We are delighted to share with you this piece from our National Lead Practitioner for Humanities in the North, Anna Gormal.
Last year the word ‘woke’ was updated in the Oxford English Dictionary. Its original meaning of “to awaken after sleep” remains but now says the OED, "woke has been extended figuratively to refer to being 'aware' or 'well informed' in a political or cultural sense." This ‘new’ woke originated as part of the Black Lives Matter movement with an emphasis on being ‘alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice’.
Being ‘woke’ therefore is amazing and empowering and yet the first time I heard the phrase ‘stay woke’ in real life I hated it! It seemed grammatically wrong and culturally appropriated when used in a small town in rural Lincolnshire where the vast majority of people are white British. But now as I watch my students struggle in a ‘post-truth’ world (another recent addition to the OED and its word of the year in 2017) I can see the value of such a movement in a place far removed from its beginnings. To be ‘woke’, whoever you are and however you get there, means to be engaged in the world, to look beyond your life experiences and to become a critical thinker. It therefore makes you a better learner and it makes you a better citizen.
So how can we help our students wake up? Firstly by ensuring that our curriculum doesn’t merely teach to the test but contextualises and enriches. For example a history teacher can go beyond teaching the facts of the past to make students aware of the underlying structures and theoretical ins and outs of the world they inhabit. A discussion of manifest destiny in the 19th century American West for instance could draw students’ attention to issues of structural inequality and draw parallels with modern concerns over race and privilege. Enriching their knowledge and understanding of both the course content and the challenges of life in the 21st century.
Secondly, by equipping students with the critical thinking skills needed to navigate life (as well as many of their GCSE exams). In an era of ‘fake news’, internet conspiracy and ‘alternative facts’ we need to ensure that our students are not just connected to information but adept at discerning truth, evaluating claims and forming reasoned judgements.
And finally, by continuing to practice the Oasis habits of compassion and hopefulness so that students develop empathy to those with experiences different than their own and optimism that things can change if they are prepared to act.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou