I was fortunate to attend a communication conference in the US is November, and attended the pre-conference focused on ‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ within the Communication discipline. The session was led by a diverse group of people, most of whom have experienced discrimination in their lives. They recognise the dominant white worldviews perpetuated in curriculum material (the communication of white people) they are teaching their students, many of whom are not white.
Part of the discussion centered on reflecting on our own positionalities within the dominant perspectives, connected not only to race and ethnicity, but the struggle against all components of dominant power (white supremacy and privilege, masculinity and hetero perspectives).
The conversation explored white privilege and white fragility openly in a space where we were all made to feel safe regardless of our identity. The idea of ‘name it, but don’t shame’ it prevailed. The focus was on empowering all without having to disempower some.
I would like to think that, in NZ, we are further along the path to addressing the inequalities of a colonised society than highlighted in some of the recent heart-breaking stories these presenters shared. But we still have a long way to go.
Information literacy has an important role to play in decolonising the curriculum. We, and our students, need to recognise that the dominant perspectives can, and indeed should, be challenged. The conversation centred on how we, as teachers, can ensure that our students are being exposed to a range of perspectives on any issue, both through the information we provide to students, and by exploring the information they are accessing independently.
Suggested ideas for the way information literacy can support this fundamental shift were:
- Teach against the canon (don’t just accept the dominant perspectives)
- Make sure that scholars of colour are represented in readings and curriculum materials we provide our students
- Think of theory from the margins and the borders and critique theory against a backdrop of colonisation and dominant power structures.
- Challenge the historically denied position of non-dominant thinkers.
- Disrupt the bias and hegemony of textuality – explore information in all its forms.
The key message was to ‘go rogue’, to grow and adapt while recognising the history, but not being constrained by it. There was a real sense that we need to make the familiar strange, and the strange familiar.
At the same time, we need to respect where all students live and start from there, rather than hurrying them to where we want them to be. We can adopt culturally responsive pedagogies that enable students to see themselves and others in the context of learning and get excited about it.
We can also look more closely at the sources we and our students are using to explore aspects of our disciplines. We need to teach the limitations of our search engines – Google and databases do not have a built in social responsibility to offer up a range of diverse perspectives in the first page of search results. We can use holistic source evaluation frameworks, like the Rauru Whakarare framework we shared previously, to encourage students to look beyond the content and see the message.
I came away from the conference with a renewed commitment to exploring my own privilege and ensuring that those in my classrooms have a safe, critical space to explore theirs.
Angela Feekery, Senior Lecturer, Massey University