Critical Thinking Series: Education & Colonial Assimilation


Critical inquiry is understood as a means through which you built and articulate an argument.  Morrow & Weston actually do a great job of taking on some of the stigma of ‘arguing’.  In their workbook for arguments, Morrow & Weston discuss the ways in which we tend to see arguments as frames of confrontation when they really function as a means through which we put forth efforts to support specific views or ideas with reasons.  Without arguments, we cannot engage in informative dialogue or come to improve our understandings of the world around us.  I always see knowledge and its application to my life as something that is always open to an update, there is always room for growth.  If I fail to be open to logical arguments backed by good quality research (from institutions, analysis from those outside of academe &/or other formal institutions, etc.) then I will have an inaccurate understanding of how something works or how it has changed, stifling my own learning process.

Socialization & Western Banking Model of Education

What we are taught about the ‘rules’ of how society works matters.  What I mean by that is the institutions in any given community surrounding how you pass down knowledge about what is right, wrong, how to do things, what matters, what doesn’t, ritual, culture, institutions, systems, etc. are what education provide in the West.  This is done in specific educational spaces like classrooms where a teacher is seen as the beholder & verifier of knowledge and bestows it upon the students.  While education is supposed to be the great equalizer in society, it isn’t.  Sociological research has shown that education systems in the US actually reproduce inequality versus eliminating it.  Paulo Freire referred to this as a banking model because teachers/instructors are seen as depositing knowledge into the empty/blank slate minds of students who are supposed to take it as fact without questioning its validity.  This is a clear hierarchical relationship which can have detrimental impacts on colonized peoples subjected to educational systems bent on teaching them how to stay in their respective “place/sociopolitical” position (e.g. race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, etc.).

What this does is positions the student as not being able to produce knowledge but instead being in the position for only consuming it.  Coupling this with the ways in which children as trained to discipline their bodies and minds to sit and vigorously take in information with limited questions (questioning with high risk of shame) turns ‘learning spaces’ into places filled with trauma with rules reinforced by punitive measures.  Last year, the African American Policy Forum founded by Kimberle Crenshaw released their report titled “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected” showing that Black girls are are being disproportionately pushed out of schools and were 6 times more likely to be suspended than white girls in according to the suspension rates from the Department of Education (2011-2012).  The report also revealed that Black boys were 3 times more likely to be suspended than white boys.  These suspensions and disproportionate punitive treatments towards Black children were and are NOT a consequence of their own behavior but linked to systemic institutional targeting of marginalized children and behind much of the trauma connected to learning experiences given the reduced resources provided to public schools that are mainly attended by low income children of color in the United States.

DeptEdSuspensionRates - LQ

Punitive treatment is only one of factors that have come to define learning spaces for colonized peoples.  In many ways the information provided to us and framed as ‘undeniable fact’ and ‘science’ are steeped in Eurowestern colonial ideologies that teach children of color and the children of colonizers of the inferiority of people of color, women, the poor, and disabled peoples.  While having a conversation with a close friend of mine he aptly described how history is taught in public education in the US: something something something Indigenous peoples, something something Europeans “discover” Indigenous people’s land, something something something slavery, something something Civil War, something something Civil Rights.  This historical trajectory paints a particular social world where intelligence, education, innovation, and brilliance are white-only traits and mainly for men.  What underfunding and privatization of public education, colonial ways of knowing the world, and the punitive systems in schools do is create spaces where many children are not safe to learn and become aware of the world around them in a way that doesn’t prepare them for subjugation to others.  American schools are still racist, sexist, classist, and ableist and recent studies still reveal this:

Education has always been a mechanism of Eurowestern colonialism.  Historically colonized peoples were locked out of the ability to pursue education and produce knowledge that made their experiences, histories, and beings relevant and positioned them as protagonists within history.  Boarding schools were used as mechanisms to take Indigenous children away from their families to ‘whiten’ them in both the US, Canada, & Australia for example.  So exclusion and expulsion are just some mechanisms through which educational institutions have targeted marginalized communities.  The painful histories of US & Canadian boarding/residential schools and the overwhelming whiteness of knowledge/intelligence is not to be taken lightly and they matter when it comes to communities having difficulty and trauma when it comes to approaching different forms of political education due to their own feelings of pain and inadequacy as a consequence of their oppressive experiences.

Healing the violence of education as colonial assimilation

Knowing the history of education is something that I personally found helpful.  My experiences as a Black child in a public school setting can be placed in the context of the functions of education as a way to mold children into the appropriate type of social being within a society.   This means that schools operate as agents of socialization and have a key responsibility to develop children into acceptable adults and replicate the structure of the class structure.  It is important for us to recognize whether it is us that are innately lacking or the very structures that never intended to serve us.  The negative experiences of children of color within education systems are valid and many of those mistreatments continue impacting communities today.  And its important to recognize that those experiences are connected to larger systems of hegemonic behavior and designed to deter many of us from believing that we can create knowledge and not just consume it without question.  That means that every human is an intellectual.

“All men are intellectuals, one could therefore say: but not all men have in society the function of intellectuals.” – Antonio Gramsci (1973:9)

The importance of learning

Learning is a lifelong process.  Learning is central to how we go about trying to transform the way we relate to ourselves, other people, and other forms of life.  Meaning that we have to understand that we must seek to know and analyze what we can to learn to exist differently, reducing harm, and maintaining a critical awareness/consciousness.  You won’t be able to do this without managing your schedule to make time for this work.  When my godfather gave me my first book to read he also made sure to tell me that I need to make room for my job, studies, and my political education and that if I take the liberation of myself and my people seriously then it would show in my commitment to reading.  I took him seriously.  Each week I made room for approximately 2 hours a week just to read from the reading list he gave me: HERE.

I talk a lot about the importance of political education & its crucial to informing yourself & understanding the world around you.  Political education is also crucial for us to imagine alternatives to the current systems we live under.  We cannot imagine a new world or create different ways to ‘be’ if we aren’t informed about history & what people have done before us.  For us to understand what works & what doesn’t (given the circumstances) we must understand history & how social systems & institutions work.  If we don’t all do our part in staying informed versus going off of opinions (uninformed & lacking facts), nothing will change.  Every single person is needed. You can’t rely on a few people to be “leaders”. NO. Revolutionary change requires the masses.  That means we all have responsibilities, we all have roles to play. & the first step to doing what is needed in your community is political education.  You can’t engage in strategic organized action if you don’t know history. The furthest you’ll get is mobilization.  There are other ways we can figure out how to care for & defend one another in our communities. But we have to inform ourselves first.  We cannot unify & organize if we don’t know WHY. You need to understand WHY you organize & engage in direct action.  Political Education helps you work out the WHY. Its crucial for us to unlearn the idea that the colonizer sets the bar for learning and the production of knowledge.  Political education helps you understand the conditions that created the circumstances of our day and our role in transforming how we relate to one another.  We were taught colonial relations & logics through our ‘formal’ education but that can be unlearned and a historically competent anti-colonial education program can replace it & help us all contribute to finding new ways to build community.

So what I know is from taking the time to read through texts, take the time to process them, and discuss them with others.  And that includes getting things wrong, not getting it right for a long time, reading lines over and over again because I just don’t get it.  That’s okay, all of that is normal.  What matters is that you don’t give up.  Feel free to utilize the articles I have below that discuss a bit of the colonial history of education in the US, Canada, and Australia.

Threads on Intelligence, Education, & Knowledge Production:

“With no education you’ll have neocolonialism instead of colonialism like ya got in Africa now & like you’ve got in Haiti.  If the people were educated they would’ve said we don’t hate white people, we hate the oppressor whether he be white, Black, or Brown. If the people don’t have education they won’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing.  You might get people caught up in emotional movements or you might get people caught up cause they poor & they want something.  If they’re not educated they’ll want more & before ya know it they’ll be capitalists & before ya know it we’ll have Negro imperialists.” – Fred Hampton

*clickable links


A Workbook for Arguments – A Complete Course in Critical Thinking, 1st edition by David Morrow & Anthony Weston

The Sociological Imagination by C. Wright Mills

Education for Critical Consciousness by Paulo Freire

Literacy: Reading the Word & the World by Paulo Freire & Donaldo Macedo

One Dimensional Man by Herbert Marcuse

Reading Tips*:

Further reading on how settler colonialists used schools:

Articles on Canadian residential schools:

Click to access Exec_Summary_2015_05_31_web_o.pdf

US Boarding Schools:

Click to access SHEAR_ManifestingDestiny.pdf

Click to access 5-Piccard-P137-186.pdf

Click to access Racist_Ordering_Settler_Colonialism_and.pdf

Indigenous Knowledge Reclamation Projects:

Residential Schools & Cultural Genocide in Australia:


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