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Cynthia Sugars

Postcolonial Pedagogies

From Praxis to Practice: Prospects for Postcolonial Pedagogy in Canadian Public Education

Beverley Haun

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1This paper is divided into two parts. It begins by reviewing current postcolonial pedagogical theory, both focusing on its interests and identifying its omissions in relation to public education in Canada. It ends with an appendix of practical suggestions for implementing a postcolonial pedagogical supplement designed to transform teachers’ and students’ understanding, public memory, and reading of curricular texts.

2Postcolonialism in the academy gives voice to an expression of resistance that is born out of a Western discourse of exclusion. It is an inevitable construction of the Western academy at the end of Empire as students and teachers from many cultures seek to find space in scholarly discourses—ironically, discourses established largely through an imperial education project. Postcolonial theorizing seeks to understand the way the imperial frame of mind has shaped Western culture, history, politics, economics, and education by examining the relations of power within the imperial project, the textual basis of that power, and the subject positions we each inhabit in relation to it. Understanding the imperial project, examining the various forms of resistance to it, imagining a dismantling of the unequal power structures it has generated, and envisioning a subsequent restructuring to achieve global harmony in diversity are central to postcolonial discourse.

3Postcolonial studies largely developed as a reformative discourse within the field of English literature. In this literary context it can be defined as a study of colonial discursive practices and the various kinds of resistances and evasions engaged in by writers working to decolonize the imagination. At the same time, as emphasized by Leela Gandhi, it creates a space in the academy for non-Western critics to present their “cultural inheritance as knowledge” (ix), and it also serves to reveal the invisible codings of the dominant ideology under which the Western world lives.

4Much current educational theorizing in the West focuses on the extent to which postcolonial theory might inform and reshape pedagogy, and Canada, as a diverse collective of peoples, sharing space as a result of colonialism, has a vested interest in this examination. A review of many of the points and counterpoints in this discussion may yield useful insights for envisioning the best model for Canadian pedagogical practices across the education system. What follows weighs key points in this debate and offers a postcolonial supplement to current curricula that would help shift its emphasis from the centre.

5In her Red Deer College address, “Postcolonial Pedagogy and Curricular Reform,” Diana Brydon outlines the pedagogical aspects of the postcolonial discourse she identifies, creating a useful framework from which to open up a discussion of the broad implications and possibilities for a Canadian postcolonial pedagogy. While Brydon emphasizes postcolonialism’s function in trying to make sense of literary work in the world, she also enumerates the spaces constituted within it that serve to draw it away from the exclusive domain of literary studies, prompting us to “rethink how knowledge is constructed” and “how it can be decolonized”. Postcolonialism also enables a “rethinking of national belongings and multicultural interactions,” helping to expose the binary of centre and other that still shapes the Canadian national model. It prompts a rethinking of how, as Brydon says, “first world countries interact with countries internationally” (4)—the “placement of [a country] within global systems of power” (5)—and it exposes the imposition of neo-colonialism over the vestiges of nineteenth-century colonialism. It prompts us to recognize the need to respect each other’s alterity rather than yearn toward a coercive blending of diversity. With such a focus, postcolonial discourse enjoins a move from theorizing and articulating goals, to developing ways of achieving goals “through transgression” (4).

6Brydon also outlines limits to postcolonial discourse and points out that one form of postcoloniality is not appropriate to all locations. A colonial settler society like Canada, formed on the indigenous lands of the First Nations, cannot work from the same postcolonial model as a country that had a limited interlude of colonial administration within a much longer recorded cultural history like India. For this reason, a country’s definition of its postcoloniality will determine the focus of its postcolonial pedagogy (5).

7As well as taking into consideration the nature of a location’s postcoloniality, Brydon identifies the “placement of a country within the current global system of power” as needing to be considered in defining what form postcolonial pedagogy will take. As Gayatri Spivak has pointed out, the United States, with its own revolutionary end to colonial rule, has seen itself as an international saviour, particularly since the end of the Second “World “War (275). This self-staging is being played out now in the simplistic “you’re either for us or against us” militaristic stance of the United States against terrorism. Articulating a postcoloniality within this neocolonial location presents a daunting task. While our interest here is particularly Canadian, the increased shared security between Canada and the United States will need to be examined for its implications in shaping Canadian policy and postcolonial pedagogy.

8With such vastly different locations as Canada, India, and the United States as sites for postcolonial pedagogy, it is evident why Brydon emphasizes that each location must “test its goals against the needs” of its students and its local communities. While postcolonial pedagogy is developing a complexity that allows it to articulate discrete formations for each location where it is invested, Brydon sees it as still an incompletely formed entity. Postcolonialists are still “articulating its goals” which are “still being defined” (5). At the same time it is growing from a satellite English literature theory to a central academic position where it shapes the whole curriculum “from classroom interaction and curricular change to the role of the university in the world” (1). Through this process it is moving outside its original literary mandate to discover “more fully nuanced understandings of what has happened and is happening in our world as the relations of the local and the global are being reconfigured” (5).

9Leela Gandhi, in her introduction to Postcolonial Theory, also speaks to postcolonialism’s need for diversification in its academic “mode of address.” She is concerned that it “learn to speak adequately to the world that it speaks for.” Gandhi sees postcolonialism as needing “to acquire the capacity to facilitate a democratic colloquium between the antagonistic inheritors of the colonial aftermath” (x). She sees the “way out of our shared past” as being achieved by “thinking rigorously about our pasts” (9). For her, history is the discourse “through which the West has asserted its hegemony over the rest of the world” (170), and “Western philosophy, at least since Hegel, has used the category of ‘history’ more or less synonymously with ‘civilization’ —only to claim both of these categories for the West, or more specifically for Europe.” Gandhi points out that “Western Imperialist expansion has all too often been defended as a pedagogical project of bringing the ‘underdeveloped’ world into the edifying condition of history.” History, in this project, becomes the “grand narrative on which Eurocentrism is ‘totalized’ as the proper account of all humanity” (170–71). For Gandhi, a postcolonial engagement with the discipline of history takes as strong a place as its literary counterpart in the academy. For other postcolonial theorists, the postcolonial needs to be as all-encompassing as the imperial project against which it directs its voice.

10Much of the focus of postcolonial pedagogy is in the university and there is an understandable desire to continue shaping this significant discourse at that level as it increasingly exposes the imperial web that spins us. However, there must be recognition of the fact that postcolonial study, kept as an academic discipline, cannot help but comfortably maintain, create a space for, and reproduce, its own middle-class sensibilities. The academy tends to draw upon and produce participants in the middle class. Postcolonial study, for such students, may either appease ancestral guilt for colonial practices and privileges, or may justify claiming a place in the same power base created and maintained by colonial privilege. As long as postcolonialism is kept as a discourse of the academy, whether exclusive to English literature or appropriated by other discourses, it will maintain and reproduce for itself middle-class privilege at the level of theory. It is by developing a postcolonial pedagogy, moving from a theory of praxis to actual practice at the level of action for social change in primary and secondary public education, that students from all socio-economic levels will have an opportunity to be exposed to, and participate in, cultural awareness and transformation.

Mapping the Imperial Enterprises of the West

11Edward Said, in Culture and Imperialism, and John Willinsky, in Learning to Divide the World, have mapped out major aspects of the relationship of imperialism to the development of Western thought in a way that implicates more than literature and history in the imperial enterprises of the West. Said has demonstrated that “many of the most prominent characteristics of modernist culture, which we have tended to derive from purely internal dynamics in Western society and culture, include a response to the external pressures on culture from the imperium” (188). Willinsky has detailed just how Western culture developed in tandem with the European explorers and “discoverers,” from the first crisis of realizing that the world existed in a form different from that depicted by the thirteenth-century mappa mundi, to the “studying, classifying, and ordering” of land, flora, fauna, and humanity “within an imperial context,” giving “rise to peculiar and powerful ideas of race, culture, and nation” (2–3). Willinsky’s work is of particular interest to a mapping of postcolonial pedagogical issues because he goes on to explain how the West used their new-found knowledge to “divide up” and “educate the world” according to the version of it that they had constructed (3).

12Willinsky demonstrates the consequences of how “a few of the cognitively adventuresome scholars” of the fifteenth century recognized that in the exploits and booty of the explorers and discoverers was “such an amassing of new evidence” that it afforded “an opportunity for rethinking what this earth was and could now be” (24). Postcolonialists today, having recognized the extent to which scholarship itself has been constituted within Western ideology, once again recognize the opportunity for rethinking how we see the world and how the world could be. For this reason there is an urgency to develop postcolonial discourse as widely as possible to articulate the reforms needed in Western scholarship as well as to reform the Western vision of the world. Postcolonial scholars are grappling with the place for, and the scope of, postcolonial discourse within the academy and beyond.

13Brydon has questioned whether postcolonialism should continue to be located in English departments and urges its connection with issues of global capitalism and post-structuralism (5). Spivak calls for its yoking to the social sciences and the idea of making postcolonialism a core of a transnational study of culture (277). Because of the capacity of postcolonial discourse to articulate dominant Western ideology and to mesh with other cultural discourses, it is in flux, moving from its place as a discrete subset of academic literary studies to providing a context and a vocabulary for a rethinking of all tertiary as well as primary and secondary education. But in spite of its capacity to encompass the pedagogical whole, postcolonial discourse is itself a contested site as its theorists strive to contain its energies while they continue to refine their insights and deconstructive techniques.

Theorizing a Postcolonial Project for the Public Education System

14According to Brydon, intervening in the world too quickly replaces trying to make sense of the world and of literary work and may glamorize transgression over first fully understanding what deconstructive work still needs to be done. She is concerned that there “is still work to do in the shaping of a new knowledge formation, conducted in the full recognition that, as Stuart Hall puts it, ‘we are irrevocably within a power-knowledge field of force’” (5). Specifically, Brydon expresses a discomfort with postcolonial pedagogy as education for social change (3). She is most concerned with the kind and degree of authority such approaches invest in the teacher, and rightly so. Teacher education and curricular preparation for such work would need to address issues of authority as part of the key theorizing and development of a postcolonial pedagogy for social change. Chandra Mohanty focuses on one aspect of teacher authority when she prescribes that teachers must speak about third world experience, not speak for it (148). At the same time, teachers must be immersed in postcolonial discourse themselves in order to examine the extent to which their own understanding of the world and sense of authority about knowledge is implicated in and a reflection of the imperial project. Teacher training as well as student curricula need to be refocused through a postcolonial lens.

15Another issue that concerns several postcolonial theorists working to articulate a postcolonial pedagogy is the way in which postcolonialism can be misinterpreted as part of a multicultural discourse. Brydon is concerned that postcolonialism will be “invoked only to serve multicultural ends in the first world” (4), but that the very reasons for cultural diasporas will remain unproblematized. Sharing a similar concern, Spivak cautions against a postcolonial canon of third-world literature leading to a new orientalism (277). Spivak is also concerned that through postcolonial discourse the indigenous elite from other countries will claim marginality (277), distorting the social-cultural understanding that the discourse is striving to articulate. Arun Mukherjee’s concerns are quite the opposite, pointing out that not all English language writing produced in former colonies is written back to the imperial centre (9). Nor are all levels of society from such countries represented in the literature of those countries (21). She advocates regional studies in addition to postcolonial studies to avoid homogeneous essentializing of non-Western cultures to the West, and to avoid centring the West in all studies about former colonies. While regional studies certainly have their place, it is too soon to turn our backs on the Western imperial project and its aftermath. There is still much work to do to raise awareness of the imperial ideology that has shaped so much of the world, and to caution against the neo-imperialism currently manifesting itself through globalization and the fight against terrorism.

16Just as one can create a symbiotic teaching relationship between two texts by juxtaposing them to speak to each other, so, as Spivak says, “the relationship between academic and ‘revolutionary’ practices” can work symbiotically “in the interest of social change” (53). Postcolonial literary criticism has “vigorous investments in cultural critique”; and by combining the critical vocabulary of the postcolonial literary discourse with revolutionary practices, the two should be able to bring each other to “productive crisis” (53). In order to achieve this crisis, Henry Giroux recognizes the need for a new vocabulary, one that exposes and replaces the language of the old paradigm that often produces knowledge and social relations serving to legitimate specific entrenched relations of power. New language can help challenge and destabilize currently dominant relations of power to make way for rethinking and restructuring social relations (Border 21). At the same time as the vocabulary of literary postcolonialism is needed to recognize the binary power constructions that currently shape “knowledge, social, cultural, economic, and subject positions,” Giroux cautions that we must avoid the “trap of reversing the old colonial legacy of the oppressed and the oppressor” (20).

17This framework so far has been focused on curricular discourse and method; it also needs to address the students, since all students need to have a positive way of positioning and investing themselves in an educational project that lays bare the myriad permutations of colonialism. All students need to understand how their subject positions are constituted through the discourses in which they participate, and from which they enter and engage postcolonial issues. Otherwise they may only have available to them discourses through which to constitute essentialized identities, both for themselves and each other, that hinder rather than enhance the educational process. Giroux cites Antonio Gramsci in relation to the need for students to be able to “locate themselves in history while simultaneously shaping the present” to allow “people to imagine and desire beyond society’s existing limitations and practices” (Border 22). Gramsci, however, was not considering the multicultural complexity of the contemporary world. How do we, with our understanding of Western hegemony, enable students to locate themselves without falling into old binaries? The deeply embedded Western constructions of race that created privileged space for those of European descent and subjugated space for all Others entrenched a dichotomy so deep that it is difficult to bring into focus and difficult to deconstruct in its most subtle manifestations. One of Giroux’s suggestions for shifting from this construct is to “make whiteness visible as an ethnic category” so that it can be seen as no more than a cultural difference” and no longer as a “group marker” (“Living” 51). As long as people of European descent do not see their own colour as part of the hegemony of the centre, but speak of being colour-blind as if all colours are invisible (as they see their own Whiteness), they will continue to be constituted by an ideology that helps them avoid the issue of racial inequality while they simultaneously benefit from it (McLaren, Unthinking” 145). While important elements of education for social change, these steps still do not offer a strategy for diffusing the guilt and self-loathing that can accompany the process of becoming visible for these students.

18White guilt can silence White students or can result in some students resisting the personal and social transformation afforded by a postcolonial curriculum for social change. According to Peter McLaren, a consequence of non-White students fully recognizing Eurocentric privilege and the “tyranny of the whole” can be a “dictatorship of the fragment” (“Multiculturalism” 207): the silencing of the White students, overridden by voices of the formerly colonized. For this reason another aspect of postcolonial pedagogy for social change must be the development of strategies that focus on the importance of learning to listen to, speak to, and be taken seriously by each other (Giroux, Border 27). One way McLaren thinks this can be accomplished is by affirming “the ‘local’ knowledge of students within particular socio-political and ethnic locations” (“Multiculturalism” 207). This need to suit postcolonial discourse to the specific location of the students echoes Brydon’s advocacy of tailored, or historically personalized, postcolonial studies. A positive shared vision of “totality,” which McLaren defines as politics working at the micro as well as the macro levels, needs to be established as a goal for students to counterbalance the possibility of White silencing or denial and the current “emphasis on difference and discontinuity” (“Multiculturalism” 207).

19Roger I. Simon has proposed two practical strategies adaptable to specific postcolonial locations. The first requires engaging historical representations, the “social memories constructed by one culture... that form a false basis of communal existence” (“Forms” 131). A focus on historical representations can take place at all levels, from contesting the terrain of national identities and “the public legitimacy of institutions” based on Eurocentric “social truths,” to considering the representation of specific episodes in local history (132). As well as proposing specific strategies for students to engage large-scale social and historical constructions, Simon offers a strategy for individuals to listen to their interior responses when they hear the testimony of displaced others, such as peoples of the First Nations of Canada. Settler Canadians and more recent immigrants who have internalized colonial rhetoric and think of Canada as a new land, for example, can listen to Aboriginal testimony to find the space between their “Canadian public memory” and the testimony they witness. Through an attentive listening, or “summoned sensibility”—a willingness to listen openly, to respond, and to “accept co-ownership of the testimony witness”—Canadians can reconstruct their own understanding of history (“Touch” 70–75), moving from an unconscious colonial mindset to a postcolonial one. Simon has gone beyond theorizing the need for reconstructing public memory as part of a postcolonial pedagogy to offering listening strategies for implementing this practice as an important part of the individual's unlearning and relearning.

20Michael Apple emphasizes the need for theorists to combine the practical with the theoretical, and he calls for strategies such as Simon’s to be made available in existing mainstream educational publications, providing critical answers to the teachers question of “What to teach on Monday” (246). He points out that

many teachers have socially and pedagogically critical intuitions. However, they often do not have ways of putting these intuitions into practice because they cannot picture them in daily situations. Due to this, critical theoretical and political insights have nowhere to go as embodied concrete pedagogy where the politics of curriculum and teaching must be enacted. Thus we need to use and expand the spaces in which critical pedagogical stories are made available so that these positions do not remain only on the theoretical or rhetorical level. (246–47)

21The development of postcolonial discourse needs to continue. The development of postcolonial pedagogy needs to continue, particularly in theorizing the authority of the teacher and the subject position and agency of the student, and if social and cultural change is to be as important as understanding, we need to engage all levels and ages of students as participants in the process.

From Theory to Practice: The Need for a Postcolonial Educational Supplement

22Three initial steps come into play when considering a move from an imperial pedagogical model to a postcolonial one. They consist of identifying the subject positions of the teachers and students involved in any specific educational endeavour, recognizing the power dynamics at play in the teacher/student relationship largely as a consequence of those subject positions, and only then moving into postcolonial course work by identifying the overtly imperial or more subtly Eurocentric assumptions underlying the curriculum in question. By establishing the internally and externally persuasive discourses that constitute us, and by acknowledging the power dynamics and performance positions of all involved in the educational process before beginning to actually focus on course content, it should be possible to lay the groundwork for enacting ethical student/ teacher relationships and then directing our mutual energies to the work of re-educating our imaginations and public memories.

23What we need to teach our students and ourselves to aim for in this process is the creation of, and conscious holding open of, an imaginary space where we maintain a meta-cognitive awareness of the exclusionary discourses we are constituted by. We can each hold open a space for the difference of every Other to coexist. Such is a necessary part of a postcolonial classroom, both to be aware of a Eurocentric imperial curriculum that has been informing our educated imaginations and also to create the space for standing separate from that narrative as we respond ethically to others through and during our studies.

24Jacques Derrida’s version of the “supplement,” described in Of Grammatology, can be called on here to help envision an idea of the “between” space the postcolonial student must inhabit. The supplement, as its name implies, is an addition, a surplus to something already existing that creates the fullest measure of presence by being added on (144). The supplement adds onto, but only with the intention of replacing or intervening, it insinuates itself in-the-place-of (145). We cannot wait for a wholesale rewriting of the existing educational system before we begin to teach from a postcolonial point of view, and so Willinsky, in Learning to Divide the World, has proposed a way to convert any existing curriculum, no matter how imperially oriented or Eurocentric, through the addition of such a postcolonial supplement.

25The inflection of the postcolonial supplement would vary from moment to moment, creating a space of double signification. This inflection would take two main forms in the postcolonial classroom. In the first, the signification of the students and teachers shaped through the Western education system, and the space they hold open for responding to the curriculum from a postcolonial point of view, would come into play. In the second, the double signification would be composed of the students and teachers retaining conscious hold of how their understanding of their various Others has been constructed. Each inflection in these pairings “is by turns effaced or becomes discreetly vague in the presence of the other.” “[Whether] it adds or substitutes itself, the supplement is exterior,” outside that to which it is super-added, alien, and other to the main discursive space it joins (145), but stitched to it, combining with it to form a new between-space. It is through its difference, in this case, from the main educational discourse that it supplements, that it is able to change the shape of or alter the intent of the main. Creating a space at the start of a course for students and teachers alike to engage in meta-cognitive reflexivity and then adding to that space a postcolonial supplement that can be inflected to encompass students and teachers, as well as the curriculum itself, will enable the participants to transform any Western pedagogical experience into a postcolonial one.



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——. “Living Dangerously: Identity Politics and the New Cultural Racism.” Between Borders: Pedagogy and Politics of Cultural Studies. Ed. Henry Giroux and Peter McLaren. New York: Routledge, 1994. 29–55.

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Mapping Postcolonial Pedagogy: Displacing the Effects of the Imperial Education Project While We Are Still under Its Thrall

The following information, in summary form, is divided into six sections, each intended to be useful in itself or in conjunction with other sections depending on the starting point of the postcolonial pedagogy project in question. The first three sections are concerned with changing awareness of teachers and students, and “unpacking” existing curricula. The fourth section is intended to facilitate an understanding of the constructed nature of reality both inside and outside the classroom in the West. The fifth and sixth sections are concerned with transforming curricula and teaching into a postcolonial pedagogy, and envisioning a new Canada.

1. Teacher Awareness

We need fearlessly to... teach the generations of young people how the world has been constructed and in whose interest. We need the theoretical and practical tools to help [ourselves and] them “un-do” and “un-learn” the oppressive lessons of the hegemonic discourse to which [we] have all been exposed. (Kohli 74)

• Recognize what comes of having one’s comprehension of the world so closely tied to one’s conquest of it (Willinsky 3).

• Understand that knowledge draws its boundaries almost exclusively from a European model of culture and civilization and connects learning to the mastery of autonomous and specialized bodies of knowledge (Giroux, “Postmodern” 177).

• Recognize that education represents a struggle for meaning and control over power relations (Mohanty 147).

• Recognize the domination of ideology which is invisible when you are inside of it.

• Understand the need to protest the meta-narrative of the dominant ideology, to reform it, and to envision a new teaching practice.

• Understand our location in the education process and the institutions through which we are constituted (Mohanty 148).

• Recognize that the questions we ask within our discipline are shaped by the assumptions we bring to it.

• Understand the process by which some groups get known in and as history, and other groups and events are ignored by “colonial” history (Gandhi 7).

• Understand how difference (concepts of identity, ethnicity, and race) has been formed and represented historically.

• Recognize how concepts of race and identity relate to privileges of power and knowledge.

• Understand that academic institutions produce paradigms, canons, and voices that embody and transcribe race and gender (Mohanty 147).

• Understand how educational practices assist in the construction of hegemony; how particular forms of authority are secured through the organization of the curriculum at all levels of schooling.

• Recognize the need to question who has the authority to interpret the identity of subject positions.

• Recognize that the content taught makes assumptions about the learner and that teachers must be aware of those assumptions.

• Understand the need to create a dialogue with rather than a speaking for others (McLaren, “Multiculturalism” 215).

• Understand how the relationship of the reader and the text is organized; how the reader enters into the symbolic flow of capital from the world of the text.

• Develop an awareness of the space from which we speak as teachers (Brydon 2).

• Recognize that teachers of European heritage need to examine their White ethnic history to avoid judging their own cultural norms as neutral and universal.

• Understand what it means in practice to produce and disseminate knowledges in culture (Brydon 3).

• Recognize how the questions we ask of literature are shaped by the assumptions we bring to it (Brydon 3).

2. Student Awareness

Students and teachers are all actors in narrative configurations and employments that they did not develop but that are the products of historical and discursive struggles that have been folded back into the unconscious. (McLaren, “Multiculturalism” 212)

• Students need to understand the concept of meta-cognition and the need to stand back from their own learning experiences.

• Students need to develop a critical distance from their own education.

• Recognize that the Western comprehension of the world is tied to having conquered so much of it (Willinsky 3).

• Understand how concepts of identity, ethnicity, and race have been formed and represented through history.

• Understand the process by which some groups get known in and as history, and other groups and events are ignored by “colonial” history (Gandhi 4).

• Recognize how concepts of race and identity relate to privileges of power and knowledge.

• Understand that we “view our own images” and “stereotypes as embodied qualities that exist in the world and we act upon them” (Gilman in McLaren, “Multiculturalism” 217).

• Recognize how particular ways of presenting the past might be implicated within our understanding of current unjust social relations (Simon, “Forms” 137).

• Recognize the way that the authority of a discipline invites complicity with the historic point of view it offers on events (Simon, “Forms” 137).

• Recognize the possibility for the renewal of the educational, media, and cultural structures influencing our everyday lives.

3. Unpacking Existing Curricula

Teachers [need] to be prepared to examine together with their students how a particular configuration of pedagogic forms, group and institutional structures, and personal histories and capabilities may be forming a dynamic of threat and exclusion. (Simon, Teaching 96)

• Determine the dominant ideology informing a subject, text, or unit.

• What cultural work does this subject, text, or unit do, and in what contexts (Brydon 2)?

• How does this text mean, to whom, situated where (Brydon 2)?

• How are anthologies themselves actively involved in the production of knowledge (Brydon 4)?

• How do the different sets of questions we might ask of a text reveal different dimensions in the work under study (Brydon 3)?

• How is difference policed as much through the neglect of certain questions as through the advancing of others (Brydon 5)?

• Examine the content of the text or unit to see what it assumes about the subject:
– Does it display interpretive biases (Simon, “Forms” 136)?
– Is culturally specific knowledge presented in texts as if it is universal (136)?

• Determine if the authorial voices embody and transcribe a particular paradigm of race and gender (Mohanty 147).

• Determine if the text or unit supports a heterogeneous or a homogeneous community or larger society.

• Determine if White ethnic history is being presented as the cultural norm—as neutral and universal (McLaren, “Multiculturalism” 215):
– Is Whiteness being used as a cultural marker against which the Other is defined (215)?
– Is multiculturalism being presented as Others joining the centre?

• Examine the content of the text/unit to see what it assumes about the identity of the learner.

• Determine why specific texts are used, who authorized them, what and whose interests are served by their continued use (Simon, “Forms” 136).

4. Understanding the Constructed Nature of Reality Both Inside and Outside the Classroom in the West

Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively, white or black, or Western, or Oriental. Yet just as human beings make their own history, they also make their cultures and ethnic identities. No one can deny the persisting continuities of long traditions, sustained habitations, national languages, and cultural geographies, but there seems no reason except fear and prejudice to keep insisting on their separation and distinctiveness, as if that was all human life was about. Survival in fact is about the connections between things; in Eliot’s phrase, reality cannot be deprived of the “other echoes [that] inhabit the garden.” It is more rewarding—and more difficult—to think concretely and sympathetically, contrapuntally, about others rather than only about “us.” (Said 336)

• Recognize that the classroom is a site of instruction, a political site, and a cultural site (Mohanty 147).

• Recognize that the media, inside and outside the classroom, are also sites of instruction, political sites, and cultural sites.

• Determine whose interests are being served by the representations in the classroom and in the media.

• Recognize that our experience of each other must be seen as historically based, contingent, and the result of interpretation (Mohanty 154).

• Recognize our own complicity with historically constituted forms (Simon, “Forms” 132).

• Understand how our own actions reflect our relation to the past (132).

• Understand that we produce, reinforce, recreate, resist, and can transform ideas about race, gender, and difference (Mohanty 147).

• Determine the origins of our current values and beliefs (Simon, “Forms” 132).

• Recognize that we can knowingly continue with, reject, or modify our current values and beliefs (132).

• Recognize that our differences of race, gender, and nation are merely the starting points of new solidarities and new alliances, not terminal stations for depositing our agency and identity (McCarthy and Dimitriadis 58).

• Understand the need to adopt another subject position from which to critique and distance oneself from one’s “own” subject position (Janmohamed 246).

• Learn to dis-identify with our own subject positions (246).

• Understand the need to keep the best of one’s own identity while critiquing larger cultural values (246).

5. Transforming Curriculum and Teaching into a Postcolonial Pedagogy

Thus the task at hand is to decolonize our disciplinary and pedagogical practices. The crucial question is how we teach about the West and its Others so that education becomes the practice of liberation. (Mohanty 151)

5a) Questions to ask of curriculum content

• How does this text write or study the Other? In what institutional or discursive setting? For what audience? And with what end in mind (Giroux, Border 25)?

• What does the content of this text or unit, which we teach, assume about the learner?

• How can our curriculum and our teaching strategies facilitate the production, rather than the reproduction, of knowledge (Brydon 3)?

• How should curriculum, viewed through a postcolonial lens, be highlighted or altered to convey a non-hegemonic view?

• What are the pedagogical implications of reading a text across cultural and historical differences?

• What would a literary anthology look like that was shaped by postcolonial pedagogy (Brydon 4)?

5b) Questions to ask of teaching practices

• How do we move from received messages and meanings to having students make their own meaning, in their own contexts, from materials they have appropriated to a postcolonial point of view?

• Who speaks (text, teacher, student), under what conditions, and for whom (Giroux, Border 26)?

• How do we make transparent the prejudices in the relationship of the reader to the text through the way we value it, critique it, place it ideologically, or subscribe to it?

• When teaching a “problematic” text, what other text can be juxtaposed with it to highlight or speak to its problematic nature?

• How do we avoid teaching in such a way that students of European origin do not further define others as distant?

• How do we avoid teaching in such a way that students of European origin do not appropriate the pain of others to appease their own historical guilt?

• How do we convey that there are a variety of ways of understanding the world; that there is not just one norm (Mohanty 152)?

5c) Suggestions for teaching practice

• Work with students to define for your classroom purposes a narrative space from which postcolonial conditions may be created.

• Following a critique of hegemony, have students consider their identity formation by mapping their subject positions in relation to multiculturalism (McLaren, “Multiculturalism” 217).

• Have students identify the various modes of authority that would need to be transformed in order to move towards a just world where one does not domesticate the Other (218).

• Have students envision how the various modes of authority would need to be transformed in order to move towards a just world where one does not domesticate the Other (218).

• Address questions of audience, voice, power, and evaluation while maintaining a focus on material to highlight any embedded biases or points of view (Mohanty 153).

5d) Instructions for students (giving students a critical distance from their education)

• Ask whose voice speaks in the text.

• What is the subject position of the speaker?

• What agency does the speaker have?

• Is the speaker misrepresented in the text?

• Are all “kinds” of speakers who should be included found in the text?

• Are some speakers erased?

• Is there a gap between the intention of the text and its execution?

• Is there a gap between the overt radical surface of a text and its covert bourgeois nationalist unconscious (Mukherjee 141)?

• Recognize, when you read a narrative, where you are situating yourself in relation to others in the narrative (Simon, “Forms” 139).
– Actively, consciously step outside that relationship to initiate the reconstruction of the relationship, to foster a mutually respectful, mutually curious, non-subordinating interdependency (139).
– Actively listen/read the testimonies of others, accepting coownership of their experiences. Through co-ownership shift your personal world view (Simon, “Touch” 66).

• Recognize the value of engaging in the lives of others through their cultural production as if they matter—not as tourists, but as fellow travellers on the planet.

6. Envisioning a New Canada

The major task, then, is to match the new economic and socio-political dislocations and configurations of our time with the startling realities of human interdependence on a world scale.... a new critical consciousness is needed, and this can be achieved only by revising attitudes to education. Merely to urge students to insist on one’s own identity, history, tradition, uniqueness may initially get them to name their basic requirements for democracy and for the right to an assured, decently humane existence. But we need to go on and to situate these in a geography of other identities, peoples, cultures, and then to study how, despite their differences, they have always overlapped one another, through unhierarchical influence, crossing, incorporation, recollection, deliberate forgetfulness, and, of course, conflict. We are nowhere near “the end of history,” but we are still far from free from monopolizing attitudes toward it. These have not been much good in the past—notwithstanding the rallying cries of the politics of separatist identity, multiculturalism, minority discourse—and the quicker we teach ourselves to find alternatives, the better and safer. The fact is we are mixed in with one another in ways that most national systems of education have not dreamed of. To match knowledge in the arts and sciences with these integrative realities is, I believe, the intellectual and cultural challenge of moment. (Said 330-31)

• Articulate alliance-building strategies that move across and within differences (Kohli 74).

• Focus plans for social justice around resource distribution not identity (McLaren, “Unthinking” 159–60).

• View identities as unstable and historically situated (McLaren, “Unthinking” 164).

• Develop a sense of shared responsibility without a sense of shared identity.

• Create a decentred unity in the classroom that addresses environmental degradation, multiple feminist voices, undifferentiated gender roles, postcolonialism, and anti-racism (Apple 245).

• Articulate counter-narratives of emancipation in which new visions, spaces, desires, and discourses can be developed that offer everyone the opportunity for rewriting their own histories differently (Giroux, “Living” 51).

• Regard experiences as if they were about to disappear (Said 336).
– Identify what it is about experiences that anchors them or roots them in reality (336).
– Decide what you would save of them, what you would give up, what you would recover (336).

• Articulate Canada as a cultural palimpsest: a layering of cultures, that we can move within, across, and through in multiple dimensions and with multiple identifications.

• Set aside notions of “nation” to join in the creation of a counter-space, ultimately so finely imagined that others desire to join us there. For the way we envision ourselves and the way we live in the world are established first in our imaginings and then in our actions to make them so.


PhD candidate at OISE/University of Toronto. Her research explores the possibilities of opening up spaces in the curriculum of Ontario for the engagement of postcolonial pedagogical issues

© Les Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa | University of Ottawa Press, 2004

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