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Teachers describe their anti-racism training

October 25, 2020

A few of my recent posts have touched on ideas around whether schools may be accepting bad ideas around racism, or push contentious political ideas about racism to students.

I’m clearly not the only person concerned about this, as equalities minister Kemi Badenoch has recently made a speech about race that included comments on the teaching of contentious ideas such as White Privilege in schools.

A couple of teachers have recently told me their experiences of training and consultancy on issues relating to race. I have more direct confirmation of the first account than the second, but I know that both are teachers and see no obvious reason to doubt them.

The first account is from a large MAT’s very recent CPD session on race,

Early in the session it was explained that race is internalised. We internalise it as a victor or as superior: we benefit and see status from our race. Or we internalise it as inferior, with feelings of self hate and resentment. The session then went through a series of terms to be defined. Privilege was explained as how white people are able to access society without barriers, without their skin colour being an impediment and without having to over-prove themselves, unlike a person of colour. It was explained that there is some controversy over the usage of the term ‘white privilege’ but that it was a fact. A result of this is fragility. This is how people feel attacked or defensive. This is apparently understandable and normal but needs to be challenged. If we are uncomfortable and not happy with how this has all been experienced, it’s because we have internalised our race and our privilege and our fragility is a response to this.

More was discussed, including the difference between equality and equity. Various case studies were used to show legitimate and important examples of how racial views have interfered in schools, such as not dealing with race based bullying or staff members who feel marginalised because of their race. The need to understand the trauma of racism was discussed and how this can lead to lifelong problems that need addressing.

A final section focused on a discussion of ‘Power and Rank’. This made clear that the basis of the whole discussion was about the power dynamics between different groups. This was described as ‘formal power, informal power, local rank, psychological rank, spiritual rank.’ Each of us have power but that varies and affects our ‘rank’ and [the speaker] argued that ‘Going into a bank, I might have less rank in those situations.’ I found this hard to follow and wasn’t quite sure what our rank referred to. A rank like a position? Or a rank like a rank order? We were asked to consider: “Where do you believe you have rank/power privilege? How does it feel? Where do you not have it? How does that feel?”

We were told that we need to be aware of unconscious bias and to consciously use our power to help the powerless. As the session finished she was asked a question about Kemi Badenoch’s statement to parliament about CRT [Critical Race Theory] and not teaching these things as uncontested facts. She said she believed that Kemi had an incomplete understanding of CRT and was clutching more at the stereotype of it. My thoughts on this were mainly a real discomfort at being told theoretical ideas as uncontested facts. This wasn’t put forward as a debate or discussion but an explanation of racial power dynamics that were entirely seen through a CRT lens. The circular logic is presented as fact and makes any rejection of the theory merely a ‘fragile’ response. To disagree is to have internalised racism as a net benefit and to resist and rest that being adjusted. There is simply no disagreement without confirming the theory even further.

The other account comes from a teacher whose school paid for the services of a consultant to help decolonise the curriculum.

In a different school to the one I teach in now, we had a famous consultant harangue the staff for our harsh treatment of BAME pupils, noting that they accounted for almost all detentions and all FTEs [Fixed Term Exclusions]; he didn’t respond well when it was explained that the school was 97% BAME.

He also had a go at the English department about Macbeth as being evidence of systemic racism, and often played in blackface.

“You’re thinking about Othello.”

“No, Macbeth.”

“No, I can confidently tell you that Macbeth has never been played in blackface.”

He did concede that Macbeth might have been intended to be white after I explained that there were four characters in all of Shakespeare coded as black and only three were people, but he stubbornly insisted that I could not prove that Macbeth had never been performed in blackface.

It admittedly wasn’t a good idea to welcome him into my classroom to observe a GCSE lesson, but I didn’t expect to hear him accuse me of manifesting ‘white supremacy’ in front of a class of 32 with only one ethnically white British pupil. The kids thought he was rude and unhinged.

And that’s my cautionary tale about inviting in consultants to ‘decolonise [your] curriculum’ (He evidently did the same thing in the 100% BAME led and taught maths department and got short shrift). I think it was imagined he’d have meaningful insights as to educational equality and diversity. He ended up berating white males as an abstract entity – there were 3 in a staff team of 140 – and misunderstanding every aspect of the curriculum he was faced with.

I leave it to the reader’s judgement to decide whether these two examples represent practice that is either good or legal.

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