Members of the renowned Bristol band Massive Attack have collaborated on a new educational project aimed at increasing the diversity of the school curriculum in England.
Cargo Classroom (Charting African Resilience Generating Opportunities) is the brainchild of poet Lawrence Hoo and creative director Chaz Golding, who believe schoolchildren are missing important perspectives on history, a conclusion derived from their own educational experiences growing up and subsequent observations.
With the help of academics from the University of Bristol and a team of education experts, the pair developed a series of interactive online lessons aimed at bringing stories of inspiring individuals of African and African diaspora descent into classrooms to enrich history studies.
The lessons, which are designed to be included in the key stage 3 history curriculum for pupils aged 11 to 14, use poetry, film and illustrations to make the content more accessible and engaging. Massive Attack, who have previously spoken out on food poverty and environmental issues and are long-term supporters of the work of Hoo and Golding, have written music to accompany the poetry performances.
Hoo, Golding and Massive Attack all originate from Bristol, where the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston was toppled from its plinth and pushed into the docks by anti-racism protesters in 2020 as Black Lives Matter protests swept across the globe.
“Everything begins with education,” said Massive Attack’s Rob Del Naja, AKA 3D. “Without an understanding of the brutal consequences of British colonial history and the reality of the slave trade, we can’t move forwards equitably.
“Without kids knowing that Colston’s legacy was of a philanthropy built on crimes against humanity, you can’t have a reasonable debate about monuments and the legacy of naming civic spaces.
“Cargo is a perfect piece of activism, a positive intervention in the education sector, in a backdrop of culture war politics.”
The Cargo Classroom project, which is the subject of a new BBC TV documentary, comes at a time of mounting concern about the shortcomings of the curriculum in terms of Black history, with growing calls to “decolonise” the curriculum and increase Black visibility. Golding is however reluctant to be drawn into the debate. “It’s so narrow to talk about Black and white,” he said. “You’re playing into the hands of people that want to use that as a tool against what you’re trying to do.”
The use of language in the resources is very deliberate – instead of Black, the lesson materials use “of African and African diaspora heritage”, and “of European heritage” rather than white.
Golding was also keen to stress that the Cargo mission is not about removing anything from the existing curriculum, but adding to it and enriching the content, making it more accessible to more children from different backgrounds. “We just want to add variety and engaging stories, because people learn through engagement,” he said.
“They can feel uninspired by some of the material delivered at school – material that doesn’t represent them. So these are stories that relate to people from different backgrounds.”
Among the figures on the Cargo curriculum are revolutionaries such as Nanny of the Maroons (1686–1733), a leader of slavery resistance in Jamaica, Dutty Boukman, a spiritual leader and instigator of the Haitian uprising who died in 1791, and Paul Bogle (1820–1865), leader of the rebellion of enslaved people in Jamaica. Work is also under way to develop appropriate resources for primary schools.
The BBC documentary is being broadcast during Black History Month, but only by coincidence, says Golding, who has mixed feelings about BHM. “It’s a difficult one, isn’t it, because it does raise awareness. But it’s a real shame that it’s just a month that people care, when it should be spread throughout the year.”
Cargo’s heroes from history
A leader of the kingdom of Ndongo and Matamba, located in present day northern Angola, Queen Nzinga’s was “the empowering story of incredible female leadership and diplomacy against the backdrop of the Portuguese encroachment of south west Africa and the growth of the African slave trade,” says Golding. Nzinga Mbanda was born into a ruling family in the 17th century and became one of the most celebrated African women in the resistance against European colonisation.
Imhotep was “an individual many people will only know as the baddie from the Hollywood movie series the Mummy”, says Golding. “In reality he was a polymath who designed the first pyramid, as well as a pioneer physician and mathematician.” After his death, Imhotep was deified and elevated to a god of healing and medicine. Knowledge of Imhotep’s achievements later became incorporated into stories about Asklepios, the ancient Greek god of medicine.
An American inventor, aerospace engineer and entrepreneur, Lonnie Johnson – now 73 – did a 12-year stint at Nasa working on the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the stealth bomber programme before going on to invent one of the world’s bestselling toys, the Super Soaker water gun. “Nicknamed ‘The Professor’ by his friends, this genius inventor was the only black student in his high school science fair and won first place with a robot that was powered by compressed air,” said Golding. “This inspirational individual went on to work for Nasa as well as invent the world-famous Super Soaker, combining a love for fun and science.”
October 14, 2022 at 04:51AM Sally Weale Education correspondent