Why we need events like “Why Is My Curriculum White?”

The Modern Records Centre recently collaborated with Warwick SU to put on an open education series focusing on issues of racial resistance, including a panel talk discussing ‘Why Is My Curriculum White?’. Maahwish Mirza, the SU Education Officer, blogs about why asking these questions and hosting this series is so important…

[reblogged from Warwick SU blogs, written by Maahwish Mirza]

“Why Is My Curriculum White?”

I devised the Warwick Open Education Series programme, which was a series of free, open-to-all lectures and seminars on topics of race and racial resistance held with the Modern Records Centre. I did this to promote the notion of education as a public good that should be accessible to all and to literally “open up” Warwick to the world outside, but also to create at Warwick a space for discussions on topics of race, non-white histories and cultures. I invited the “Why Is My Curriculum White” campaign at UCL to speak at a panel event for the Open Education Series, and so began a discussion at Warwick on our syllabus.

There is notable talk of globalisation at universities in terms of student populations, with a university’s ability to host international students both an indication of prestige and an attractive investment for the institution itself. Though institutions seek to market themselves as international hubs, rich in diversity and boasting of their global alumni “footprint”, this diversity is not necessarily reflected in curriculums. This is a cause of concern for the following reasons:

1)   While universities seek to attract international students, the experiences and histories of these international students fail to be recognised. Students are expected to assimilate into Eurocentric curriculums with little intellectual freedom to reference or discuss the thinkers of their own cultures, and, as a result, are expected to in essence “leave behind” the intellectual achievements of their own cultures. This limitation can also impact on home students from non-European ethnic or cultural backgrounds.

2)   This limited diversity of curriculums stifles academic freedom for all – it presents to home, Western students the history of their own civilisations and does not afford them knowledge of the contributions of the many intellectual giants of other cultures. In essence, this kind of learning cannot be seen as worldly learning – learning instead becomes partial, one-sided and presented through a singular lens and worldview.

3)   Curriculums constructed heavily of Eurocentric material bring with them the problems of the European worldview, which has historically seen non-white cultures as savage and sought to promote this dehumanising ideology through its intellectual material. As a result, we can see the historical Othering and dehumanisation of non-European cultures and peoples in the canon: we can find such sentiments in John Stuart Mill, in Joseph Conrad, and even in Karl Marx. A historically racist Europe and West will reflect its racism in its high and low art, in its writings and mass market entertainment, in its elevated philosophies and its low-brow conversations. Racism becomes hard to escape and becomes both casual and acceptable when it is an ingrained cultural phenomenon, and the utilisation of such material in university syllabuses becomes problematic when it is not countered by the very voice of the cultures being repeatedly dehumanised and presented as savage.

4)   Universities are synonymous with education, prestige, progress and civilisation. To be included in the confines of the university space is to be granted the honour of intellectualism and scholarship. To be shut out of the academy is a symbolic indication of a lack of learning and education – the suggestion is that those outside of the syllabus and the world of the university are not worthy of inclusion. This lack of inclusion, then, suggests that the intellects of other cultures is lacking – that it is only the European or Westerner who has ever produced anything worth learning. The idea of the non-European as uneducated barbarian is cemented when the non-European is not given the opportunity to offer forth its Allama Iqbals, its Confuciuses or Lao Tzus, and its Bulleh Shahs in the arena that grants academic honour and prestige. For a young student to not have any remote awareness of the Iqbals who wrote back to Europe’s Miltons limits that student’s mind to the belief that no other culture could produce a worthy combatant of Milton. Such thoughts becomes natural – they become the status quo – in a world where curriculums are awfully lacking.

To conceive of something as possible, one must see it or be introduced to the idea of it. If the academy continues to offer limited syllabuses then it cooperates in producing alumni that are woefully partially-sighted. Education is about attaining insight through the expansion of one’s experience and knowledge, not through the creation of a world of semi-blindness.

Our scholars should be marching forth as individuals who are cognizant of the world they inhabit and its myriad thinkers, histories, intellectual greats and artistic and musical talents. Our scholars should be engaging in a scholarship that recognises the contributions of educators from all over the world, and in doing so confers upon those remote societies the status of equals in humanity and intellect. Our students should be exposed to different ways of thinking that are only available by seeing the world and its history through the eyes of other cultures and societies.

An education that is partial cannot truly be worthy of the name.

 

Read more about the Warwick Open Education Series events on the MRC website. Includes recordings of panel talks and relevant source material that can be requested for viewing at the the centre. 

Read our blog posts on the events and discussions:

“Why is My Curriculum White?”

Crossing Borders: Experiences of Immigration in Britain

By Any Means Necessary? : Questioning Ideas of Militancy in the Civil Rights Struggle

Facebook: www.facebook.com/warwickoes

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