Provincializing ‘Western Education’
no. 07_april 2020
Theories of ‘education’ (broadly construed) have traditionally relied on premises and frameworks that may be called Euro- or Western-centric. Allegedly universal theories of education or the educated person in most cases did not and do not sufficiently take into account the existing global plurality of culturally, religiously and socially embedded conceptions of education. To provide an example from the German debate, which may certainly also be applied to other contexts as well: Until recently, scholars in the German tradition of Bildung did not systematically start thinking about the possibility of translating ‘Bildung’ into other languages as well as about potential functional and semantic equivalents of the term.
The growing traction of decolonization as a discourse and practice within and beyond the context of academic scholarship has generated important spaces for critical, self-reflexive engagements with the role of systemic, historical, and ongoing colonial violence in the foundations of various scholarly fields. Although the overarching area of “decolonial critique” contains a considerable range of perspectives, both complementary and contradictory, overall these perspectives challenge the common assumption that colonialism is “over”, pointing instead to the ways that it has persisted and shapeshifted both in settler colonial countries (where the colonizing power never ‘left’), as well as in purportedly decolonized countries that are nonetheless characterized by “patterns of power that emerged as a result of colonialism, but that define culture, labor, intersubjective relations, and knowledge production well beyond the strict limits of colonial administrations”.
Postcolonial theorists illuminate the ways in which colonial powers’ practices of education functioned as tools of domination. They highlight that a school education that presented colonial powers’ knowledge as superior to that of colonized societies formed subjectivities that were susceptible to colonial rule. In that way postcolonial theorists offer an intriguing critique of schools’ involvement in the ideology of colonial powers’ epistemic and moral superiority. Thus, they reveal the nexus between knowledge, interests and power that crystallizes at the intersection of colonial and educational practices.
The international education project that drives neoliberal reforms is entwined with ideas of modernity and development embedded in coloniality. Instead of learning from decolonized and subaltern knowledges, what we see is a disruption of diverse post-colonial processes via a reform policy transfer – constructed in decontextualized abstraction, rationalized by a target driven universal agenda. This paper draws attention to a possible continuity between colonialism – viewed not just as a geopolitical reality located in the past but an organised epistemological order – and the neoliberal agenda of internationalising education.
The recent call for a conceptual and intellectual decolonization in the humanities critiques the conventional, all-white, largely male philosophical canon. Its critique is directed at the centering of the experiences of this specific group in global knowledge transmission practices. Its proponents focus on the canon’s implicit claim, namely that only one social group is able to think thoroughly and accurately about all problems of philosophical significance across varying spatiotemporal contexts.
In German-speaking educational discourses, voices are increasingly being raised, which are calling for an overcoming of Eurocentric perspectives. This, however, not only raises the question of how such perspectives can be overcome, but also what it is exactly that needs to be overcome. Only when the matter of what is to be overcome has been clarified, can we discuss how this may be achieved. In what follows, these questions will be discussed with respect to the educational genre called history of pedagogy (Geschichte der Pädagogik), which has played, and still does play, a central role in the tradition of German pedagogy.
Education is a prime terrain for the transmission, facilitation, development and production of knowledge. This is a truism bordering on platitude. Universities, in particular, are literally defined in terms of the generation of knowledge. Given the intimate relationship between education and educational institutions, on the one hand, and epistemology and knowledge, on the other, it should come as no surprise that the decolonization discourses around provincialization of (Western) education should have come to include talk of provincialization of (Western) epistemology.
The central argument in this paper is that the claims of decolonising discourses are a morbid symptom of a theoretical and political impasse. By decolonising discourses in education, I refer to those theories and practices that are premised on the idea that political decolonisation in the post-war era has been insufficient to establish equality or justice. The socio-political power relationships from the past are, it is claimed, imprinted in the knowledge and knowledge practices of the West and, as such, strategies of reparative purification need to be constructed and implemented.
Western education is paradoxically a progenitor of the contemporary global moment and a foil to the continuation of the world that it helped create. This might seem to be a hyberbolic claim yet the evidence grows more abundant as time passes. The litany of troubles that can be laid at the doorstep of Western education, in part, include the environmental catastrophe in all its manifestations, the growing anomic sense of alienation that besets Western societies, chasmic economic inequalities, and related displacement of people from their polities, or the absence of any legal citizenship that besets millions, to name just a few.
This essay deals with the role of religion in globalised, national educational spaces. I argue that religion, which in Western education milieus is generally perceived as a marginal component of contemporary schooling and detached from the wider educational contexts of state schools, is becoming more relevant in many educational institutions. This is happening both as a result of the increasing mobility of families generating a presence of sustainable diaspora communities and as an outcome of globalised communities seeking new anchors for their ever-changing realities.
Education is a key topic in anticolonial and postcolonial scholarship and activism. There are several reasons for this: Firstly, education was a crucial element of imperialism, as colonial rule without an educational program, which enabled epistemic violence, is almost unthinkable. As Edward Said outlines in Orientalism (1978), it was as vital for colonial powers to teach the ‘other’ as to study the ‘other’ (see also Castro Varela & Dhawan, 2020). Only through colonial education, it was possible to produce a colonized population that relied on and trusted European knowledge and internalized specific Eurocentric norms of knowledge production. Colonial education was part and parcel of the civilizational mission, which is why it finds itself in an ambivalent position via-à-vis mass education.
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