By Reneeka Massey-Jones
Let’s start off with the definition of decolonizing education. Decolonization is “the dismantling of colonial systems that were established during the period of time when a nation maintains dominion over dependent territories.” I know you are thinking… wait what? Territories? Dominions? What does that have to do with our education system? Well, the key takeaway is the dismantling of colonial systems. Our education system wasn’t integrated until the 1970s. How can a system that separated people of color and white people, that was created and maintained by white people, be an inclusive system that prioritizes the success of ALL? It cannot.
Decolonizing education means rebuilding a school system that supports all students, staff, and teachers. A system that puts forth the needs of all students and is responsive to the particular needs of each and every child. Currently, students of color and low-income students are at a disadvantage in our education system. This is due to decades of neglect from the highest points of our education system. We need to provide space for more representation in all aspects of the system. Whether that be in government advocating for progressive Equity based policy, to teachers of color in the classroom who look and represent the ever growing diverse populations in our school buildings.
Students and teachers of color are assets to our education system and we need to start supporting them. For far too long teachers and kids of color have been pushed out of the narrative and seen as outsiders in the classroom and the conversation, instead of assets to education as a whole! When students of color and low-income students succeed, ALL students succeed. Education becomes stronger when students succeed, and teachers have the support of each other and the overall system behind them. It is nearly impossible for anyone to learn and grow in a positive way in a stressful, isolating environment. Education is supposed to be for everyone, why make it more difficult for some to receive it over others due to ethnicity.
Building an equitable system will open up a better environment to attract and retain teachers of color in the workforce, therefore, we’ll have more diversity in classrooms that actually represent the students they serve. Teachers of color are assets and can bring a unique perspective and experience to education. They can provide the knowledge to speak on the history and present-day culture within education. All students not just students of color benefit by having teachers of color in the classroom. It is also important to be educated and informed in other cultures outside of your own. This allows for everyone to have a better understanding of each other’s backgrounds, perspectives and ways of life.
In order to begin to decolonize education, we need to have an open dialogue on race/racism and bias to start to change the system as a whole. Everyone deserves a fair chance and a great education despite ethnicity, zip code, and income. Until our education system is changed we will not achieve success for every student. The Every Student Succeeds Act means nothing if we aren’t implementing practices and changes in policy to better our school system for all who are within it.
If you’re interested in this, join the conversation and come to EEC’s Decolonizing Education Conference: Anti-Racism Towards Equity, this October 2019 in Tacoma, WA. More information on workshops, speakers, registration, and hotel accommodations can be found here.