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Colonization and homogenization in education

Linda Smith’s (1999) seminal book Decolonizing Methodologies backgrounds the contexts of indigenous peoples’ lived experiences through the lens of colonization. She argues the “colony” is imperialism’s outpost and makes important links between imperialism, history, writing, and theory. Firstly, she asserts, it is necessary to unpack “imperialism” for indigenous peoples. This is because it is imperialism that disrupts histories (indigenous peoples’ stories) and radically alters indigenous peoples’ lives. Imperialism is at the heart of empire-building, of the nation state. The notion that imperialism (and colonialism) is something only of the past is misconceived. Imperialism, according to Smith, is an ongoing project. “Imperialism still hurts, still destroys and is reforming itself constantly” (p. 19). Stewart-Harawira (2005) argues, “The reclaiming of invisibilized indigenous histories and the insurrection of subjugated indigenous cosmologies and ontologies are critical aspects of indigenous peoples’ resistance to the homogenizing impulse of modernity and its manifestation in current forms of globalization” (p. 23). Indigenous (Maori) peoples have had to challenge colonial (in Aotearoa-powerful white British male) historians’ views of the world.The establishment of new colonies through new settler populations and governments produces the establishment of new power—colonial power. Smith (1999) argued that the inherent (historical) racist underpinnings of colonial power in Aotearoa are alive and well. They arrived with the settlers and were hardwired in settler institutions (churches, courts, prisons, governments, and schools. A recent Education Review Office (ERO)1 publication (2012) discusses how ERO reviews have revealed curriculum neglect with teachers in control, who know little about their Maori students, their language/s, knowledge/s, nor what or how to teach them. It is argued here that many teachers hold on to colonial ideas of Maori “savagery,” which is reflected in the way they think (and behave) toward Maori children. New Zealand education settings are full of teachers who adhere to the racist underpinnings of colonialism; they fail to acknowledge the relationships of language to learning, of pedagogies to people and place, of knowledge/s to curriculum, of mind to reality. Indeed many teachers just do not see or value the Maoriness in the Maori children in front of them. Instead they treat all children “the same” and tend not to respond to the aspirations and expectations of whanau Maori (ERO, 2010). In other words, they adhere to those core colonial beliefs as they actively subjugate the Maoriness in Maori children that are harmful. As Fanon (1967) puts it:

Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief. (p. 194)

Indeed it is an ongoing struggle in education, across all sectors of education, when working towards changing educators’ views, particularly when they are presented with evidence that works against their own educational experiences, language and knowledge systems, beliefs, values and practices, and when they may experience that cognitive dissonance which often presents itself as a barrier to change. But struggle is part of the change. Indigenous peoples have to understand that, and the mechanics of colonialism, how it impacts on all of our lives, and then create shared language/s for talking about it (Smith, 1999). Alternate discourses, from a strengths base, become a tool then to counter the effects of racism in education in an attempt to alleviate the harm that is caused to Maori children through the dissonance. That challenge is ongoing.

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