Decolonizing [Syllabi]: What Does it Mean?

There has been increasing discussion about decolonization in education: decolonizing syllabi, decolonizing pedagogy, decolonizing curricula, decolonizing higher ed, etc. We have gathered some resources about what decolonizing is (and is not) for those who are interested in learning more and taking steps in this direction.

As the author of “Decolonizing your syllabus? You might have missed someĀ steps” notes, adding indigenous scholars to a syllabus is not the same thing as decolonizing. Referencing Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s 2012 article, “Decolonization is not a Metaphor,” they assert that “well-intentioned and small-step actions can actually work against shared goals of decolonization.” Actions such as returning materials and date, advocating for the rematriation of land, and learning and teaching about the colonial roots of our academic disciplines are important parts of the process.

A helpful place to learn more about what decolonization might mean in practice is the “Keele Manifesto for Decolonising the Curriculum.” The Keele Manifesto provides a definition of decolonization and articulates 11 principles for decolonizing a university curriculum. Some important points: decolonization is different than diversification; decolonization requires an understanding and undoing of colonial power relations; nearly “all academic disciplines have been influenced by a history of colonial thinking” and this must be learned, taught, and confronted.

In “Revolutionizing My Syllabus: The Process,” Professor Chanelle Wilson discusses what some of the Keele Manifesto principles mean to her as she examines and revises her own syllabi and teaching practices.

A few other resources, below, provide additional definitions, links, and ideas for your consideration.

One thing that is clear from the literature is that decolonizing is / will be a long and ongoing process that requires reflexivity, continual learning, experimentation, and discomfort. Decolonization is about systemic change, which can begin with a syllabus but certainly does not end there.

[Cover image: Giulia Forsythe, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

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