The nexus between climate justice, racism, and a collective consciousness

By Kelly Gillespie

Universities have long wielded the allure of cross-cultural exchange to promote study abroad programs, nudging students to leave the country in pursuit of the unknown, whilst enticing international students to board 747s and join their global community. Quite rarely does this conversation concern itself with environmental repercussions exacerbated by this migratory body. What’s more, past multicultural initiatives have failed to connect students’ climate footprint with inequalities produced by structural racism; a link that must be integrated into modern day discourse in order to inspire sustainable results. The Climate Action Network for International Educators (CAN-IE) recently hosted a webinar with guests Andrew Gordon (founder and CEO of Diversity Abroad), Melissa Lee (founder and CEO of The Green Program), and Robin Shields (Professor of Education at the University of Bristol). Together, the panelists engaged in a critical reflection of their roles as educators and responsibilities of the international community in hopes of identifying the gaps between higher education, global movement and greenhouse gases.

It’s first crucial to demarcate the difference between climate change and climate justice, acknowledging these terms as two related, yet distinct concepts. As Professor Shields describes: climate change relates the physical change, whilst climate justice refers to the sociological implications that are embedded in and compounded by centuries of colonial, racist, and indigenous forms of oppressions. The irony remains that those who contribute least to climate change are affected the most. The Global South is scapegoated for their inability to transition to clean/renewable energy (most likely due to the economic constraints imposed by an ambivalent history with the Global North), yet the Global North contributes the most to climate change. Professor Shields has estimated the carbon footprint of international students to be around 30 million tons per year, the equivalent to that of a small country such as Croatia or Ireland. International and study abroad students are given a free pass in the name of active, global citizenship, yet it is those who are rendered unable to carve out a space to participate who are experiencing the effects first hand. Environmental justice always advocates for reducing carbon emissions as a panacea, yet tends to shy away from undertaking the monumental, yet necessary task of transforming society, using a social justice framework to initiate a reparative praxis.

The Green Program and Diversity Abroad have approached such a task perfervidly and without trepidation. The two organisations have dedicated themselves to imbuing students with the knowledge to confront the undeniable truth: racial justice is inextricable from climate justice. The Green Program offers study abroad opportunities which expose students to sustainable, alternative ways to travel. Supported by an endonormative curriculum that relies and draws upon local contexts, traditional, rote learning methods are supplanted by storytelling. This is a key element of the program, the importance of ‘passing the mic,’ as Lee says, to local women or indigenous communities who can bestow invaluable wisdom to participants. In conversation about the global, academic community, Lee wants all organizations and institutions to use environmentalism as a metric, whilst considering partnerships and travel. She has proudly noted that 75% of the students who returned from participation have now switched their majors to environmentalism.

Diversity Abroad gives marginalised communities the chance to be a part of global programs, equipping them with the necessary skills to thrive as competitive applicants within our interconnected world. Gordon, a self-proclaimed neophyte when it comes to climate justice (yet eager to do better), has begun to think of ways in which study abroad programs can reduce their carbon footprint. His cogitations have led to the awareness of a rather tricky conundrum; that extra costs are required to offset carbon emissions, yet charging more fees further silos students already on the periphery of accessing these programs. This is one of many instances in which knowledge of such predicaments is not sufficient: action must take precedence. Gordon emphasizes that, while literacy of these pertinent issues is indeed a crucial component to tackling them, this must be transferred into tangible, structural change which uplifts and supports the communities impacted. Our knowledge of the Flint water crisis, the oil refineries that constellate Richmond, California, and Hurricane Katrina will wane and waste away if this is not reconstructed into meaning, concrete action.

At the end of the webinar, the question was posed of whether or not climate justice can be achieved without addressing historical injustices of the past, yet the answer remains clear: why would we not seize such a transformative opportunity? Professor Shields stressed the importance of building an international coalition that is grounded in solidarity and recognition, one that will use the voices of the oppressed to create a new future. He argues that ‘we must end our naïve approach and transition to a socially progressive approach that challenges the power paradigm.’ Rather, we must transition to a collective consciousness, reimagining what it means to be a part of a global community that is migrating on the tailwinds of racial and environmental injustice.

“In a racist society, formal education will only ever reproduce racism.”

By Ethel Ng

Ethel Ng is a student on Bristol’s BSc Education Studies programme. This post was initially written as an assignment for the new unit Education, Climate Change and Social Justice.

In spite of 1965 legislation outlawing explicit racial discrimination within the United Kingdom, behind a thinly-veiled fallacy of meritocracy, reveals an economic, political and social legacy of structural racial injustice (Eddo-Lodge, 2018) – a present-day Britain, confronted by a history steeped in colonial distortion. The overwhelming complicity of formal education in reinforcing unequal privileges, and legitimising existing hierarchical positionality (hooks, 1994; Freire, 2018), is self-evident through vastly disparate educational outcomes between ethnic groups (Gillborn, Demack, Rollock & Warmington, 2017). Having said that, this essay ultimately disagrees with the finality of the thesis posed above, arguing that – on the condition of appropriate reformation – formal education is instrumental in fracturing the vicious cycle perpetuated by a racist society. For sake of brevity, I will predominantly be arguing from within UK-centric parameters, a demographic whereby BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) are minority ethnicities. Much of the academic research will primarily be in reference to the shared biographies of those racialized as Black (namely stemming from African and Caribbean diaspora). The effectiveness of varying degrees of educational reformation will be evaluated through the framework provided by Andreotti, Stein, Ahenakew & Hunt’s (2015) social cartography of responses to modernity’s violence. Decolonisation will be articulated through the spaces of: (i) soft-reform, such as material reparations (Sriprakash, Nally, Myers & Pinto, 2020); (ii) radical-reform, including epistemic cooperation (Mohanty, 1997); (iii) and finally, entertaining the notion that modernity’s systematic violences are beyond-reform (also exploring pedagogies of buen vivir and critical hope – Dinerstein & Deneulin, 2012; Zembylas, 2007).

Drop the façade of living in a ‘post-racial’ world. Despite unfounded scientific grounding for racialization or Foucault’s biopower (Lazzarato, 2002) – in other words, race being a social construct (Zamudio, Russell, Rios & Bridgeman, 2011) – past racial injustices, as well as contemporary racial inequality, continues to reproduce unequal power dynamics. As Critical Race Theory evidences, race and history matter. Oppressive colonial histories, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the Windrush scandal, ‘blue on black’ violence, school to prison pipelines, all contribute to the current disadvantaged positionality of Black individuals (actively preserved and subjugated by neo-liberalism and internal colonisation), structurally limiting their capabilities. As Chakelian & Calcea (2020) concluded, Black lives suffer lifetimes of systemic racism – educational institutions being no exception, with Black students more likely to be excluded, less likely to achieve strong GCSE passes, and far less probable to be admitted into a Russell Group university, or graduate in and of itself, in comparison to their white peers (Ciocca Eller & DiPrete, 2018; Richardson, 2008). This series of barriers feeds implicit biases, and fuels an already prevailing discourse around villainous, damaged and destructive ‘Blackness’ (Gonzalez, Steele & Baron, 2017). Media portrayals reflect these culturally hegemonic assertions, denying heterogeneity of Blackness, compounding in microagressions, anti-immigration sentiment, and further cementing institutional racism (Bates, 1975; Delgado & Stefancic, 2012; Macpherson, 1999).

However, Young (2020) cautions us to look beyond the Marxist analysis of the distributive paradigm, in order to prevent restricting the scope of justice; fixating on status and the material distribution of wealth, income and resources, can obscure the institutional context and social structures within which these interactions are upheld. To quote Walzer (1983), we must “shift our attention […] to conception and creation”. Similarly, Gillborn (2019) and hooks (1994) ask us to question the workings of power and interests that create and reproduce racial injustice – only then, can meaningful change occur. This brings us to the ‘shine’ and ‘shadow’ of modernity. Remaining fiercely relevant to this day, modernity describes an imperial project, resting on the back of coloniality (Quijano, 2000), romanticising seamless linear progress, democracy, humanism and scientific reasoning. Mignolo (2000) argues that the shadow of coloniality – the imposition of systematic violence – is simultaneously the ‘hidden face’ of modernity (for those seduced by its ‘shine’) and a vital condition of its very existence. Silva (2007) describes racism as an invention of colonialism; identifying this relationship, has unearthed a multitude of pedagogical narratives tackling the decolonisation of educational institutions, in an effort to stunt racism.

(i) The soft reform space (Andreotti et al., 2015):

Characterised by ‘inclusion’, soft reforms strongly emphasise consensus, dialogue and increased access. Generally, this boasts material reparations, for instance, scholarships. Soft reforms revolve around providing additional resources to BIPOC, low-income, first-generation students, to equip them with the skills, knowledge and cultural capital required to excel – or more accurately, excel within and according to existing institutional standards. As Andreotti et al. (2015) highlighted, there is an underlying assumption that previously excluded groups desire to be a part of, and will benefit from, mainstream institutions (Harper, 2010; Pidgeon, 2008; Yosso, 2005). Angela Davis remains critical towards “inclusion and diversity”, labelling it as a corporate strategy; without structural transformation, diversity merely includes the previously excluded, into still structurally racist institutions – a reactive, rather than proactive, symptomatic treatment. Through this lens, soft reforms are tokenistic ‘recognitions’ of cultural diversity and performative intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1990). The integrity of the status-quo is not questioned, and the framework itself is beyond critique or visibility (Bunda, Zipin, & Brennan, 2012; Urciuoli, 2003). Essentially, the shadow of modernity is not recognised as a derivative of modernity itself (a subsidy for modernity’s shine). The radical reform space attempts to address these shortcomings.

(ii) The radical reform space (Andreotti et al., 2015):

Going beyond a provisional acceptance of difference, radical reform acknowledges the debate is skewed from the outset – epistemological plurality and institutional re-structuring is sought. Affirmative action, redistribution, representation, recognition, reconciliation and epistemic cooperation (Mohanty, 1997) are the cornerstones of radical decolonisation. There is a commitment to mobilising strategies for empowerment, ‘fixing’ modernity to make it work for marginalised groups. Young (2006) draws attention to normalisation; the observation that the norms of speech and conduct, that dominant society associates with intelligence and respectability, aligns with white cultural styles is no coincidence. Black male students are often criticised for lack of ‘middle-class manners’, behavioural outliers in comparison to white norms – the standards to which attributes, language, knowledge systems and ethical codes are evaluated – lending to stigmatisation (Miklikowska, Thijs and Hjerm, 2019). In fact, since the end of the colonial period, epistemologies within our educational institutions have remained largely static, rooted in colonial, Western and Eurocentric worldviews. To combat this, Sriprakash et al. (2020) identifies, that an education for reparative futures must involve learning “concretely and sympathetically, contrapuntally, about others” (Said, 1985). This can be achieved via epistemic cooperation: the process whereby multiple knowledges and experiences are ‘braided’, seeking a reciprocal understanding of the entangled histories of people who have been ‘differently poisoned’ by colonial legacy (Kimmerer, 2013). Gillborn (2019) and Delgado et al. (2012) suggest shaping schools into anti-racist institutions by involving voices-of-colour to provide counterhegemonic narratives – declaring that ‘voice matters’ (Zamudio et al., 2011). Joseph-Salisbury (2020) similarly recommends: increasing the proportion of BIPOC teachers; arranging policy consultations and National Curriculum evaluations with anti-racist organisations; and for white teachers and students alike to engage with concepts of white privilege and white complicity, in order to reflect on their own racialised positions. Radical reforms have proved successful in the past with regards to formal desegregation; perhaps radical reforms can yet again deliver a paradigm shift from a culture of exclusion and denial, to the making of space for other political philosophies – recognising that, as it stands, knowledge is irrefutably marked by power relations.

(iii) The beyond reform space (Andreotti et al., 2015):

Here, modernity and its interconnected oppressions (capitalism, racism, colonialism, patriarchy, ableism) are perceived as inherently violent, exploitative and unsustainable. In stark contrast to the radical reform space, modernity is irrecoverable by even the most radical of transformations. As Audre Lorde articulated, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”. Instead, beyond reform spaces elaborate on unlearning implicit teachings of the hidden curriculum, replacing it with alternative, autonomous, subversive education that allows for transgressions (Tiostanova & Mignolo, 2012; Illich, 1971). Encouraging education to be a practice of freedom, building on the works of hooks (1994) and Freire (2018), hope can found relishing in the possibility of possibilities – the possibility for the possibility of an antiracist society initiated through reformed, decolonised education (Amsler, 2013). Through pedagogies of critical hope directed towards a future betterment, even one which transcends our current ability to understand what it is, we can learn to live imperfectly in the ‘not yet become’ of buen vivir (Bosch, 1986; Dinerstein & Deneulin, 2012; Zembylas, 2007).

In sum, to guarantee the best chance of success, all of Andreotti’s reformative spaces must work in tandem to address the incommensurable demands of a system in crisis. With full acceptance of our collective biography, recognising that we are all differently marked by historical processes, and by purposefully rejecting assimilative, colour-blind orientations to education, we mustn’t lose the shared conviction that reformed formal education, possesses the possibility to possibly deliver a reparative, anti-racist future. To conclude, I share the sentiments of Kundnani (2014), in that some of the proposals I put forward in this essay may seem radical, but radicalisation, in the true sense of the word, is the solution, not the problem.

References

Amsler, S. (2013). Acts of Knowing: Critical Pedagogy in, against and beyond the University

Bates, T. R. (1975). Gramsci and the Theory of Hegemony. Journal of the History of Ideas.

Bloch, E. (1986). The Principle of Hope. Cambridge. Mass: MIT Press.

Bunda, T., Zipin, L., & Brennan, M. (2012). Negotiating university ‘equity’ from Indigenous standpoints: A shaky bridge. International Journal of Inclusive Education.

Chakelian, A. & Calcea, N. (2020). A lifetime of inequality: how Black Britons face discrimination at every age.

Ciocca Eller, C. & DiPrete, T. A. (2018). The paradox of persistence: explaining the Black-white gap in bachelor’s degree completion. American Sociological Review.

Crenshaw, K. (1990). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stan. L. Rev.

de Oliveira Andreotti, V., Stein, S., Ahenakew, C., & Hunt, D. (2015). Mapping interpretations of decolonization in the context of higher education. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society.

Delgado, R., & J. Stefancic. (2012). Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. 2nd ed. New York: New York University Press.

Dinerstein, A.C, & Deneulin, S. (2012). Hope movements: naming mobilization in a post‐development world. Development and Change.

Eddo-Lodge, R. (2018). Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Freire, P. (2018). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury publishing USA.

Gillborn, D. (2019). Hiding in Plain Sight: Understanding and Addressing Whiteness and Color-Blind Ideology in Education. Kappa Delta Pi Record.

Gillborn, D., Demack, S., Rollock, N., & Warmington, P. (2017). Moving the goalposts: education policy and 25 years of the black/white achievement gap. British Educational Research Journal.

Gonzalez, A. M., Steele, J. R. & Baron, A. S. (2017). Reducing children’s implicit racial bias through exposure to positive out‐group exemplars. Child Development.

Harper, S. R. (2010). An antideficit achievement framework for research on students of color in STEM. New Directions for Institutional Research.

hooks, B. (1994). Teaching to transgress: education as the practice of freedom. Routledge.

Illich, I. (1971). Deschooling society.

Joseph-Salisbury, R. (2020). Race and racism in English secondary schools. Runnymede Perspectives.

Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants. Milkweed Editions.

Kundnani, A. (2014). Radicalisation. Counter-Radicalisation: Critical Perspectives.

Lazzarato, M. (2002). From biopower to biopolitics. Pli: The Warwick Journal of Philosophy.

Macpherson, W. (1999). The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. London: TSO

Mignolo, W. (2000). The many faces of cosmo-polis: Border thinking and critical cosmopolitanism. Public Culture.

Miklikowska, M., Thijs, J. and Hjerm, M. (2019) The impact of perceived teacher support on anti-immigrant attitudes from early to late adolescence. Journal of youth and adolescence.

Mohanty, S. P. (1997). Literary theory and the claims of history: Postmodernism, objectivity, multicultural politics. Cornell University Press.

Pidgeon, M. (2008). Pushing against the margins: Indigenous theorizing of “success” and retention in higher education. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory and Practice.

Quijano, A. (2000). Modernidad, colonialidad y América Latina. Nepantla. Views from South.

Rashid, N. & Tikly, L. (2010). Inclusion and Diversity in Education. Guidelines for Inclusion and Diversity in Schools. British Council.

Richardson, J. T. (2008). The attainment of ethnic minority students in UK higher education. Studies in Higher Education.

Said, E. W. (1985). Orientalism reconsidered. Race & class.

Silva, D. F. D. (2007). Toward a global idea of race. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Sriprakash, A., Nally, D., Myers, K., & Pinto, P. R. (2020). Learning with the Past: Racism, Education and Reparative Futures.

Tiostanova, M. V., & Mignolo, W. (2012). Learning to unlearn: Decolonial reflections from Eurasia and the Americas. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press.

Urciuoli, B. (2003). Excellence, leadership, skills, diversity: Marketing liberal arts education. Language and Communication.

Walzer, M. (1983). States and minorities. In Minorities: Community and identity. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race, Ethnicity and Education.

Young, I. M. (2006). Education in the Context of Structural Injustice: A symposium response. Educational Philosophy and Theory.

Young, I. M. (2020). Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Zamudio, M., Russell, C., Rios, F., & Bridgeman, J. L. (2011). Critical race theory matters: Education and ideology. Routledge.

Zembylas, M. (2007). Five Pedagogies, a Thousand Possibilities: Struggling for Hope and Transformation in Education. Rotterdam.

Overcoming the desire not to know: addressing white ignorance to create reparative futures

By Katherine Wall *

Over the past three months, I have been part of a reading group for Reparative Futures. We have covered a number of topics from public history to memory to shame. In this short blog, I want to explore the work of Charles W. Mills who introduced the concept of ‘white ignorance’. In particular, I want to explore the consequences of ‘white ignorance’ for reparative futures and what work it might point towards going forward.

What are reparative futures?

To move towards a more just future, one in which the harms of the past and present are no longer replicated but repaired, it is necessary to understand what, why and how these past injustices occurred.

‘The idea of reparative futures signals a commitment to identify and recognise the injustices visited on, and experienced by, individuals and communities in the past. It understands that these past injustices, even when they appear to be distant in time or ‘over’, will continue to endure in people’s lives in material and affective ways unless, and until, they are consciously and carefully addressed.’

(Sriprakash et al. 2020: 2)

In the process of identifying and recognising injustices of the past, it becomes important to ask why these things were not commonly known before. And why, in some cases, there continues to be a resistance to the knowing of certain pasts when they do come to light.

Ignorance-as-resistance poses a fundamental challenge to those wishing to create reparative futures. Instead of being passive, that which can be overcome when taught, shown evidence, or reasoned with, ignorance fights back. Following the argument of Charles Mills, ignorance is structural, a way in which the dominant system, the system of white supremacy, maintains itself, and thus must be engaged with and processed in order to repair injustices of the past and present. It presents an active block to that work of repair. Ignorance-as-resistance operates through many systems that uphold the current oppressive paradigm – education is one of the key ways in which ignorance resists. To unpack this a little, let’s turn to Mill’s understanding of white ignorance.

Understanding white ignorance

‘White ignorance…

It’s a big subject. How much time do you have?

It’s not enough.

Ignorance is usually thought of as the passive obverse to knowledge, the darkness retreating before the spread of Enlightenment.

But…

Imagine an ignorance that resists.

Imagine an ignorance that fights back.

Imagine an ignorance militant, aggressive, not to be intimidated, an ignorance that is active, dynamic, that refuses to go quietly – not at all confined to the illiterate and uneducated but propagated at the highest level of the land, indeed presenting itself unblushingly as knowledge’


(Mills, 2007: 19)

To create an ‘ignorance that resists’, work has to be done by the society that operates through oppression and domination. These oppressive societies rarely acknowledge themselves as oppressive. They present themselves as ‘basically just and fair, or at least the best of all possible worlds’ (Alcoff, 2007: PAGE). They do this through the stories they tell about themselves; the histories they teach in both formal and informal education settings. However, it is likely that there will be daily evidence of oppression and domination. For the society to be maintained in its oppressive form, this evidence must be regularly dismissed. This is the work of white ignorance, or ignorance at the structural level. It is a series of ways of thinking about the world that make possible the perpetuation of systems of oppression.

In the case of “white ignorance”, what occurs is the erasure of harm conducted in the pursuance of white supremacy. This is achieved through the management of memory; through the gatekeeping of testimonies which ‘count’ towards the historical record and those which were deemed untrustworthy; and through a collective untelling of certain pasts which the system of domination would rather have forgotten. All this requires ways of thinking that structure in ignorance.

It is not just the ‘not knowing’ as that could be remedied by sharing more facts, more evidence of different kinds. It is a set of mechanisms that enables us not to know. Which guard what is not known and fight against its becoming known. For example, what is included in the curriculum is a key question here, but so too is the way we are taught to think, to question, to assume. When alternative pasts are uncovered and shared, they are met with defensiveness, with threat, with outrage, with all the ways in which ignorance is militant – because these alternative pasts are a threat in some way to the dominant system.

The National Trust – an example

In September 2020, the National Trust – the largest conservation charity in Europe – published an “Interim Report on the Connections between Colonialism and Properties now in the Care of the National Trust, Including Links with Historic Slavery”. This work of uncovering past injustice has been met with waves of attack, primarily from Conservative MPs and the right wing press. Sir John Hayes, the former Education Minister, wrote ‘Britain’s heritage is under attack, ironically from those missioned to guard it.’ Britain’s heritage is under attack because the National Trust is documenting how the properties it cares for were connected to colonialism and historic slavery. What is being questioned by this research is the story of the nation these Conservatives wish to maintain, of grandeur and wealth, of the Empire, of a glorious past. I have written more extensively in defence of the work being undertaken by the National Trust elsewhere.

The senior historian who worked with the National Trust, Professor Corinne Fowler, recently wrote that she has been ‘unfairly targeted’ by a ‘political agenda’ fighting over how colonialism is studied. And why is this fight underway? I would argue, as Mills does, that those who benefit most from the system of white supremacy need to perpetuate white ignorance in order to maintain it – to deny that reparations are due and that steps towards justice must be taken, better to criticize the historians and the way history work is being done, for they cannot criticize the facts themselves.And always, the system of white supremacy seeks to defend and maintain itself and does so through attacks on, violence to and oppression of Black and brown people.

What can be done?

If sharing more / other / new historical facts will not deter the march of white ignorance, what then can be done both to address it, dismantle it and deal with the backlash (or whitelash as it has come to be called) along the way? Linda Alcoff asks the important question to consider: ‘If members of dominant groups are responsible for essentially duping themselves about the true nature of their social world, then are there resources in their own experiences from which to draw out the truth?’ (Alcoff, 2007: 50). How, in other words, do we overcome the desire not to know which is structurally created and reinforced, in order to move towards reparative futures? And what role might education play to both unlearn and create new ways of knowing?

I do not make claims to have the answer to this question but I think it may be generative to explore the following as part of the Reparative Futures project:

  • To uncover, identify and recognise injustices of the past and how they play out in the present. 
  • To notice the resistance to these histories and observe the emotions that are at play: denial, defensiveness, shame.
  • To find a way to process these emotions so that they might transform, in a way to release the grip of white ignorance so that acknowledgement of oppression can occur.
  • To nurture the demands for repair amongst those who do see the need for it, who can see through the structural ignorance in operation.
  • To build organisation to add power to those demands, so that they might come to pass sooner than the emotional processing of those who feel they have most to lose by the dismantling of the system of white supremacy.

References

Alcoff, L., (2007) Epistemologies of Ignorance: three types in Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance, edited by Shannon Sullivan and Nancy Tuana, State University of New York Press, New York.

Huxtable, S., Fowler, C., Kefalas, C. and Slocombe, E., (2020) Interim Report on the Connections between Colonialism and Properties now in the Care of the National Trust, Including Links with Historic Slavery. The National Trust, Wiltshire.

Mills, C.W., (2007) White Ignorance in Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance, edited by Shannon Sullivan and Nancy Tuana, State University of New York Press, New York.

Sriprakash, A., Nally, D., Myers, K., and Ramos-Pinto, P. 2020. Learning with the Past: Racism, Education and Reparative Futures. Paper commissioned for the UNESCO Futures of Education report (forthcoming, 2021).

* Biography

Katherine Wall is a PhD student at the University of Bristol exploring the relationship between land and racial justice in England. She is also a social movement facilitator with Resist+Renew and Organising for Change.

‘Decolonization is not a metaphor’

By Suzanne van Even and Zibah A. Nwako

This piece was originally published on the South West Doctoral Training Partnership’s blog on the 14th December 2020.

Suzanne van Even and Zibah A. Nwako discuss the first session in our Decolonising Social Research Series: Decolonising Theory.

On Thursday 19 November 2020, the SWDTP’s ‘Decolonising Social Research’ series launched with a provocative seminar on Decolonising Theory with speakers Foluke Adebisi (Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol), Mark Jackson (Senior Lecturer in Postcolonial Geographies, University of Bristol) and Arathi Sriprakash (Professor of Education, University of Bristol).

This seminar series came at an opportune time. As doctoral researchers in the Social Sciences ourselves, we find it very important to engage with decolonial critiques and the decolonisation literature more generally. It is of particular importance in the context of co-creation of knowledge whereby social researchers, like us, work closely with participants, community stakeholders and policymakers. For us both, our research seeks change and impact – not just to engage in knowledge translation, but also with the aim of emancipating and empowering knowledge producers and knowledge receivers, respectively.

Foluke’s presentation, Rhodes Must Fall, or Rhodes Must Read More Fanon? (title inspired by a tweet by @fanoniscanon), considered what we mean when we talk about decolonising theory. Are we trying to unsettle the concepts that are the foundational presumptions of our discipline(s) or are we leaving those as they are? Do we add in other concepts which will never reach the eminence of the foundational concepts that we hold dear?

Foluke reflected on how diversifying literature relates to decolonial thought. She argued that there is a difference between including ‘diverse literatures’ (in our research) and decolonial thought. She posited that a major distinction between decolonial thought and diversity is that the latter makes no distinction between epistemic and embodied difference.

Using a table as a metaphor (the table representing colonised space), Foluke briefly discussed the four main schools of decolonial thought:

  1. Settler states (Americas, Australasia, South Africa) – part of the table does not belong to you, can you give it back to us?
  2. Post-colonial states (Africa and Asia) – well, that’s a nice table, can we join you there?
  3. Latin American critical school (Latin America and Caribbean) – is that really a table? What is it meant for? Should we destroy it and think of a table in a different way?
  4. Colonising states – this category of thought is often not mentioned, because some argue that you cannot decolonise empire (Tundama, 2016).

Finally, Foluke questioned what decolonial research can possibly do? Referring to Escobar (2018), hooks (1991), and Mignolo (2016), she contemplated whether decolonising theory can be liberatory.

Mark’s presentation on Decolonizing Theory: Perspectives from Geographies focused on how to reverse the centre-periphery relationship. He questioned whether the vocabularies, categories of thought, and concepts employed by normative social science are suitable and effective means for making sense in, or of, non-Western worlds?

Although 80% of the world is located outside of Europe, European thought (processes) define our view of the world. Yet, non-Western worlds do not use European concepts such as ‘gender’ and colonised notions of ‘nations’. Mark suggested that decolonial critique attempts to unsettle this – by turning Eurocentric assumptions and concepts on their heads.

As researchers, we take people’s lived experiences and transpose them through pre-conceived categories, thereby assimilating them into terms that can then be put to work. We argue that as a result of this, knowledge is formed. Mark postulated that this process of identification, extraction, re-purposing and circulation is a form of commodification.

Mark posited further that there are four main implications for decolonising theory:

  1. Need to enable theorising from the outside.
  2. Give up on the idea of a universal standard and instead embrace ‘pluriversality’ of epistemologies and ontologies (Escobar, 2018).
  3. Regard the decolonial as an option (Mignolo, 2011; Murrey, 2019; Nigam, 2020). It is not a particularly privileged mode of deriving theory but provides a range of possible strategies (Nigam, 2020) that might allow for a necessary preliminary step to reconstitution.
  4. Theorising well is fundamentally about fostering caring. In order to know, you need to care (Dalmiya, 2016).

In her presentation titled Decolonising Theory: The erasures of racism in education and international development, Arathi asserted that we need to ask questions of the theories that we use.  Moreover, she warned us against superficially adopting the term ‘decolonisation’ as it has become a bit of a buzz word. The aim of decolonisation is to unsettle power relations, in real and material ways. Decolonisation should bring about the repatriation of indigenous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things that we want to do to improve our societies (Tuck and Yang, 2012). Using decolonisation as a metaphor, keeps colonial structures in place.

Arathi argued that it is important to decolonise theory because it doesn’t just operate at an abstract level. Instead, theory emerges from lived experiences that shape how we act and intervene in the world in profound and concrete ways. Theories of development, and specifically theories of modernisation, have worked to divide the world into categories such as ‘developed’, ‘developing’, ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’. This entrenches the idea that people and places need to ‘catch up’, as if they were developmentally backwards. This type of theorising that persists today is based on a deficit model, positioning the problem of poverty with racialised and colonised people and their practices. In doing so, it secures primarily European and Anglo-American epistemologies, industries and interventions as valid and good, forming the material effects of epistemic injustice. In education, this colonial way of thinking makes educational inequality irrelevant whilst it is, in fact, profoundly relevant for understanding educational injustices (e.g. Mills, 2007, ‘epistemologies of white ignorance’).

Arathi ended her presentation with a reading of Abhay Xaxa’s (2011) powerful poem “I am not your data”, reflecting Tuhawai Smith’s (2012) words that “’research’ is probably one of the dirtiest words in the indigenous world’s vocabulary” (pp. 1).

The presentations resulted in thought-provoking discussions, indicating from this first seminar that there are still a lot of questions to be answered. For example, can we decolonise theory without de-colonising theory? Foluke posited that even after years of decolonising theory – colonial theory is still dominant. When we think about neo-liberal constructions, we are more likely to find validation for decolonising theory than using theory that decolonises. The danger is that we take the path of least resistance. So, it is always important to point out that this is not the destination, this is not where we are headed. Even if we are trying to be more inclusive in our decolonising of theory, we are not just doing that because it is a good thing to do. We are doing it because it brings about a new world. And as social researchers, this is the change and the impact that we seek to achieve through decolonising theory!

The audio-visual recording of the Decolonising Theory session can be watched here: https://t.co/RDVWf7thyT

Suzanne van Even is a PhD student at UWE in Bristol. Her research explores how people of African Caribbean and African ancestry cope with mood disorders associated with having an autoimmune rheumatic disease. Suzanne originally trained as a solicitor in the Netherlands before working as a fundraiser for arts charities in both the Netherlands and the UK. She is now retraining as a psychologist. Suzanne’s research interests include the mental health and wellbeing of African and African Caribbean men and women, community-based research and creative research methods. Twitter: @SvanEven77 

Zibah A. Nwako completed her PhD at the School of Education, University of Bristol. Her thesis is titled ‘In Our Own Voices: A Critical Participatory Study of the Wellbeing of Female Undergraduate Students in Nigeria’ and she researched this topic using a postcolonial feminist lens. Zibah is a speaker, trainer and consultant on women’s personal development and gender justice. Her research interests include the personal welfare and wellbeing of girls in Africa, non-formal education and informal learning, qualitative research methodologies and creative methods. Visit her website and blog here: www.zibahnwako.com

For more information about the SWDTP’s ongoing ‘Decolonising Social Research Series: click here.

References

Dalmiya, V. (2016). Caring to Know, Comparative Care Ethics, Feminist Epistemology, and the Mahãbhãrata. Oxford University Press.

Escobar, A. (2018). Designs for the Pluriverse, Radical Interdependence, Autonomy and the Making of Worlds. Duke University Press.

Escobar, A. (2018). ‘Farewell to Development’. Available from https://greattransition.org/publication/farewell-to-development

hooks, b. (1991). Theory as liberatory practice. Yale JL & Feminism4, pp. 1.

Mignolo, W. (2011). Epistemic Disobedience and the Decolonial Option: A Manifesto. Transmodernity(2), pp. 3-23.

Mignolo, W.  (2016). The communal and the decolonial. Available from http://www.turbulence.org.uk/index.html@p=391.html

Mills, C. (2007). White ignorance. Race and epistemologies of ignorance247, (Sullivan, S. & Tuana, N., Eds) pp. 26-31. State University of New York Press.

Murrey, A. (2019). ‘When spider webs unit they can tie up a lion’. Anti-racism, decolonial options and theories from the South. In: Routledge Handbook of South-South Relations (Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. & Daley, P., Eds).

Nigam, A. (2020). Decolonizing Theory, Thinking Across Traditions. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Smith, L. T. (2012). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. Zed Books Ltd.

Tuck, E. and Yang, K. W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society(1), pp. 1-40.

Tundama, N. (2016). You cannot decolonise colonialism. Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXJS8d2T1IE  

Xaxa, A. F. (2016). I am not your data. Available from http://adivasiresurgence.com/2016/01/13/i-am-not-your-data/

Critical Ideas from the Periphery

By Martin Preston and Betzabé Torres-Olave

A year ago, free from the knowledge of what 2020 would have in store for us all, we invited people to join us in the idea of creating a collective place to discuss critical theories.

Inspired in part by the activities of the Standing Seminar in Critical Theory based at Bath University, we were interested in establishing a collaborative space in which to interact with different perspectives of critical theories, to build community around similar interests, and to foster creativity. Also, we were happy to have an excuse to see each other beyond our research interests, something perhaps we value even more at present. As Antonia Darder reminds us, there is an “importance of building communities of individuals who share a collective vision and recognize the importance of critical relationships of solidarity. They are comrades, compañeros and compañeras who share a revolutionary love for one another as brothers and sisters in struggle” (2017, p.64).

This is key since from different approaches, we are working within education which can be a vehicle to change ourselves and inevitably the relationships we build within the world. We hoped that in creating a space built on the recognition of others with similar dreams and hopes, we could learn from each other and progress further than if alone. We sought to draw on the rich and diverse interests and knowledge of those in our learning community. This is particularly important within the multidisciplinary department within which we are based, the University of Bristol’s School of Education, but also because we hoped to reach out beyond its boundaries.

Central to our idea was to go beyond those critical thinkers typically associated within European Critical Theory. We sought thinkers from different perspectives, locations, and where possible, those who were still contributing to critical theoretical approaches.

With this in mind, we initiated this collaborative process by facilitating the group to contribute names of authors or theories which we might be able to explore further:

Our first meeting was a success, success measured in our own way: we were not alone. Students and academics from across the university and beyond gathered to create something. Through a lluvia de ideas (rain of ideas) we came out with some topics to explore: Critical Race Theory, Feminist Critical Theories, Critical Theories in Education, Decoloniality, and Eco-feminist theory.

We named our group Critical Ideas from the Periphery. Why this name? Firstly, we thought that our group would not simply look to gather theories and collect schools of thought, but rather experiences and concepts formulated in our conversations and distilled in the act of co-creation. Moreover, many of the scholars introduced in our initial scoping task and some others who we will go onto explore in the next term, are not the common ones related to critical theory.

Equally, the name is aspirational, and one which we hope challenges us to seek out new and different understanding of the areas we cover. Just as significantly, many of us, whilst engaging with critical theories in our various research approaches, do not consider ourselves within one school of thought.

Lastly, the word periphery gives us perspective to look from far away and then to go closer and explore further.  Moreover, we would like to use the periphery also as a position, in the same way bell hooks uses the idea of margin: ‘place of radical openness is a margin—a profound edge.’ (1989, p.36) where we can create and resist confinement.

A Reflection on the Year

Space here does not allow for us to sufficiently convey the richness of the contributions from those who led on each of the sessions. However, there are some of things we learnt that we would like to share.

In our first session, we read Restoring our Humanity. The Dialectics of Revolutionary Praxis by Antonia Darder. We shared questions and thoughts around what is the role of knowledge for revolutionary praxis? How can we introduce these critical ideas of community, collective love and educational praxis in our lives as researchers, teachers, family members?

In the second session, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics by Kimberle Crenshaw, we reflected on intersectionality not just as a lens, but as a way of acting. We were challenged: ‘How do we actually use it in our praxis?’ We also reflected on the need to create alliances of solidarity with those under different conditions of oppression. Even though this could mean tensions and sacrifices, it is from there where we transform.

The third session was on feminism, and we moved to the south of the globe. We read A Manifesto in Four Themes by Rita Segato. In it, Segato invited us to understand patriarchy as a model of exploitation of territories and bodies that have been reproduced through other kinds of oppression. As she says “[e]conomic, political, colonial, and racial forms of supremacy are thus effectively replicas of the patriarchal order” (p.199). Under this order, women’s bodies are seen as inferior to those at the top of the hierarchy, men, or as she calls it, The Masculine Mandate. This mandate has trained men to be loyal to the dynamics of that group, which also oppresses them. In this session, we also reflected on how patriarchy as a form of domination is even replicated through the exploitation of our natural resources, where the non-human is seen as having a lower place in the hierarchical chain. 

How to face this masculine mandate? Politicising the private space, dismantling binarism, and creating bonds between us is one of the ways of facing many forms of hierarchisation and exploitation. Bonds that diverge from neoliberal and capitalist ideas, bonds that are embedded within a “communal rootedness.”

Our fourth session, coming just days after the UK went into lockdown, saw us meet online for the first time. It was the beginning of a time of many uncertainties and a welcome opportunity to meet with others and share ideas, albeit remotely. Not only because of the pandemic, but because of different struggles and injustices that were starting to gain more attention, including in the academic world.

For this session, we read The Structure of Knowledge in Westernized Universities Epistemic Racism/Sexism and the Four Genocides/Epistemicides of the Long 16th Century by Ramón Grosfoguel. The reading was especially timely as it problematised how non-western perspectives provide new opportunities, spaces, and hopes for the creation of knowledge. Epistemic diversity offers the opportunity to understand the world in a richer way overcoming the single (male-western) perspective that favours one side of history.

During the fifth session, we read Virus: all that is solid melts into air. In the article Boaventura de Sousa Santos covers a lot of ground in the context of the onset of the pandemic and the implications for our societies. de Sousa Santos outlines a state of permanent crisis for the world created under neoliberal capitalism. In this state, a sense of security is generated for the classes able to benefit from social provisions such as healthcare, whilst those denied it are victimised. For de Sousa Santos the pandemic crisis has simultaneously revealed the failure of such a system whilst interrupting the notion of security and ‘common sense’ of the minority who benefited from it. Such an event, he asserts, provides the opportunity for a ‘common awareness of planetary, democratic-like communion’, even in the very act of our enforced solitude.

Centrally de Sousa Santos points to the window which the COVID pandemic and resulting lockdowns have revealed into ‘alternative mode(s) of life’. A window often hidden to us through entrenched political and economic systems. In concluding, he points to the ‘shadows that visibility creates’ within a sociology of absences. Poignantly, he invokes the case of ‘migrants and refugees’, people on the Greek island of Lesvos residing in ‘camps’ (detention centres) such as Moria. These places, where people are more vulnerable to the Coronavirus and other diseases are within Europe, and yet are perhaps more invisible than ever before. Thus, it is not a coincidence that de Sousa Santos chose Marx’s phrase “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned” (p. 38) for the title of his article.

The sixth session approached the area of Eco-feminism, a theory significantly tied to the activist experiences of its most significant contributors as well as to movements such as the Chipko in India or the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. We discussed two distinct, though interrelated, approaches to eco-feminism: essentialist or radical and Marxist or existentialist. Drawing on contributions from some of the most prominent contributors such as Vandana Shiva, Mary Meller, Maria Mies and others, we focused on the work of Ariel Salleh. Reading Salleh’s 2008 ‘Ecofeminism as Sociology’, we delved into their discussion on the place of reproductive labour and its knowledges in the formation of an ‘ecologically literate sociology’.

Freire Cem

Our central focus over the coming year will be in anticipation of the centenary of the Brazilian Educator and critical activist Paulo Freire. As well as restarting our readings, we are looking forward to hosting a series of activities, events and opportunities for collective thinking under the name #Freire100. This is also the name Education International is giving to the celebration. By doing this we would like to not only disseminate Paulo Freire’s contributions to the philosophy of education but also discuss how his work has influenced our own as students, teachers, researchers, and as humans in the world. We seek to question how his ideas are relevant as we all venture into the post-pandemic future. In doing so, having a place to talk about his ideas on autonomy, liberation, humanity, hope, community, and so many others, is a good excuse to imagine collectively how best to put these ideas into practice.  We aim to create ethical and democratic relationships with others, at the school, university, nature, and beyond following Freire’s idea that “the pursuit of full humanity, cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity” (Freire, 1970/2006, p.85).

Excitingly, the group continues to grow, as do the number of those who wish to bring something to share. If you would like to lead an activity with the group around any of the subjects we have discussed or simply wish to connect, do get in touch.

Contacts: Betzabé or Martin at BristolCIP@gmail.com

References

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1, 139-167.

Darder, A., (2017). Reinventing Paulo Freire: A pedagogy of Love, Westview Press

de Sousa, B. (2020). Virus: all that is solid melts in the air, Open Democracy, https://bit.ly/3l2zPXL

Freire, P. (1970/2006). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Continuum.

Grosfoguel, R. (2013). The Structure of Knowledge in Westernized Universities: Epistemic Racism/Sexism and the Four Genocides/Epistemicides of the Long 16th Century, Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, 11(1), 73-90.

hooks, bell. (1989). Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness. Framework, The Journal of Cinema and Media, 36, 15–23.

Marx, K. & Engels, F. (1847/1977). The Communist Manifesto. In K. Marx, & F. Engels, Selected Works in One Volume, Lawrence and Wishart.

Salleh, A. (2003). Ecofeminism as Sociology, Capitalism Nature Socialism, 14(1), 61-74.

Segato, R. (2018). A manifesto in four themes, Critical Times, 1(1), 198–211.

Learning and teaching under lockdown, the Chilean experience.

By Tamara Cepeda & Hugo Parra Munoz , PhD (C) School of Education, University of Bristol

I. Teaching and learning in Chile

Not even in our worst nightmares. As usual in the Southern region of Latin America, Chilean teachers, students and their families began the academic year on March 4. This fell just a day after the first COVID-19 case in the country was reported. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak classes in Chile were suspended on March 16. What means attend to school in Chile? The educative context is marked by the neoliberal politics. They have gradually dismantled the public education system (Bellei, 2018; Ruiz, 2012) and have installed a network of financing through demand (Verger, Moschetti, & Fontdevila, 2017) and a voucher system as modes for financing public schools (Murnane, Waldman, John, Bos, & Vegas, 2017). Moreover, the neoliberal project has installed a culture of New Public Management (Falabella, 2014), NPM, and has configured and established norms oriented around metrics of performance and results. The setting has been invaded by discourses which privilege numbers and mechanical notions of learning (Flórez Petour, 2014). The grading system used in the country, framed in a high-stakes system, promotes competition and rivalry (Percerisa and Falabella, 2017). The literature in the country evidences a strong connection between students’ socio-economic background and their school achievement (García and Paredes, 2010), and the resultant inequality is linked to the market-oriented transformation of the system (Torché, 2005). Piecemeal reforms have generally only exacerbated inconsistencies and the sense of outright chaos, a historical top-down approach in which a highly centralised policy fails to take account of local contexts and the use of policies based on foreign models which are uncritically applied to Chile without due note of its specificities (Flórez Petour, 2014).

After COVID-19 broke out, students and teachers had only eight days of face to face classes. Since that day until now, education has moved entirely online; tensioning the reasoning of monitoring and accountability associated to NPM. Likewise, in many other cases, Chilean teachers were not trained for that type of teaching practice; they did not receive any technological, pedagogical, or logistical support. A recent OPECH report (Chilean Observatory for Educational Policies, September 2020), stated that this unprecedented lockdown situation has deeply impacted upon learning, demanding everyone involved to adapt to new conditions that represented challenges in various aspects (OPECH, 2020). It has accelerated the sense of vulnerability of the current times, as Bauman (2000) denounces, intensifying the work and deepening the precarious conditions of overwhelmed school teachers (Sánchez Cerón, 2018). We find it necessary to emphasise here, that during March prior to the pandemic the country was already barely operating with any sense of ‘normality’ after the national uprising began in October 2019. That academic year was already challenging to finish. For the educational landscape, the uprising brought one significant change: the end of the PSU, the competitive test used to offer university places in the country. It had been identified as a significant element in the (re)production of acute social and knowledge inequalities in education. During January 2020, students protested fiercely during the administration of the PSU, demonstrating against the elitism of the test and thus access to Higher Education, as it foments segregation and inequality. The test was boycotted in masse with the slogan ‘No more PSU’ used widely. This demonstration culminated with the elimination of it and the creation of a ‘Transitory Admission Test’ that will be used for the first time this year during November if health conditions permit.

Students protesting against the University entrance test, January 2020.

Chile also presents damning data in the OCDE reports, as a member of this organisation. Particularly for upper secondary level education, where both authors had taught for several years before embarking upon our PhDs. The number of students per teacher at the secondary level is one of the largest among OECD countries (usually there are 45 students in a classroom with just one teacher!), and conversely the annual expenditure per secondary level students is one of the lowest (OECD, 2016). In that reality, Chilean teachers give their lessons and assess learning processes. In that reality, students are supposed to learn. Furthermore, teachers are expected to teach a large number of hours (1,064 hours in Chile, within an average of 655 working hours, in OECD countries), whilst receiving among the lowest salaries in the OECD countries. In these conditions, the COVID-19 outbreak hit the already crisis-ridden Chilean classrooms.

A typical secondary school group, these are some of the 45 students that Tamara was in charge of as teacher and tutor before coming to the UK to start her PhD.

II. The OPECH report and our experience

The OPECH report identifies three main issues affecting learning during lockdown. The COVID outbreak just makes worse a situation that was already complicated enough. Firstly, there is a clear issue of work overload. Teachers are spending more time working during the lockdown, doing even more than the usual. Consequently, many are declaring themselves ‘tired’ or ‘very tired’ under the current conditions. These conditions have clearly made it very difficult to harmonise work and family life. In spite of these considerable obstacles, teachers have shown a commendable level of commitment towards their students’ learning continuity. During these months, we have known about former colleagues stressed, working all day barely attending to their children and bursting into tears and breaking down. The increased time in front of the computer makes it difficult for them, for example, to engage with their children’s learning or even undertake simple daily tasks like cooking.

Secondly, the report highlights socio-emotional aspects by stating teachers’ worries about the health and emotional condition of their families and also the high reported levels of stress. A number of teachers also exhibited high levels of burnout. Inevitably, this has tended to be higher among teachers with parental responsibilities. In this regard, teachers also face significant worries about their students’ mental, economic and social wellbeing during the COVID outbreak. The demands of this seemingly ‘new world’ make teachers’ duties recording classes, doing online courses, sending material, homework and assignments, and assessing their students.

To add further complexity to the panorama, teachers were worried about their students: quarantined families, families who tested positive, death, unemployment and (increased) poverty. Not only students were left sometimes in households with no formal incomes, but also there were threats of not receiving payments for teachers as well, especially within the subsidised system. Following our well-known culture of the neoliberal system, parents would not (and indeed could not) meet the schools’ fees, prompting fears about teachers’ salaries. All this under the logic that ‘if parents don’t pay, we don’t have the money to pay teachers’. One school in San Bernardo, a district in the South of the capital, mostly inhabited by families who belongs to the Chilean lowest quintiles, just cancelled online teaching by adopting the logic: ‘if parents don’t pay, we don’t teach’. In private and subsidised schools, teachers were enlisted to call their students to know about their situation. So, beyond their teaching function, they were expected to remind the parents’ of their ‘debts’ to the school. This action was often carried out using their personal mobile phones, and consequently their own data and allowances. This meant that the schools sidestepped their logistical responsibilities in the same way as when teachers themselves supported all the online teaching/learning process. In this scenario, Teachers’ Unions reject the erratic government policies for returning to face-to-face education; claiming the lack of health equipment and the schools’ infrastructure, where students are crowded together.

Lastly, the situation made the lack of ICT learning and conditions among the educational sector manifest, even considering attempts to educate teachers and students about online learning. In a country with a significant rural population, the lack of internet access has also been problematic. Most of the schools did not supply the requisite technological tools for either teachers or students; a factor for stress and burnout increase and, on the other hand, engagement decrease. The lack of internet connection and technological supplies meant that many teachers had students who never participated in classes and thus were not submitting any type of assignments. Within a high-stakes system, that means that students could end up repeating the academic year. For others, learning to use new platforms, such as Zoom or Classroom implied long hours, a slow process, frustration and adaptation difficulties. One teacher said:

“The main challenges have been in the creation of resources with which to assess students, that allow the collection of full information, by using new platforms, which are engaging, but at the same time facilitate the revision or that give reports of students’ attainment. The lack of time is still a very present problem.”

As has been stated, Chilean teachers have a historical work overload that makes it almost impossible to teach in the right conditions; the lack of time is a transversal theme. During teacher interviews that Tamara conducted online in July, time appears a crucial axis for several issues. Time influences teachers’ decisions about assessment methods. In this line, it was a determinant sphere in the decisions made associated with the use of tests and standardised test formats; a formative assessment that becomes summative. These curricular and assessment dilemmas are an expression of the teachers’ desires, which collide with the demands of the system, the lack of student feedback, the overreliance on grades and numbers, and the lack of reflection on students’ attainment. It generates the conditions for configuring a scenario of teachers’ and students’ reticence to embrace changes. In the meantime, at one moment, the country exhibited some of the worst rate of infection per inhabitants and high fatalities percentage in the capital city (June 2020, OECD). Therefore, the health system collapsed.

Ambulances waited up to 12 hours with COVID-19 patients outside a collapsed hospital in the south of the capital, in the cold winter weather and without any food or drinks.

III. Open analysis

The full analysis of what we have set out cannot yet be satisfactorily concluded. We have been in permanent contact with former teaching colleagues on the ground who are facing this unprecedented situation on a daily basis in the country. They have been doing teaching online for seven months now. The precarious context that Chilean teachers have faced for decades has been exacerbated by the health crisis and the intensified work under emergency conditions. Teachers have reported and felt a lack of support and even absolute abandonment from the educational authorities and employees. The ongoing situation in Chile; in the political sphere, along with the upcoming election for changing the constitution at the end of October, forced by social mobilisations; the ongoing demonstrations which have maintained the momentum from the social uprising; the opposition of the Teachers’ Union to returning to the classroom; configure a scenario which remains open for further reflections. However, we suggest that the historicity of dismantling public institution as part of the neoliberal privatising processes has generated a situation that we, at least, could characterise as incompatible with dealing with a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude. It invites us to think about the challenges of education in aspects such as the curricula of the teacher training; the support that teachers and students require undertaking online teaching and learning. Elements such as the technological imbalance of Internet access within a deeply uneven society; the lack of technical support at the national scale and also the constant tendency toward imposing the Western paradigm with scant regard for the reality and specificities of firstly Chile and secondly the various Chiles, a pluriversality, which have unveiled from the aforementioned might also be reviewed.

A typical cramped Chilean classroom environment.

As many scholars have suggested, the pandemic provides spaces for analysing what is occurring at the interior of the education institution. However, the analysis might surpass the reduced limits of the didactic procedures. The academic and political debates of the last two decades have been dominated by managerial calculations, policymakers and educative actors who have discussed aspects such as, who has to administrate the public system and what are the modes for better assessing students and teachers. The debate has been reduced to the engineering of education. This feature could be associated with the gradual dismantling of public education. It is a process of dismembering it from its material conditions and symbolical values. We must recognise, the precarity of Chileans schools has impelled us to concentrate our analysis in statistical aspects, such as the quantities of students and teachers in a classroom, or learning accountability as a guide for determining the meaning of educative quality. The reflection on the educative purposes and the place of the public education – from a pedagogical perspective, in so far construction of comprehensive subjects – is avoided. The current situation at the Chilean school invites us to think not only about better methods for teaching, rather to steer our thought to aspects related to what we are teaching. As an example, the Ministry of Education of Chile has commanded a curricular reduction to “essential pieces of knowledge”, without questioning the overwhelming objectives of learning, their uncountable learning indicators and the implications of that selection or body of knowledge. A critical analysis might transcend formal aspects, inasmuch as procedures, in order to reflect holistically upon the epistemological aims and limits of education and by extension the meaning and raison d’etre of schools within our societies.

As teachers, we may wonder how ‘social distance’ will work within classrooms with 45 students and a very limited space, where if we have corridors, it is only because of earthquakes…. By now, the re-start of face to face classes seems to be something that may happen in March 2021, as most educational actors refuse to come back to school due to the insecurity of the health situation. It is noteworthy that in the last weeks some students in Year 11 and Year 12 of 4 private schools in the most exclusive areas in the capital, went back to classes in person. It would be interesting to continue analysing the Chilean situation in the upcoming months, especially when in the last weeks all the districts of the capital were declared to be out of local quarantine for the first time in 7 months.

Finally, we must mention here that as a product of the national uprising that started one year ago in the country, on October 25 2020 Chileans voted to have a new Constitution, with an overwhelming 78.27% of the votes. People’s participation in this plebiscite was the highest since the return to democracy in 1990. The new Constitution will replace the one imposed in 1980 during the Pinochet dictatorship. The constitutional convention voted to write the new Constitution will be the first in the world to have gender parity and will be fully elected by popular vote during April 2021. For the educational sector, the new Constitution will support and reformulate the redefinition of the balance between State and the market in guaranteeing quality public education (against the private), freedom and diversity, and therefore, education as a human right. These events open hope for change related to the inequalities of the system. As both authors come from low income backgrounds and also were in the country during the social uprising one year ago, we see these aspects opening multiple possibilities for future analysis.

Massive protests in Chile one year ago, during the social uprising.

References

Bauman, Z. (2000). Liquid modernity. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

Bellei, C. (2018). La nueva educación pública. Santiago: CIAE.

Centro de Estudios de MINEDUC. (2018). Estadísticas de la Educación 2017. Publicación diciembre 2018. Santiago.

Falabella, A. (2014). The Performing School: The Effects of Market & Accountability Policies. Education Policy Analysis Archives22(70), 1–29. 

Flórez Petour, M. T. (2014). Systems, ideologies and history: A three-dimensional absence in the study of assessment reform processes. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 22(1), 3-26.

Garcia Palomer, C., & Paredes, R. D. (2010). Reducing the educational gap: good results in vulnerable groups. The Journal of Development Studies46(3), 535-555.

Murnane, R., Waldman, M., John, W., Bos, M. S., & Vegas, E. (2017). The consequences of Educational Voucher Reform in Chile.

OECD (2016). Report for countries: Chile.

OECD (2020). Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19). The territorial impact of COVID-19: Managing the crisis across levels of government.

OPECH (2020). Principales resultados de encuestas sobre el trabajo del profesorado chileno en periodo de pandemia.

Parcerisa, L., & Falabella, A. (2017). La consolidación del Estado evaluador a través de políticas de rendición de cuentas: trayectoria, producción y tensiones en el sistema educativo chileno. Education Policy Analysis Archives/Archivos Analíticos de Políticas Educativas, (25), 1-24.

Ruiz, C. (2012). La república, el Estado y el mercado en educación. Revista de Filosofía68, 11–28.

Sánchez Cerón, M. (2018). La intensificación del trabajo docente en tres países latinoamericanos. Voces y silencios. Revista Latinoamericana de Educación9(1), 4-27.

Torché, F. (2005). Privatisation reform and inequality of educational opportunity: The case of Chile. Sociology of education78(4), 316-343.

Verger, A., Moschetti, M., & Fontdevila, C. (2017). La privatización educativa en América Latina. Una cartografía de políticas tendencias y trayectorias. Barcelona: Internacional de la Educación.

Going away or not: International collaborative research and coronavirus

By Julia Paulson

I initially wrote this blog post in late April 2020, in the midst of the UK coronavirus lockdown. I felt uncertain about it at that time, like I did about everything then. But, now in September 2020 as the Network that I describe in the post is beginning (slowly and gently) to start its activities and as the academic year kicks off (hectically and potentially dangerously), it seems a good time to share these thoughts about the difficulties and delights of pausing, staying home and going slow with collaborative, international research. I’ve edited the post slightly to reflect the timeline, but is still largely as written from lockdown:

“We aren’t going away,” said my lovely colleague, Leon Tikly, who leads a network on Transforming Education Systems for Sustainable Development. He described the ways in which he and his colleagues are expanding their foci to include coronavirus and how they are finding new ways to continue their important work. On a Zoom call with other colleagues leading collaborative, international Network Plus projects, researchers described the digital methods they are working to develop and opportunities for online networking they hope to open. On another call with a University research group, colleagues strategized around how to build up our web presence, generating new blogs and profiling exciting ongoing research.

On these calls, I’ve found myself nodding along, smiling, trying to agree, trying to think about how the network that I am leading might also ‘not go away’. But, in the call with Leon my 6-year-old was climbing on me while I tried to reimagine our work and my 4-year-old was pulling on my jumper, repeating over and over that she was hungry. I had to leave the Network Plus call early as both kids started throwing pillows at me in a bid for attention. So, despite my smiles and nods, the refrain that has really been running through my head about our network as I sit on these calls is “we are going to go away, we are going away, we have gone away.”

I didn’t and don’t want to go away. I’ve cried about it. I’ve tried to think about ways around it, to be creative, to innovate, but I’ve also been interrupted to rebuild a den three times since I sat down to write the above two short paragraphs. So, I haven’t gotten very far on the creative new ideas.

Where I have gotten to though, which I have come to think of as progress, is to a point where I can see reconstructing the den as a priority. I now know that I need to put the den before what I might rather be doing professionally. I add the den as urgent to the top of my list of work tasks, many of which are also communicated to me as urgent.

I know we are privileged to be safe and comfortable in our home. Much more privileged than many around the world, including those with whom our Network Plus partners work directly. Knowing this, I’m starting to accept that despite my resistance to going away, it might actually be an appropriate response for international collaborative research. Our network, EDJAM, officially started at the beginning of April. It brings together colleagues based in Cambodia, Colombia, Pakistan, Uganda and here in the UK. When I first wrote this in late April, each country was in a version of lockdown and this has fluctuated since with different parts of the world moving in and out of lockdown. In April, all the organisations where our colleagues work were physically closed and all our colleagues were trying to work from home. Schools were closed and, like me, colleagues were trying to home school and fill our children’s days in ways that ease some of the strain on them. And, in all cases, our inboxes were filled with various urgencies involved in keeping our Universities and NGOs going. Across our network, our families and social circles have been affected by Covid-19 in different ways and we are all mourning in some way. Some specific individual combination of mourning for our lives before, the distance from those we love, the things that we or our close family members have had to see and do in responding to coronavirus, the mounting numbers of deaths around the world and in our home places, and the individuals that were ours within those numbers. So, all that happened on April 1st in our network was that I emailed everyone involved to say that for the time being, we are going away.

Permission for things to be how they are

I sent the email out of the necessity of being on pause – the necessity for me. Because my kids have developed ever more creative strategies for sabotaging work Zoom calls (including my 4-year-old daughter mooning colleagues and my 6-year-old son closing the computer with a ‘goodbye forever’ to the Undergraduate Dean). Because other parts of my job have not gone away, will not go away, and I am struggling to do them. Because I needed something to go away and this was one thing that I had (some) control over, though of course the funders do not want us to go away and there is work involved in making pause a possibility – more on this later. I cried about the email, though. This was not the part of my job I wanted to go away.

The replies from Network colleagues around the world brought a different kind of tears. Like me, colleagues needed things to go away. They needed things removed from their to do lists so that they could do the urgent things that our new realities require of them, whether that is building dens on repeat like me, or leading the approach to school closures but ongoing learning in Cúcuta, Colombia like our colleague Arturo, or providing much needed perspective and critique on the move to online learning at Universities in Pakistan, like our colleague Tania, or celebrating Khmer New Year at home in matching Hawaiian shirts like our colleague Duong.

Having permission, in one aspect of professional life, to acknowledge that things are how they are and to not have to keep going was welcome news to most colleagues in our network, despite how excited we all are about this project and the work we will eventually do together. On another project, those who were keen to carry on and innovate were in urban centres, had fast internet, and were in life stages where caring responsibilities were minimal. Not going away is more possible for some than for others and trying to pursue this strategy, changing course rather than pausing, produces new silences as well as producing new knowledge.

Maybe eventually we will have to innovate and find new ways to do our work together. Maybe we’ll have to be creative and resilient and all the things our employers are urging us to be already, now, today. But for right now, we’ll just wait and see. We’ll take it day by day. We’ll make dens.

Going inside

And, it turns out that we made ourselves a den, too. It turns out we haven’t entirely gone away, we’ve just gone inside. Like we’ve been asked to, as my son regularly reminds me. We do meet on Zoom or Whatsapp and on Facebook or Twitter to check on one another. To hear about how things are going in our corners of the world, to laugh at the latest ways our children are slowly driving us crazy, to rage at Amazon’s profit margins, and to see each other’s faces. We don’t talk about our project specifically, but often we do talk about the ideas that underpin it. The ideas that we all care about and that brought us together and from which we’ve become friends as well as collaborators. I think this being inside together (but apart) – an inside together that comes without to do lists and expectations, with patience and a willingness to listen, care and support – means that when the day by day makes it possible for us to go outside again, to have a more public-facing element to our work and to start our activities together in earnest, we’ll do so from a place of trust and energy. We’ll have more fun and we might also do a better job of the work. We’ll hopefully be more attuned to each other’s realities and be able to work respectfully together in a way that continues to give us each permission for things to be how they are and maybe also allows us to get something done.

Work for later or making pause a possibility

When we were writing the proposal for our network, we agreed underpinning values for it, aspiring for a feminist and anti-racist collaboration. And, while I’ve railed against going away or staying inside, I think that probably, for us, in the circumstances that the colleagues involved in the project find ourselves, it is probably the approach that most embodies those values we laid out to guide our work. I’m not suggesting that all international collaborative projects should go away for a while or that going away is necessarily a feminist response. But I am suggesting that it is okay for us to go away, and in some circumstances like ours, it is probably right for us to go away. And, as coronavirus has been described as a disaster for feminism and for academic careers of women and those with caring responsibilities, maybe going inside, which I found so disempowering, gendered and unfair, is a feminist response in its putting caring for each other, ourselves and our loved ones, listening and giving space, first. Looking at going away/inside from this angle also makes clear what we should put second and – as is often the case when choosing feminist and/or anti-racist courses of action – choosing to go away/inside will also create more work for us. So, instead of first turning our attention to innovation in the delivery of our planned activities, we’ll need to work to make a pause a possibility. This will involve work with funders who have already opened the doors for no-cost extensions, but not for costed ones, which will be essential for colleagues funded by our project; work with our Universities whose workload spreadsheets don’t include going away time and whose expectations for coronavirus include ‘innovation’, ‘new solutions’ and ‘one activity to keep your children busy until lunchtime’ and whose progression criteria haven’t changed to accommodate how things are. So, we’ll come outside for that additional work, in this case the work of making it okay to pause. At some point, we will also weave that work into the existing commitments of our network and we’ll use the relationships we’ve strengthened while inside at home to open new possibilities and create space to acknowledge and work within the realities of international collaboration during a pandemic.