Decolonial Education: our collective (hi)story(ies)

As Daniel expressed so well in his first blog entry, it is time to rethink the big questions of education so that they include stories of global interconnectedness. We must find a way to ensure that education values every person, and maybe every living being, as equal key players in a transformative, creative dialogue.

I would like to suggest here that an essential element to imagining these new types of learning environments can be found through Decolonial Education. The conjuncture of these two ideas (Decolonial + Education) is fundamentally necessary as educational institutions have always played an integral role in the colonial/imperial enterprise.

When we begin to imagine new educational possibilities, before we can move forward and create, we must first recognize our collective history(ies) as humans. Our ‘modern’ and ‘international’ world as we know it, is profoundly shaped by the legacies of colonialism and imperialism. The tapestry that represents our collective (hi)stories has been painted with the blood and sweat of the racialized ‘other’. The experiences of ALL human beings appear on this tapestry and are forever coloured by such a past. But this past is so often considered simply that, a past cut off from the present. But we all know, whether intuitively or cognitively, it is simply impossible to remove the background colors from a painting, without losing the entire story, and in essence who and what we are as humans. Just as we cannot separate the background colour from the drawings in the foreground, we cannot separate what we understand as our ‘modern’ globalized world from our histories of colonial and imperial oppression, the stories of which continue today through the “Modern/Colonial Capitalist/Patriarchal Western-centric/Christian-centric World-System” (Grosfoguel, 2012, p.82).

Willem De Kooning -

As a starting point, I have attempted to provide you with an image that helps you to understand the way that I imagine our collective (hi)stories as humans. But before moving on, I feel that it is necessary to place myself within this picture. I was born in a country founded upon settler colonialism (Canada) and I am a settler myself. My life has been profoundly shaped by this reality and the white privilege that comes with the position I was born into. Not only have I been privileged within a racial hierarchy solidified through colonization, but also I was born into the English language and a Western cultural ethos that claims itself as Truth.

I recognize that this is who I am, but I do not accept that this is who I live to be. The beauty and inspiration in our world more often than not, lies in the voices and struggles of those who have been silenced by history and caged by a colonial and imperial mentality. I am entirely indebted to their/your wisdom, strength and beauty. I can only hope that we can all join together in order to dismantle that which has crushed our potential to dream and create a world founded upon love and equality. And it is through Decolonial Education and experiences of cross-border (all different types of borders) education that I believe we can come to recognize ourselves as being part of the collective that is humanity, and to join in solidarity as beings that believe we are capable of so much more.

I hope you now have a better understanding of both who I am, and the way in which I imagine the world that I am part of. I would like to briefly outline some of the ideas that have crystallized within myself relating to Decolonial Education. These ideas are the thoughts and dreams of so many, particularly those who speak wisdom to ‘Truth’, and who have, with their minds and bodies, resisted the types of oppression that have permeated so deeply into our contemporary experience. I am shaped by the communities that I have been graced to be a part of. These ideas and words are not mine, but ours.

(Image from Pachaysana's "Rehearsing Change" program, spring 2015 semester)

Decolonial Education offers a way of imagining how to incorporate stories of global interconnectedness (both positive and negative) into the ways we learn. As an idea, it believes in equitable dialogue across difference; it recognizes the violent attempts (and successes) of the universalization of Western thought and the expansion of Eurocentrism; and resists the marginalization and devalorization of the knowledges and cultures of those who were and are colonized.

This is presented as a vision and an idea. But I would like to break it down further so that we can think about what it actually might mean in practice. To do so, it helps to think firstly, of the structural elements of education, that which shape the learning environment itself; secondly, the content of what we are learning; and thirdly, the ways in which this content is delivered.

  • Decolonial Praxis refers to the ways that we create our learning communities and educational institutions. Who are the students? How are they able to access these spaces of learning? What is the classroom like? How does the space that we learn in affect what and how we learn? Who do we work with and how? These are all fundamental questions relating to the ways that we organize education. Ideas of Decolonial Praxis are founded upon the creation of accessible learning communities, based in spaces which nurture an understanding of self and collectivity, and which recognize the contemporary manifestations of colonial and imperial histories, while actively seeking to resist them.

  • Epistemological Equality relates to content; what are we learning? Epistemology is academic lingo that refers to our knowledge systems; how we know and understand ourselves and the world in which we live. Epistemological Equality refers to the necessity of recognizing that there are many different ways of knowing, and they are all valid, while of course also subject to critique. There can be no one Truth nor one right answer. Knowledge must be recognized by the process in which it is created, a process based on articulations and inter-connections between various epistemologies. Specifically relating to the decolonial, it recognizes the importance and need to work directly with knowledge systems that have been marginalized within Western thought. It means recognizing not just the mind, but also the body and senses, the self and the subjective, and a wide array of ways of knowing and learning.

  • Decolonial Pedagogy focuses on the type of learning environment that we create for our educational spaces. How do we ‘teach’ and how do we learn? How does the content that we are exploring relate to the world around us and to each other? Can we learn while creating the world that we envision? These are all very big questions, but to start with, Decolonial Pedagogy speaks to the need to be honest and to listen; to develop respect, trust and radical openness; and to foster relationships based on a decolonizing solidarity. Furthermore, it is vital to nurture ethical relationships amongst our learning communities, recognizing that they are often formed by individuals from both dominant and marginalized cultural/ethno-racial groups. Lastly, it is essential to remember the fundamental importance of love, a love that seeks to resist the patterns of human history and to exist in a space that believes in the power of creation.

However brief, I hope this exploration of what Decolonial Education could mean, sparks further conversation and ideas amongst all of you. I profoundly believe in the power of education, and hope to continue exploring how me might build communities infused with decolonial learning.

(Image from Pachaysana's "Rehearsing Change" program, spring 2015 semester)


Although many of the ideas expressed here were developed and shared with individuals and communities that don’t have the means or opportunity to write and publish academically, I have included a short list of resources that may be of interest. Below is the work of some of those, particularly within academic and activist communities, that have inspired the words above.

Andreotti, V. (2011). Actionable Postcolonial Theory in Education. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

Andreotti, V. (2011). (Towards) decoloniality and diversality in global citizenship education, Globalisation, Societies and Education, 9(3-4): 381-397.

Andreotti, V. Stein, S. Ahenakew, C. & Hunt, D. (2015). Mapping interpretations of decolonization in the context of higher education. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 4(1): 21-40.

Baker, M. (2012, October 31 - November 4). Decolonial Education: Meanings, Contexts, and Possibilities. Paper presented at the American Educational Studies Association, Annual Conference, Seattle Washington. Retrieved from (accessed on Oct 17, 2014).

Boidin, C., Cohen, J., & Grosfoguel, R. (2012). Introduction: From university to pluriversity: A decolonial approach to the present crisis of western universities. Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, 10(1) 2-8.

Diaz, C.J. (2010). Hacia una Pedagogía en Clave Decolonial: entre aperturas, búsquedas y posibilidades. Tabula Rasa, 13(julio-diciembre): 217-233.

Escobar, A. (2007). Worlds and Knowledges Otherwise: The Latin American modernity/ coloniality research program. Cultural Studies, 21(2-3): 179-210.

Freire, P. (1997). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. (M.B. Ramos, Trans.). New York, NY: Continuum Press. (Original work published 1970).

Gaztambide-Fernández, R.A. (2012). Decolonization and the pedagogy of solidarity. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1): 41-67.

Grosfoguel, R. (2012). The dilemmas of ethnic studies in the United States: Between liberal multiculturalism, identity politics, disciplinary colonization, and decolonial epistemologies. Human Architecture: Journal of Sociology of Self-Knowledge, 10(1): 81-89.

hooks, b. (2010). Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom. New York and London: Routledge.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.

Lissovoy, N. (2010). Decolonial pedagogy and the ethics of the global, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 31(3): 279-293.

Maldonado-Torres, N. (2004). The topology of being and the geopolitics of knowledge: Modernity, empire, coloniality. City 8, 1: 29-56.

Maldonado-Torres, N. (2005). Decolonization and the New Identitarian Logics after September 11: Eurocentrism and Americanism against the Barbarian Threats. Radical Philosophy Review, 8(1): 35-67.

Maldonado-Torres, N. (2008). Against War: Views From the Underside of Modernity. Durham & London: Duke University Press.

Mignolo, W. (2000). Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Mignolo, W. (2003). Globalization and the Geopolitics of Knowledge: The Role of the Humanities in the Corporate University. Nepantla: Views from South, 4(1): 97-119.

Mignolo, W. (2011). The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

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

Sandoval, C. (2000). Methodology of the oppressed. London; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Santos, B.S. (2007a). Beyond abyssal thinking: From global lines to ecologies of knowledges. Revista Critica de Ciencias Sociais, 80. Retrieved from (accessed on Nov 15, 2014).

Santos, B.S. (2007b). From an epistemology of blindness to an epistemology of seeing. In Santos B.S. (Ed.) Cognitive justice in a global world: Prudent knowledges for a decent life (pp.407-38). Plymouth: Lexington Books.

Smith, L.T. (1999). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. New York, NY: Palgrave.

Walia, H. (2013). Undoing Border Imperialism. AK Press and the Institute for Anarchist Studies: Oakland & Washington.

Walsh, C. (2009). Interculturalidad crítica y pedagogía de-colonial: in-surgir, re-existir y re-vivir, In P. Melgarejo (Ed), Educación Intercultural en América Latina: memorias, horizontes históricos, y disyuntivas políticas. México: Universidad Pedagógica Nacional-CONACIT, editorial Plaza y Valdés. Retrieved from (accessed Oct 17, 2014).

Walsh, C. (2012). “Other” Knowledges, “Other Critiques”: Reflections on the Politics and Practices of Philosophy and Decoloniality in the “Other” America. Transmodernity: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World, 1(3): 11-27.

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