Why You Should ALWAYS Read the Back First ...

As you might have seen on social, The Herstorian’s focus for April is Building an Inclusive Curriculum.

To do this, we need to start by looking at what we already have. When I’m working with trainee history teachers, the first thing we do is a textbook dive because there's no more effective way to show just how White, male and privileged our curriculum is. We grab as many textbooks as we can … the old, the new, KS3 and GCSE. We look at the topics covered, the images included and - my personal favourite – the Index.

Ohhhhh I ❤ an Index.

It tells me EVERYTHING I need to know about a book and its author.

When I'm book shopping, it's the first place I look. It influences my buying decision more than the cover.

So, while I was thinking about what to write in this newsletter, I went straight to my bookshelf, grabbed a couple of textbooks and turned straight to that back page.

Here's one example from an Index:

Now, I’m not going to name and shame the exam board and talk about how terrible they are. (They’re not the only ones, so it seems unfair to single them out. Trust me on this one).

However, I can give you a bit of context. For starters, this is a very recent (2016) GCSE History textbook that covers the period, 1066-1685. It’s a sizeable book, too, at nearly 300 pages.

So, what does this snippet from the Index tell us, and why it is such a problem?

Firstly, let’s talk quantity.

In 600 years, women are only worth noting twice. Yes, that’s correct. TWO TIMES.

Secondly, let’s talk quality.


Which women?

White women? Black women? Working-class women?

It’s a bit vague, isn’t it?

FYI: I checked for “Black Women” and “Working-Class Women." I found nada.

Thirdly, let’s talk representation.

The theatre and fashion.

So, you're telling me that in 600 years, women only made a notable contribution in two fields?

Yeah ....

Now, I perused those specific pages, and I found a reference to Aphra Behn, which is fantastic. If you’re not familiar with Aphra, she was the first (known) woman to work as a freelance writer. But, Aphra aside, there are big problems here, aren’t there? Historically, there are always more women than men in society. So any book that purports to tell the whole story while managing to leave out 52% of the population is not historically accurate or representative. If we can’t “find” women’s voices to amplify, we should explore that in detail, not just gloss over it. We also have to think about the girls and young women in classrooms. What messages are we sending to them with our 2 references in a 300-page book? Or when we exclusively depict them in the context of performance and fashion? And I’m talking about White girls here, remember. How might other girls feel, knowing they’re not even included? The bottom line is this: when these materials don’t connect with student’s experiences, they are much more likely to switch off. In other words, we are setting them up for failureup ehre if you don't want to miss it) I don’t want that on my hands and I’m sure you don’t either. And I use the term “we” because this is everyone’s problem. Children are the future. You know it and I know it. If this rant inspires you to do anything today, go and check an Index. And if it’s not right, call it out. Write an email. Send a tweet. Tell a friend. We are strong when we work together. Until next time (and you can sign up here if you don't want to miss it) ... Kaye x

Herstorian, Author & Culturally Responsive Education Specialist Telling the extraordinary stories of ordinary people; Fighting for equality in history and equity in history education. Visit Me / Connect with Me / Tweet Me / Join Me

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