Other[ed.]: What is decolonizing education in the post-secondary setting?


To decolonize education, it means working on multiple fronts So I think we’re working at a very large scale changing of education systems and structures. Advocating for changes to the Ontario College of Teachers description of what education is and how it includes indigenous perspectives and knowledge, and it also means working within our own structures and making changes where we can make the changes directly. Decolonizing education is a phrase we hear a lot about in social work. So when I think about decolonizing education I think, in a basic sense, there is a colonial agenda that has set out a way of educating and the educational system to fit that agenda. And the way that we experience that on a day-to-day basis is around things like what is accepted as authoritative knowledge what knowledge even counts where the standards are what ways are acceptable in terms of learning and being and speaking and representing so all of these things, right? That all fit neatly into an agenda that preserves privilege for a very small group of people and even though that’s a very small group of people it also keeps those of us that don’t fit in to that agenda feeling “less than” especially in a space like a university so we are the people who are doing work that’s on the fringes, the work that’s alternative, that’s maybe “complimentary” at best. So that language should really reinforce that what you’re presenting, what you’re representing, what you’re interested in is not the real knowledge it’s some kind of other thing that’s happening. To me, decolonizing education means first of all, making that visible. And making it visible to people that what is presented to us as truth and authoritative knowledge is just one of many knowledges, one of many truths. For me, decolonizing education would have to have at least three components: One is to really raise the question, in terms of what are we learning? From whom? What do we think is the canon, the tradition, as universal knowledge. And ultimately, at universities, that is usually based on Eurocentric knowledge. Which gets to the second point: When we foreground certain kinds of knowledges which ones do we marginalize? Which ones do we not take into account seriously? And I would say these are knowledges from Indigenous communities, from marginalized communities, those from the Global South, on establishing, developing knowledges, bringing in faculty members whose perspectives will diversify our curriculum. And third is fundamentally then: How do we infuse and integrate those two components? So that, when we deal with certain kinds of Western, Eurocentric knowledge, that have been core of our knowledges, of our research, of our teaching, yet at the same time foreground the ones from Indigenous and marginalized communities How do we bring them together so that we can move forward as a global community in the 21st century? YADESHA: For me decolonizing education means interrogating the Eurocentric forms of knowledge production and dissemination so that we can move towards more alternative ways of learning and teaching. My primary avenue for decolonizing education comes through the Equity Studies Student Union at the University of Toronto The E.S.S.U, or ESSU, as it is known, works through an anti-oppressive framework that seeks to highlight and dismantle the sexist, ableist, racist, and classist ideologies embedded in the academic sphere. We host a wide range of events that encourage critical conversation and dialogue between different groups of people. I think by providing spaces for individuals to talk about issues otherwise unheard in the classrooms, the E.S.S.U. subverts a lot of the normative practices associated with post-secondary education. In my opinion, such work is integral to understanding the lived experiences of students and making the necessary accommodations for their success. While the education system in Canada marginalizes students at every level, I find that post-secondary institutions can be especially alienating Students are thought to enter on the same playing field despite the fact that some are privileged vis-a-vis others. We as a community need to keep making efforts to decolonize education so that students can feel connected to their peers, their professors, and their studies in general. Racialized, Indigenous, female, LGBTQ students not only require equal chances, but equitable opportunities. This is why the “Transitional Year Programme”, for example, needs to stay in place. I hope that one day, the work being done by groups like the E.S.S.U. can influence systemic change. Jonathan: In my nearly 14 years at the University of Toronto I have performed my work using some basic principles. First, that Aboriginal students and faculty contribute greatly to the University and the larger society, in terms of research, knowledge and experiences. And second: That relationship building is absolutely necessary in order for gaps in access and understanding to be narrowed. As the Aboriginal staff and students who come to First Nations House all come from a vast number of experiences I’ve always made it a strong point to remember this regardless of who I’m speaking with. My experiences are not necessarily their experiences. How one identifies may be different from me. So it is our role to serve and support students on their educational journey. This is something that I’ve always impressed upon others, who also work with Aboriginal students. To ask people to look beyond the Aboriginal label and instead, engage with that person as an individual. By building that relationship you will discover much about that person, their interests, their knowledge, their gifts. So my method is to provide a welcoming environment to all people. To include everyone in to our community who wish to learn more about us. By doing so, I focus on building a relationship so that trust may form. There’s an internal piece: it’s the self changing. But there’s also the larger structures where you make the changes where you can make them but I think you have to work from the levels you can and where you have some influence. So, from an Indigenous or Anishinaabe perspective, which is, you know, my own First Nation background, we tend to look at things as these concentric circles of where you can have an impact on anything. So the self is the level you have the most control over in terms of your own processes of decolonizing. Only you know where you need to do that work but you can do that in family and in community as well so those networks of relations grow and they help you become that person as well. So who you’re surrounding yourself with helps you to move along that path. And as you make those changes it ripples out and can cause larger changes throughout the community or, we hope, the nation and society too. Njoki: I strongly believe that for any meaningful work to be done to decolonize education educators have to rethink, or reimagine, how indigeneity may be introduced in the academy. Each one of us are indigenous to a place. Through my teaching, I encourage my students to unearth their history. Not through the eyes of the colonizer, but through their indigenous roots. It’s not an easy journey because it causes discomfort, disconnection, dislocation and lots of denial. However, we cannot distance ourselves from difficult conversations if we have to contribute towards advancement of intellectual discourse in all areas of education. If we have to decolonize education through an anti-racist paradigm I strongly believe there needs to be a major shift of consciousness. [Njoki] Njoki: In some of my classes, I started meditation This is not structured meditation with chanting and humming, but a moment that I give my students to feel their presence. Initially, this is very difficult, however, it does not take long for students to realize the importance of taking time to reflect and to bring their thoughts together before a class begins. Sometimes I facilitate this exercise by lighting a candle or reading from an inspirational book, or staring with an affirmation statement, such as: “I Believe”, or “I Know”, or I “Wish”, etc. Another strategy that I use involves inviting participants to bring nutritional food to class as a means of bringing us together. When I introduce these forms of non-traditional ways of teaching, I am creating spaces for dialogue, for reflection, for soul searching, for unlearning and learning, for dealing with their discomfort, their disconnect, and their fragmentation. I usually invite students to share their source of discomfort with the rest of the class. What I’ve come to realize is that these exercises, though simple, are the beginning of their decolonizing journey. [Njoki] Njoki: Many students are hungry, for the opportunity to engage in this kind of journey. All that we have to do is provide an opportunity to do so. If we’re working on decolonizing education, we’re also trying to dismantle racism. And anti-racism specifically is one that’s important in the educational space because of the underrepresentation of racialized people in this space and the underrepresentation of knowledge that comes from racialized people in this place, and just the clarity with which, even if we look at a university like this, with its thousands of students, and thankfully a growing number of students that are actually saying: “I belong to a group that is part of a visible minority according to the census.” That’s a certain segment of the population, a certain segment within racialized groups, that is beginning to penetrate this space which I don’t take for granted because they weren’t always here. But there are a lot of people that are still left behind. So we are not at a place where anti-racism can’t be a very explicit part of the agenda at a university like this. One of the things that we see in working with new teachers and a lot of the teachers, they might be first generation in Canada, and they have a sense of what Canada means as a place that has a history of working for social justice or for advocating for peace abroad and when they come to a realization of things like residential schools or other forms of colonization that exist here, there’s a tension with understanding that identity that does both of those actions. And we have found that, a lot of times, it’s not the knowledge or the time to develop the resources that they need when they’re learning about how to work in education but it’s the personal work, the identity work of holding this identity as a “Proud Canadian” and yet this is also a Canada that’s done this to Indigenous people. So they kind of stand in solidarity, and then they have to work through “What does it mean to do that work? Because now I’m on this land, what’s my responsibility to the people and to the land.” Much of the colonization process has been influenced and impacted by a racist view of the world and of peoples. So by categorizing people as different based on skin colour or where they’re from, and this then gets tied into policies and laws and legislation and in to stereotyping, and becomes the way of controlling various populations. And so the colonization process – the othering process – is made possible through a racist way of looking at constructing knowledge about the world. Decolonizing education and anti-racism begins with acknowledging from a transnational point of view our own relationships with indigenous peoples from our own homelands and, at the same time, in our new homeland of Canada, what do we do with Aboriginal issues here. So it’s important for us to understand that decolonizing education and anti-racism is not just contextualized in Canada even though that’s an important point to have, but to also recognize that this is a transnational issue, a global issue, that indigeneity, decolonizing education and anti-racism, is a global struggle that we continuously have to work with. Kevin: I like to take a familiar object, like a banana, and then trace its history from production to consumption. Most people in North America eat bananas without giving much thought to where this fresh fruit comes from. By linking students, as consumers of bananas, to the workers, in the land that produced them, we excavate a whole history of the neo-colonial and racialized violence of a couple of multi-national corporations and the slick advertising campaigns that cultivated a taste for a fruit that, in the early 20th century, most people in Canada and the United States had never even tasted. Miss Chiquita Banana, and Carmen Miranda, the lady in the “tutti-frutti” hat, are thus a part of this story. I try to give students raw materials that they can use to develop their own interpretations of the past. So I might offer a photograph of workers taken in the banana plantations in Columbia in 1928. These Plantation workers had asked the United Fruit Company, which is now Chiquita Brands International, to pay them a little bit more for the long hours they dedicated to cultivating fruit for export. I also provide related primary source documents produced by the workers in Latin America and by the US based company. The students have to get their hands dirty interpreting the evidence and crafting their own analytical narratives of the events. As they interpret the past, these students are simultaneously gaining skills for interpreting the present. They’re asking not only about how bananas were produced, but how several decades of violence underwrote what has come to seem an innocuous item on everyone’s kitchen counter. They’re tracing how that violence was erased from popular memory and covered up in the archives. In addition, by thinking historically, these students are gaining new civil skills. They’re imagining futures that could have been, dreams that were cut short, and better futures that could still be. They’re critically considering what they had taken for granted and imagining how they’re connected with each bite they take to people and places that they will never see as they come to see the ways that what they eat and their very tastes are part of historically conditioned, neo-colonial, economic and political relations, they realize that they can choose in the most mundane ways to help create more equal and humane relationships between producers and consumers. In becoming citizen historians, they engage in an interpretive process [Kevin] I would love it if when we talk about being a research intensive university it’s not just randomized control trials even though I have a great deal of respect for randomized control trials I would love it if we were on the map for having this comprehensive view of what research is. And because we have such an incredible We have a lot of credibility around being people who understand research, can do research, and actually that’s all kinds of research we’re actually in a really good position to do that. And since research then informs education and research then informs practice it’s actually a really great place to have an influence from. So I think U of T, the most research intensive university in Canada, should set an agenda around decolonizing our understanding of research and materializing that in the type of research that we promote and support and teach in all of our faculties. I read a really startling statistic that an Aboriginal youth is more likely to go to jail than to graduate from high school. And if we really want to change things around in the social relations, change the colonial relationship that the state has with Indigenous people, the education opportunities that are afforded to young Aboriginal people change those life choices dramatically. So it’s something very important for us to focus on to make a change in that way. At the individual level, for myself, as a professor, I need to be very mindful in terms of in my teaching, to what extent do I include content, discussions, assignments that take seriously decolonization as a concept, as an idea, and as a struggle. So, at the curricular level, at the pedagogical level, for professors, we need to take that up. That’s very similar in terms of students they could take a look at the different kinds of course offerings at the university and see “Where can I learn this information?” And when they are in departments and fields, particularly in the humanities and social sciences and other professional schools that should be taking up these issues, they should have the right to be able to ask: “Why isn’t this part of our curriculum? Why isn’t this part of our teaching and learning?” Students should fundamentally ask questions that are relevant, important, that are crucial to their own education. At the middle level, when we take a look at departments and faculties, they should take a look, specifically at questions not just of curriculum, but also of hiring; retention; who are part of these departments and faculties? So that’s a really important part that’s our mission as a public university to ensure that the people who are part of our teaching and instructional staff also constitute the diverse realities and populations that we have in Canada. At the institutional level, at the university level, I think we need to be very, very intentional in terms of policies and programs particularly in relation to Aboriginal peoples and racialized minorities. It’s not enough to just say “We support diversity” It’s not enough to provide multicultural policies. We need to be much more intentional by saying: “We want to target the recruitment, retention of Aboriginal faculty and racialized minority faculty.” We need to have policies and programs that can specifically target Aboriginal and racialized minority faculty. Because as faculty members, we constitute the governance, in terms of how the university runs, the kinds of teaching and learning that take place in this university, the research that will be valued not only in our context but across Canada and globally, and it also provides the diversity of knowledges that we can have.

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