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date: 18 December 2017

Decolonial Philosophies of Education

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.

Decolonial philosophy of education is an almost non-existent term. This is partly because discussions in the philosophy of education—much like philosophy in general—fall heir to the Euro-American practice of being “a series of footnotes to Plato.” Consequently, rigorous intellectual and scholarly conversations on education tend to be centered around a specific set of concepts and discourses that were (and still are) generated, picked up, or analyzed by thinkers from a specific geographical and political space, namely Socrates, Rousseau, Dewey, Heidegger, Foucault, etc. This has led to the systemic ignoring and violating of concepts and ideas generated from other spaces and lived through by other people.

This legacy can also be related to the philosophical aspirations for gaining total, hegemonic and universal perceptions and representations often formulated by male Euro-American philosophers; when this intellectual passion for universality becomes coupled with or stays silent about imperial and expansionist ambitions, it can see itself implicated in creating assimilationist or genocidal practices. In education, the manifestation of universality associated with imperialism is observed in Indian residential schools. While the words education, literacy, curriculum, learning of languages, acquiring knowledge, and school, might normally have positive connotations for many, they can make an aboriginal survivor of an Indian residential school shudder. It is difficult to ignore the aspirations for a European/Universalist definition of human and man in the famous "Kill the Indian to save the child" policy of Indian Residential Schools. However, the likelihood of deeming such assimilationist attempts as benign acts of trial and error, and as events external to philosophy, is generally high. Therefore, the “coloniality” of these philosophies is, more often than not, left unexamined, in education in general, and in (educational) philosophy in particular.

This is the topos in which decolonial scholars dwell. Philosophers of decolonization deliberate on essential key moments and key discussions in philosophical thought that have either not been paused at enough or not paused at all, and they question this lack of attention. There is an important reason for these intellectual—or what can be called epistemological—halts practiced by decolonial philosophers. While these might seem to be abstract epistemic endeavors, decolonial philosophers see their work as practices of liberation that aim beyond disrupting the eminence of mainstream Euro-American philosophical thought. Through these interrogative pauses, they hope to intervene, overturn, and restructure the philosophical, political, and social imagination in favor of the silenced, the ignored, the colonized, and the (epistemologically and physically) violated.