Decolonization and Education

What does it mean to decolonize higher education? It’s a phrase that’s come into vogue within progressive and critical pedagogical circles, but it’s also a challenge to many of us moving in those spaces? Decolonization, as Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang put it, “is not a metaphor.” It is “unsettling,” in both the figurative and literal senses. As a white, cis-het male living and working on stolen land, as a historian and educator who studies race and racisms, decolonization appeals to my fundamental sense of justice…but it also makes me nervous and ashamed. I am implicated, as is the institution in which I teach, in systems of settler violence and oppression. So how might we reconcile teaching—a liberatory practice—with the larger reality of settler colonialism? Can we?

This tension, these questions, are what will drive this course. Together, as a collective, we’ll explore the meanings and imperatives of decolonization, particularly within a higher-education context. By acknowledging that as individuals we intersect with colonizing process in various ways, we’ll seek to confront our complicity in settler-colonial structures and challenge one another to commit to a decolonizing praxis. A note: I am well aware of, and anxious about, my own positionality here, and the danger of my mis-appropriating decolonial discourse and using it for the wrong ends. I am not an “expert” in decolonization, nor am I an avatar of “best practices.” I am a settler, but also a learner whose journey has brought him to this place. I hope to engage others on this journey and learn with and from you.

We’ll begin with individual locations and epistemologies, then move outwards (like a series of larger concentric circles) into the realms of classrooms, curricula, institutions, and general climate. In each of these locations, we’ll turn a critical lens onto the colonial ideologies and practices that have shaped these structures and contemplate what it would look like to decolonize—to unsettle—them. The goals of this course, then, range from beginning the self-work necessary to embrace a decolonizing practice to identifying the next steps in our praxis as we return to our own institutional and pedagogical contexts. If education is indeed “the practice of freedom” (to use the words of bell hooks), then decolonizing education is an imperative part of our practice.


Kevin Gannon
Kevin Gannon is Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and Professor of History at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.
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