Questions Against Colonization

Decorative: A question mark drawn in chalk on a blackboard


1. "Questions Academics Can Ask to Decolonise Their Classrooms" (post) argues that "decolonising the classroom" is not just a matter of "changing the content of what [we] teach" but also requires that we "shift the tasks required to engage with that literature," considering "how different ways of teaching might bring decolonial practices into the classroom."

  • To begin to address this, "a working group at the University of Cape Town (UCT) ... generated a number of questions which could serve as points of departure for beginning to think about decolonising ways of teaching."
  • The questions "encourage academics across faculties to unearth some of the norms, assumptions and everyday practices that are taken for granted and which may be entangled in the 'hidden curriculum.'"
  • "This might help us to think through the 'how' as well as the 'what,' as a first practical step towards 'decolonising' our teaching."
  • Though focused on South Africa, not North America, the article presents salients point and crucial questions for Canadian instructors as well -- though some should be slightly modified to better fit our own specifics.

2. Crucial Questions

  • "What principles, norms, values and worldviews inform your selection of knowledge for your curriculum? Think about absences as well as presences, centres as well as margins."
  • "Do you articulate your own social and intellectual position, from which you speak when lecturing?"
  • "For whom do you design your curriculum? Who is your ideal, imagined student and what assumptions do you make about their backgrounds, culture, languages and schooling?"
  • "Does your curriculum reflect its location in Africa and the global South? To what extent does it draw on subjugated histories, voices, cultures and languages?" [Here, of course, North America and Indigenous realities, worldviews, pedagogies, etc. become central.]  
  • "How does your teaching recognise and affirm the agency of black and first-generation students? How does your teaching legitimate and respect their experiences and cultures?" [Here as well, Indigenous students and their experiences and cultures should be privileged.] 
  • "Can you speak indigenous or regional languages and relate to the cultures and lived experiences of all students? Do you draw on these valuable resources in your teaching?"
  • "How does your curriculum level the playing fields by requiring traditional/white students to acquire the intellectual and cultural resources to function effectively in a plural society?"
  • "How do you build a learning community in your classroom where students learn actively from each other and draw on their own knowledge sources?"
  • "How do your assumptions about curriculum knowledge play out in the criteria that you use to assess students? What can you do to make your assessment practices more fair and valid for all students, without inducing high levels of anxiety? What assessment methods could show what all students are capable of, drawing on their strengths and promoting their agency and creativity?"
  • "How far do your teaching and assessment methods allow students to feel included without assuming assimilation?"

3. What To Do With the Answers

  • "When we ask questions such as these, we can begin to unearth some of our hidden practices."
  • "These practices can make students feel distanced or excluded from our disciplines and classroom interaction."
  • "Asking these questions also allows academics to become active learners within their own classroom, while creating more hospitable environments for learning."
  • "Crucially, this allows students and staff to engage better with course content and with one another."
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