School textbooks, curriculum and teaching content often reflect the perspective of dominant systems and are not neutral. Not addressing this bias for fear of harm or lack of tools can have long term negative impacts on students. It is our hope that this guide can provide a reflective and deeper examination of textbooks, curriculum and teaching content so that lessons can be relevant, provide multiple perspectives and have role models for all students.

We acknowledge that often teachers and students have limited power when it comes to choosing curriculum content. Where changing lesson content is not possible: this guide offers tips to develop critical thinking with the aim to minimize harm and identify the structural discriminations within existing curriculum. Applying these strategies can help students and teachers to reflect and be critical of the context, knowledge base and agenda that school curriculum serves. With the aim to be responsible for including the histories, knowledge base and perspective that are missing.

In the first part of this guide we suggest overarching principles for interrupting unchosen curriculum. Then we offer two examples of how these principles could work in practice with links to methods, and further resources on how to minimize harm and apply critical thinking methods to existing resources.

While this guide is intended for teachers working in schools, it could be useful for anyone working with young people from a position of power with unchosen content, topics and curriculum. The guide was written mainly in the context of working within Berlin’s schools and reflects these experiences. We recognize there are many identities and experiences that may not have been reflected in this guide, so if you wish to comment or add something, please write to us at: info@mitkollektiv.de

General principles for critical thinking with unchosen curriculum

Reflections while planning your lesson

  • Get to know the textbook, curriculum, content, material.
    Ask: Who is the publisher? When was it published? Who edited it? Who are the writer(s)? Was it translated? What perspectives and identities do these people represent? What are the biases you can identify? From whose perspective is this written? What are the historical sources used? Are sources used presented as fact? Is there a diverse representation of perspective and identity?
  • Identify what perspectives are missing. 
    Ask: What ways this content could be harmful for your students. What needs might my students have while addressing this? Do you have to use this teaching material?
  • Notice problematic imagery and language. Can you identify the language and imagery that is problematic? Make sure to directly address why this image or language is not OK if you have to use it. Provide a glossary of terms for your students to use instead of the problematic terms. Remember to develop the glossary with your students and include terms that are relevant for them.
  • Inform yourself of the missing content and perspective.
    Ask: What are the perspectives being left out? Or other perspectives than that of the dominant narrative? Make a plan of an appropriate way to bring this content and these perspectives into the lesson.
  • Make a plan for how to address this with your class while minimizing harm. (Using critical analytical methods and teaching methods that address the needs and perspective of the topics and your students.)

Critical thinking teaching methods with your class
Racist terms in school material

Example

Racist terms appear in readings, textbooks, atlases.
In 8th grade German class, the youth book “Löcher” (Holes) by Louis Sachar is to be read. In the German translation, the N-word is used several times.

Questions to ask yourself

Do I have to use the material with racist terms or is there an alternative?
How can I limit and address racism when it shows up in class materials?
What are the gaps in my knowledge and possible privilege I need to reflect on / learn about before I address this with my class?
Are there perspectives being left out? Or other perspectives than that of the dominant narrative?

Tips and methods

  • Learn how to recognise racist terms and teach your students these strategies too
  • Sometimes it cannot be avoided in class (e.g. school atlas or compulsory textbooks).
  • Try to see in advance if racist terms appear in the material.
  • It can be possible to switch to other material (e.g. readings), then do that.
  • Do not underestimate the violence of racist images and terms and the pain they cause BIPOC students.
  • Always plan time for reflection in class.
  • Perhaps terms/images can also be masked or painted over.
  • Use additional resources to supplement the text book that centers around the BIPOC perspective and narrative around the topic.
  • Support your students in becoming critical readers who are able to recognise bias, discriminatory or racist material on their own.

If you are able, start a conversation with your colleagues about the problematic racist materials and changing the resources used at your school. There are external educators and mediators that can work with you and/or your colleagues to help address this.

Please refer to the links to training, glossaries, materials and methods that can help you address this in your planning as well as working with your class and school.

Euro cis-hetero dominant teaching around family

Example

In your German lesson for the “welcome class” the example in the text book to start the topic of family is of a white cis-hetero family with two childern.

Questions to ask yourself

  • What are the gaps in my knowledge and possible privilege I need to reflect on / learn about before I address this with my class?
  • What are the perspectives being left out?
  • Can I use other examples to start this topic of discussion?
  • How can I use my student’s experience and knowledge base about family as a way to start the topic?

Tips and methods

If you have to use this image and text book with your class.

  • Before you open it, introduce the topic of family with an image of the full range of possible families.
  • Either before or after that play an interactive group game with questions around family to share the knowledge and experience that already exists within your class.
  • After that, have smaller group conversations where your students reflect on the multiple definitions and the diversity of family.
  • Then, return to the required learning activity from the textbook.
  • Take a moment to address that the example the textbook used does not reflect the different experiences of families you hold in your class or the image you used to introduce the topic.
  • Ask your students to include their knowledge and what they learnt from the others in the class about family in completing the task set by the textbook.

Please refer to the links to training, glossaries, materials and methods that can help you address this in your planning as well as working with your class and school.

Links to critical methods, lesson plans and alternative content and curriculum

Critical thinking methods and lesson / workshop examples:  

Alternative curriculum and lesson plans: 

Games and resources: 

https://leona-games.com/product/family-memo/

Glossaries: 

http://www.i-paed-berlin.de/de/Glossar/

http://platzfuerdiversitaet.org/1/glossar.html

Trainings and mediation for schools and teachers who want to advocate for train:

https://www.queerformat.de/