The debate about decolonising the curriculum is too readily open to misrepresentation, particularly by those who see it as a manifestation of what they call ‘political correctness’ and a left‐wing bias in universities. Exploring the issues shows that decolonisation could revitalise academia.
Academic life should be about challenging orthodoxies and assumptions, looking critically at the world. Knowledge production has a value in itself, but it is also about using our enhanced understanding to enable us to change the world for the better.
Unfortunately, sometimes the parameters within which knowledge is constructed and analysed can become an obstacle to change. Inertia and at best, incremental change, are all too often features of course design and reading lists.
Why decolonising the curriculum matters
If universities are to challenge their students, they need to constantly think about what they teach and how they teach it. This does not mean that ‘great books’ should be abandoned, but it does mean that a far wider range of sources needs to be considered and that existing texts need to be subjected to more rigorous criticism.
None of that is inconsistent with academic values or the idea of a university. It is a way of revitalising and refreshing those values and showing openness to a far wider range of perspectives that is required by a changing and more diverse student population.
It does not mean that one has to compromise academic standards, abandon academic freedom or stop discussing controversial topics. This is not about pandering to ‘snowflakes’, it is about encouraging a much wider debate that shows an awareness of the contexts in which knowledge is produced.
“It’s about challenging longstanding biases and omissions that limit how we understand politics and society. Many advocates of decolonisation don’t want to abolish the canon; they want to interrogate its assumptions and broaden our intellectual vision to include a wider range of perspectives. While decolonising the curriculum can mean different things, it includes a fundamental reconsideration of who is teaching, what the subject matter is and how it’s being taught.”
This is not a straightforward task and it presents a number of challenges that are being discussed in departments and universities across the UK.
Academics’ opinions on decolonising the curriculum
In order to provide a better understanding of these challenges, and the context in which they have arisen, I decided to commission a series of contributions from different disciplines written by authors exploring a range of issues around decolonising the curriculum.
The result will be available in the Political Quarterly journal in the coming weeks, starting with Kerry Pimblott’s piece on decolonising universities. The contributions are thoughtful and reflective, and should enhance our understanding of the issues that arise and how they might be addressed.