by Kailin Solomons
I am so grateful to our launcher Ade Adesanya, who chose to showcase the Black Education Project in her profile. A quick bit of context about myself, at university I focused on policy and curriculum development, so needless to say I care a lot about education, and I am blown away by the work Stephanie Pearson (founder of the Black Education Project) is doing to make real, practical change in schools to diversify curricula. I can’t deny, there was some fangirling at the beginning, but I managed to pull myself together to ask Stephanie about how she started the Black Education Project, and what she hopes to achieve in the coming months.
As a leader in the Black Lives Matter protests that took place in London over the summer, Stephanie was hearing a push from activists to teach black history in schools. She told me about her own time at school when black history had been relegated to a few extra lessons, taking place early in the morning during Black History Month. Most shocking, at that time in her school only black students were invited to these supplemental lessons. She describes how this experience had stuck with her, through her study of Social History at university and on into her own teaching practice, where she now strives to make her lessons thoughtful and inclusive. Stephanie spoke about how just that morning she had been making a phonics flip book and noticed that the image for the word “angel” would automatically be a white, blond haired woman or child, if she just picked the first Google image. She said that we can’t assume the internet is progressive or unbiased place and urges teachers to take that extra step to consider what world they’re presenting to their students. So, when the public consciousness finally woke up this summer, she realised that while she may have been teaching black history in her own classroom, other teachers might not have the resources, support or confidence to take this on themselves.
This realisation pushed Stephanie to start creating an additional curriculum and training, that fits right into the national curriculum from Reception up to Year 9. She is creating a unit for each year of black history that meets the national curriculum’s history objectives for that age group. For example, she talks about the Year 9 unit being “The Empowerment Unit”. She says, “it looks at black people in the media, representation in film, black-on-black crime, change in inner city areas where people have been pushed out” and that through exploration of these topics “it aims to empower”.
Stephanie wants “young people to understand their position in the world and how they can change it” and says that if they have this knowledge “they won’t see each other by their personal differences, but rather as a community that builds each other up”.
She is also creating extra lessons that tie in with common topics but provide additional information. During our conversation she was telling me about the lesson on black Tudors that can easily be added to any lessons on that period.
While the work Stephanie is doing is extremely important and impressive, I asked her about additional content past black history. She is creating units for the English literature curriculum as well, but I was curious what she thought about how curriculum should be diversified past just black history. Stephanie responded, “My end goal with this project is to be able to go into schools and offer teacher training to accompany the resources, so that teachers will be confident and comfortable enough to teach them, but also to inspire teachers to be a bit more creative with their texts”. Her long-term vision empowers teachers to take the curriculum into their own hands and not be stuck teaching what’s traditional or assumed, but rather teach content that is relevant to students’ experience and presents history in a conscious, reflective manner. Stephanie enjoys teaching extra lessons throughout Black History month that celebrate what black people have done and can do, but she also wants it to be integrated throughout the general curriculum to push society towards equality and empathy.
Long-term Stephanie hopes to get support to change the English Literature GCSE curriculum. This curriculum is much more prescriptive. At present none of the set texts teachers can choose from are written by black authors and only around 25% are written by women. Stephanie stressed that such limited texts lead to children having a skewed impression of the world in which black and other minority ethnic groups are impoverished, violent and generally non-existent. Not only does this not provide any positive role models to non-white children, but Stephanie explains that if white children are raised in a predominately white area this will be some of the only exposure they have to non-white people, and this limited sample will most certainly have an effect. However, these are big changes that have to go through many more channels. Stephanie is hoping to push the needle by getting her younger years curriculum into schools, demonstrating that it’s effective and then generating enough support from head teachers and parents to eventually get larger policy change.
So, what this all comes down to. In the coming months, Stephanie hopes to finish putting together these resources for Reception to Year 9. She is doing this all on her own time, alongside her full-time teaching job and raising her own children. She created a GoFundMe Page back in June and unsurprisingly received a huge amount of support and surpassed her funding goal. However, creating these materials is expensive and she’s hoping eventually to make this her full-time focus. She would like to go into schools to train teachers how best to use these resources and how they can create their own inclusive lessons. So please, go to her page and continue to donate, as we need someone keeping up the momentum and making sure that anti-racism doesn’t end when protest stop.
You can learn more about the Black Education Project and sign up to receive updates about this new curriculum at theblackeducationproject.co.uk
You can follow Stephanie’s activism @black.livesmatteruk
You can donate to help get these resources made at www.gofundme.com/f/blacklivematteruk
Some Fun Extras!
Stephanie has written about her personal experience of these ideas in her first poetry collection that’s being released October 3rd! You can purchase this collection at https://theblackeducationproject.co.uk/other-projects.
You can also hear Stephanie and our launcher Ade Adesanya on a recent episode of The Guilty Feminist “Black Women and Girls Matter”
Our Charity Spotlight Series is written by Kailin Solomons. If there are charities or organisations you would like us to feature please get in touch.