Today, LSE LIFE’s Dr Sara Camacho-Felix considers questions around decolonising the curriculum and explains how working with Poetcurious and other spoken word artists to create an event for students, alumni, staff and the wider community created a space to explore themes including empathy and ownership in society in an inclusive and illuminating way. To find out more about setting up similar events, contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many universities, programmes, and lecturers / tutors (including myself) are currently beginning to question our teaching practices through the lens of decolonising higher education. Many initial acts we take to decolonise are focused around reading lists, where we ask: whose names are on those lists; where are they from; and who do they represent? The questions come from a desire to move away from a curriculum that is full of white European men. I’ve seen this in the LSE Impact blog, and I have questioned my own reading lists for courses I developed as an initial step in decolonising my own teaching (which you can read about here and here).
However, I’ve become acutely aware of two things: 1) that as a learning developer, my work falls outside of the traditional curriculum of any degree programme or course, and more importantly 2) that decolonising higher education is more than changing the names on a reading list. It is about knowledge, who is allowed to have it, who is perceived as not having it, and, importantly, the criteria we use to determine if new knowledge is valid or not. If we are using the same criteria and expectations of what is ‘good’ or valuable knowledge in creating our curricula, then, while the names on our reading lists may diversify, the knowledge itself does not.
It was this initial thinking that led me to organise a new learning event for LSE LIFE, with the help of the LSE Festival. I wanted to bring in new knowledge traditionally held outside of the university, produced in a medium normally not considered ‘academic’, to lead to a debate about societal issues and our assumptions about those issues. In order to do this, I reached out to Poetcurious (Chris Beschi), a London-based poet, educator and artist who co-convenes HipHopEd UK. He works from a critical pedagogy perspective, which underlines both the philosophy of HipHopEd and some perspectives of decolonising pedagogy. In 2017, he organized an event called HEAD SPIN, where Hip-Hop poets and spoken-word artists performed different pieces. After sets of three or four performances, the audience would generate questions together that they wanted to discuss as a large group. From those questions, the audience entered into dialogue together, ensuring that together, they maintained a ‘care-taking and turn-taking’ attitude, which is central to HipHopEd.
The aim was for Poetcurious to bring something similar to HEAD SPIN to LSE and to bring in multiple audiences from both within and outside the academy. By attracting both those interested in Hip-Hop and social justice in greater London and those working and studying at LSE, we hoped for a dialogue to emerge that would create knowledge which might not have existed without the artistic and diverse perspectives that made up the room.
On 24 February in the Venue in the Saw Swee Hock building, LSE LIFE hosted this event, which we called ‘Tongue Lash: A night of challenging society through hip-hop and spoken word’. Attendees included LSE students, alumni, and academic staff, along with a contingency from SOAS and several HipHopEd community members from London. Poetcurious hosted it, with Tang the Pilgrim facilitating the dialogues. Performances in the first set by Christian Gabriel Smith, Hannah Gordon, and Thomas ‘Ghetto Geek’ Owoo inspired a lively discussion about empathy in society. The conversation ended (momentarily – for many of us, it continued as we grabbed drinks and listened to music played by DJ Shorty) with a reflection on whether there was a difference between empathy and compassion, and if so, which one was it that we needed more of in society. The second round of performances by Desree Gumbs-Carty, Christian Gabriel Smith, and Caroline Teague triggered an animated debate over the connections between regeneration and gentrification with questions about ownership, assumptions about the existence of culture, and who gets to determine who is (and isn’t) included in community.
The feedback from that night has been unanimously positive. Students were excited to have informal, yet intense dialogues about issues they care about while enjoying artistic performances. Multiple students have requested that Tongue Lash be made an annual event, while alumni praised the event, claiming it gave them the opportunity to explore how art inspired their own thinking on social issues. One alumni stated, ‘it was a great opportunity to use creativity to critically discuss issues that LSE should have on its agenda.’ The performers enjoyed having an internationally diverse audience that offered immediate responses to their poetry. And, at the end of the night, LSE security offered their own feedback, stating that they too had enjoyed the night, and that we should consider it a success.
To listen to the performances from the night, click here. And, if you are interested in doing any other such educational events outside the formal curriculum, please contact LSE LIFE or myself at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org