to the world.
Whatever grade level you’re teaching, whatever content in whatever part of the world, the above resources will expand your view. Hopefully you will see old familiar stories in a new light and find new knowledge to make sure that all students see themselves reflected through your curriculum and teaching materials. Most of all, as you embark on a truth-seeking journey of decolonized multiperspectivity, hopefully you’ll find new respect and empathy for cultures you may not have thought much about until now.