Western bias in education



Selena Drake

Two years ago Michael Gove banned the studying of American literature in schools in an attempt to further Anglicise the British education system. Texts that we had become accustomed to, like To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men were abruptly removed from the English Literature syllabus. This decision means that now only a very limited number of subjects in schools provide any insight into other countries and cultures, closing these windows for their students.
Laws like these have effectively fuelled my ignorance in relation to the world outside Britain’s borders, as I have now come to realise during my study abroad year at the University of Cape Town.

I wanted to learn about Africa from an African perspective, as despite the sheer size of the African continent, it will rarely be brought up in class. Even when it is afforded a mention, it will usually be discussed through a colonialist lens. The colonialist perspective demeans Africa’s massively varying countries, cultures, languages and religions to one label – ‘primitive’. I left school being able to describe the continent of Africa using only its name, and horrifyingly this is considered to be acceptable.

In Cape Town I began to observe and react to the flaws within the British education system. At school I was taught that Charles Darwin was a revolutionary; he massively contributed to the understanding of evolution and was unfairly mocked for his work. While this might be true, I was completely unaware of another perception of Darwin. In one of my lectures at Cape Town, he was described as a man who suggested that if species evolve to be superior through natural selection, then surely the white man is more developed, and consequently superior. This is a perspective that I would never have been taught in a Western education system, yet the argument is undeniably valid. It is through ‘rational’ theories such as Darwin’s, that Enlightenment thinkers came to categorise human beings into superior and inferior groups – Darwin played a significant part in igniting a globalised racist mentality.

British Enlightenment thinkers will be romanticised and studied in detail in various disciplines at British universities. Attention will be drawn towards their seemingly progressive thinking, and drawn away from their racist outlooks towards ‘inferior’ groups of people; the racism in their thinking will be overlooked as if it holds no significance. How can it be considered acceptable that we can skim over the racist views ingrained within many famous British thinkers, labelled as progressive, while romanticising them and taking their word as gospel? There is an overarching colonialist lens across the British system of education and I would argue that the Anglicisation of our education system has contributed to the current xenophobic tension engulfing Britain in light of the recent referendum.

Africa is thriving with progressive activists and thinkers, but we would never know it. The colonialist veneer of the British education system means that we haven’t been taught about anything to do with Africa, except from a ‘sympathetic‘ and demeaning perspective. In order to have any hope of decolonising the British mentality, it is important to recognise the danger of nationalism and Anglicisation in encouraging Britain’s xenophobia. It is vital to include at least a basic teaching of African cultures and leading thinkers into the British system of education. This is the only way in which we will be successful in developing in our understanding of Africa as a continent, and it is the only way that we will move away from our ignorant mentality. We must come to realise that Britain really isn’t as progressive as our government and colonialist education system would have us think.