Sir Isaac Newton’s historical legacy amounts to “colonial-era activity” and must be scrapped to “decolonise” the engineering curriculum at Sheffield University in the UK.
Newton, who lived until 1727, laid the foundations of modern science with his theory of gravity as well as theories on light, time, colour and calculus. Newton is the latest historical figure to succumb to a drive to “decolonise” campuses, which has intensified in the wake of Black Lives Matter riots.
In his work Principia, Newton formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation. He used his mathematical description of gravity to derive Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, account for tides, the trajectories of comets, the precession of the equinoxes and other phenomena, eradicating all doubt about the Solar System’s heliocentricity. In fact, his equation for universal gravitation, written in 1666 when he was 23, ended more than a thousand years of Aristotelian thinking.
But Newton’s three laws of motion, the core of modern physics, must now give way to the “global origins and historical context” of his theories. The engineering faculty plans to “challenge long-standing conscious and unconscious biases” among students to tackle “Eurocentric” and “white saviour” approaches to science and maths, and promote “inclusive design”.
A leaked copy of the “draft inclusive curriculum development” obtained the the London weekly, Sunday Telegraph stated that “much important engineering content and curriculum resources is based on maths developed in the 18/19th century” while pioneering scientists including Paul Dirac, Pierre-Simon Laplace, Newton, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz “could be considered as benefiting from colonial era activity”.
It is not clear how Newton benefited from colonialism. He held shares in the South Sea Company that traded in slaves but he lost £20 000 – a fortune at the time – after the company ran into financial difficulties.
His biographer James Gleick, commented on the drive to eradicate his contribution: “Whether Newton’s foolish investment in South Sea shares in 1720 means that he participated in the slave trade is arguable. I would say that all England benefited from colonialism.”
The “decolonisation” drive is not new. Last month, an Oxford professor denounced musical notation as “colonialist” in order to challenge the “complicity in white supremacy” of composers such as Mozart and Beethoven.
According to a consultant who runs diversity workshops at multiple top universities in Britain, the decolonisation drive is shifting from humanities courses to sciences. He told The Telegraph that the sector was being “captured” by “critical race theory in all but name”.
The diversity officer admitted that these measures aimed at “decolonising” science were not about equality, diversity and inclusion. “This is something different altogether. It is blatantly teaching people to be activists.” Prof Frank Furedi, a sociologist at Kent University, agreed. “It’s a way of socialising students into feeling that something is wrong with their own background, the life of their ancestors and inducing guilt.”
A Sheffield spokesman said: “Decolonising the curriculum is an ongoing process which prompts us to incorporate historically marginalised or suppressed knowledge into all disciplines … so all our students have the opportunity to see themselves reflected in what they are being taught.”
But introducing “wokeism” to science, evokes the famous quote by Newton: “I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.”