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Yvonne Poitras Pratt, Dustin W. Louie, Aubrey Jean Hanson, and Jacqueline Ottmann

The need to decolonize and Indigenize education stems from shared experiences of colonialism across the globe. In a world divided by ongoing conflict, and fueled by issues of power and control, the need to closely examine the ways that education has served hegemonic interests will help to inform future educational initiatives as well as serve as a form of reparation for those Indigenous peoples who have endured the dire consequences of colonialism. Present-day efforts to reclaim, restore, and revitalize threatened traditions are supported by international bodies such as the United Nations, in tandem with a range of approaches at national levels. Decolonizing education entails identifying how colonization has impacted education and working to unsettle colonial structures, systems, and dynamics in educational contexts. We use the term education in these descriptions broadly to name the sociocultural task of understanding ways of knowing and being (epistemological and ontological systems) and the ongoing formation and transmission of knowledges: for instance, we mean both formal education as structured through Western schooling and other forms of education such as those traditionally practiced within Indigenous families and communities. Decolonizing education fits within larger understandings of decolonization and Indigenization at socio-political levels. However, these undertakings address in particular the colonization of the mind, of knowledge, language, and culture, and the impacts of colonization at personal and collective levels of physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological, and intellectual experience. In this time of transition, the work of decolonizing schooling necessarily precedes that of Indigenizing education for most educators and learners; yet, in keeping with Indigenous knowledge traditions, education must remain in a state of flux as we come to know this work collectively.


Advances in different disciplinary traditions suggest that the classification of languages into standard and non-standard, official and popular, and school and home languages has more to do with power relations than factors intrinsic to language as such. Such classifications, in school space and beyond, articulate hierarchical relations constituted through interaction of class, race, and ethnicity in specific historic context. An examination of the process of classification of languages gives us important insights into the interrelation between social and learner identity of students in school and about discourses of power in general. Scholars from a political economic perspective have argued how identification and hierarchical positioning of languages as high and low status in school context contribute to the process of social reproduction of class based inequality through education. In recent years the reproduction framework has been challenged for being too rigidly framed on the grids of class while ignoring the gendered and ethnic identity of students that might influence and constitute the language practice of students. The approaches that view language use in school as an act of identity production have generated a number of interesting insights in this field, but these have also been subjected to criticism because of their tendency to essentialize social identities. Many of these have also been questioned for directly or indirectly employing a cultural deficit theory on the basis of class, race, or ethnicity. Such concerns necessitate a shift of focus toward examination of the process through which the very category of standard languages, considered appropriate for schooling, emerges. In this respect the work of Pierre Bourdieu is significant in highlighting the political economic context of how certain languages come to acquire higher value than the others. Another perspective emerges from critical studies of colonial encounters that relied on classification of languages as one of the techniques of modern governance. Investigations of such colonial pasts explicate how linguistic groups are imagined, identified, and classified in a society. Postcolonial scholars have argued that such colonial classificatory techniques continue to influence much of social science research today. Methods of research, particularly in the field of education, have been affected by these process to such an extent that our attempts at recovery of non-standard, multilingual speech forms are affected by the very process of investigation. Consequently, studying languages in the school context becomes a more complicated exercise as one is trapped in the very categories which one seeks to open up for investigation. The decolonization of school space, therefore, calls for a fresh methodological approach to undertake study of languages in the school context.