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Knowledge and Decolonial Politics: A Critical Reader
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2019
Decolonization as an epistemological framework remains a pressing topic. Decolonization challenges the insidious ways in which colonialist ideologies persist as neo-colonial manifestations in economic, political, military, judicial, educational, and spiritual spheres, among others.
The series of essays in Knowledge and Decolonial Politics address different challenges within the educational system in Canada. The goal of the book is to address “intellectual colonialism” by decentering Western hegemonic ontology, epistemology, rhetoric, and policies (4-6). As the introduction claims, the “book intends to expose and challenge Western knowledge systems, and dominant political systems, and their role in subjugating, marginalizing, and oppressing local and Indigenous knowledges” (4).
After the introduction, the remaining seven chapters each consider a separate issue in need of decolonization with regard to pedagogy: dismissiveness of indigeneity in the curriculum, the classroom, rhetoric of “development,” land ethics, spirituality, spirit-body unity, and indigenous languages. Each of the chapters addresses a topic that is essential to the experience in the classroom, and which requires critical reflection from both teachers and students. As an edited work, the interconnectedness of the chapters sets up a promising framework.
The authors point out major weaknesses in the Canadian educational system which fail to prepare teachers and students to engage anti-discriminatory and anti-racist discourses and pedagogies. Despite the legal advancements and robust rhetoric in official documents, much remains to be implemented inside the classroom. The essays call for integrating various ways of knowing that are attentive to non-western cultures in order to challenge meaningfully the Eurocentricity of the curriculum.
It would have been beneficial throughout the essays to include specific references to actual indigenous communities and values. Many of the indigenous values mentioned remained in the abstract. Interesting points of contact with African indigenous values were raised in a few of the essays, but were underdeveloped (chapters four, six and eight).
Wambui Karanja’s chapter on western-based international intellectual property laws is the strongest and most compelling. The essay challenges current legal frameworks applied to land protection or conservation. It delves deeply into existing international protections for different communities. Karanja explores new possibilities that center indigenous communities and value traditional non-western wisdoms in order to develop a decolonizing framework for collaboration on indigenous land rights issues and knowledge production.
Overall, the essays raise important questions for decolonizing the curriculum. The topic of student assessment could have complemented the overall mission of the authors. Nevertheless, the authors demonstrate a deep knowledge of the colonial mindset persisting in neocolonial rhetoric and practices within institutions that claim a liberal concern for marginalized communities and alternate modes of learning. Educational institutions and overseers continually return to practices that re-inscribe colonial settler values through curricular values, status quo teaching strategies, language exclusivity, and the spirit/body dichotomy. While the essays do not recommend many concrete decolonializing strategies, they provide initial reflections on critical topics by naming the colonial injustices embedded in current educational practices, which can stimulate readers to develop further crucial insights identified by the authors.
Teaching in the Cracks
Date Reviewed: September 6, 2018
Brian D. Schultz New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 2017 (xiv + 128 pages, ISBN 9780807758311, $29.95) Teaching in the Cracks by Brian D. Schultz, a professor of education at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, explores ways to make current K-12 classrooms more student-empowering, justice-oriented, and action-based. It is not that already available curricula are not student-empowering, have no concern for justice, or ...
Teaching in the Cracks: Openings and Opportunities for Student-Centered, Action-Focused Curriculum
Brian D. Schultz
New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 2017 (xiv + 128 pages, ISBN 9780807758311, $29.95)
Teaching in the Cracks by Brian D. Schultz, a professor of education at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, explores ways to make current K-12 classrooms more student-empowering, justice-oriented, and action-based. It is not that already available curricula are not student-empowering, have no concern for justice, or seldom inspire creative student actions; What most concerns the author are school systems that dictate almost everything that students experience, think, and do. In such a system, says Schultz, learning is largely top-down, authoritarian, controlled by agendas that perpetuate the status quo, and “bombarded by standards, assessments, [and] evaluations” (86). Shultz’s critiques and enthusiasm focus on reforming this “troubling” system and more specifically on transforming current everyday curricula in classrooms (86). His proposal, however, stays at the level of reforming or transforming, rather than completely negating or overhauling our current educational practices. That is why he calls his suggestive methodology and transformative tactics “teaching in the cracks.” He encourages educators to find creative loopholes in the present system where they can make education more democratic, collaborative, and thus bottom-up.
Schultz acknowledges that his proposal sounds great on paper but is hard to implement in the classroom, and so throughout he offers numerous practical examples of proposed curricula and how they are working around the nation. Examples vary, covering everything from a single classroom, the entire school’s curriculum, forming close partnerships with surrounding communities, and specific topics, to teacher preparation (all covered in chapters two to six). Together they make this book an invaluable reference for field educators. In particular, chapter six, “Becoming the Teacher I Want to Be: Finding Support to Teach in the Cracks,” and chapter seven: “Turning the Corner: Techniques, Resources, and Tools for Taking-Action,” should be helpful for those who would like to implement the proposed learner-centered class education in a seemingly impotent school context. In chapter six, Schultz gives two fine examples of veteran teachers who introduced several effective strategies that are applicable to other contexts as well. To be sure, contexts differ. Yet, as long as a similar school structure is involved (for example, executive administrators, a sizable student body and its own governing entity, supportive community groups, and an aspiring teacher), these strategies would be beneficial anywhere. Websites introduced in chapter seven are extremely useful resources too.
This book is not per se a theoretical book on student-centered, action-focused curriculum. Rather, it is full of vivid examples of actual current practices. Some readers may find this book insufficiently radical to make a dramatic change in the existing school system, but that is not the author’s purpose. Its particular strength lies in its unabashed focus on the classroom itself. The author believes that the real change can and must happen in each individual classroom where the teacher and students meet for daily education, before any large-scale systematic change is possible. In this respect, this book provides a small, yet reliable, hope for most field educators who, like me, aspire to create a more learner-led class environment.
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things ...
If you are like me, the weeks since the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States have been filled with shock, horror, disbelief, sadness and fear. These feelings come not only from the executive orders and policies that have been emerging from the White House but even more ...
Working Side by Side: Creating Alternative Breaks as Catalysts for Global Learning, Student Leadership, and Social Change
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Sumka, Porter, and Piacitelli offer both the history and strategy of an emerging educational model that crosses borders between disciplines to develop competencies and leadership characteristics for social change. The authors document “short-term, student-run immersion service trips” designed to sharpen critical thinking and deepen commitment to future action for social justice (8). In this study their primary example of the alternative break movement is an organization called Break Away that grew out of Vanderbilt University. This and other new programs like the Alternative Break Citizenship school (ABCs) are rooted in efforts from the 1960s that experimented in transformational learning experiences combining travel, intercultural dialogue, collective action, and critical theorizing. A common denominator of these programs is the goal of social justice education.
One theoretical framework undergirding these programs is an “active citizen continuum” pointing the way toward authentic relationships for life-long reflection, action, and community enrichment (10). The integration of critical theory and practice moves participants beyond charity and critical theorizing to active citizenship and intercultural competence. A key component of these programs is student leadership. By practicing the actual implementation of the model from the planning and training stages, students gain confidence and facility with each step of the work. In addition to providing the history and theory behind the programs, this book offers practical details contributing to the success of the learning. Readers find pointers on working relationships between staff and students as organizers and leaders of the trips, the alcohol and drug free policy, clarification of the roles of staff versus student leaders, as well as ideas about training, assessing, and fund-raising.
The study would be strengthened by further development of the concept of justice. Despite the significance of social justice to this work, little attention is given to making explicit what is meant by justice. Similarly, the concept of global learning could be explored in relationship to literature on intercultural dialogue, collective action, and transcending political borders. Although this book provides an introductory discussion of what community means, contrasting communities of affinity versus communities of geography, the extensive body of work in philosophical and critical theory developing that distinction is not acknowledged (351). In other words, the academic and intellectual strands contributing to this model are not noted with as much care as the recent history of the particular program.
This is a compelling read for anyone interested in learning that fosters authentic relationships rooted in “values of social justice, dignity, empowerment, and capacity building” (33). Although religious and theological frameworks are not discussed directly, schools or educators who offer immersion or intercultural learning experiences will benefit from reading this research. The authors’ caution about the tendency to slip toward do-gooder tourism, poverty tourism, and forms of educational travel where privileged students unwittingly perpetuate legacies of colonialism is timely and relevant.The conclusion of this book includes observations about the “need for inspiration and collective action” (359). If faith communities hope to be known as sources of inspiration and collective action in the future, this book offers potential for fertile common ground.