Politics of Education · Recent

When Education is the Problem

My best friend called me tonight, and I didn’t hear the phone ring. I listened to the voicemail, though, and immediately called her back.

Her oldest daughter is in community college, and had just come back from her art history class upset from some of the things the professor had said, and had been saying, all semester:

  1. That the United States “imported” some people to work, from Africa.
  2. That the British that kidnapped aboriginal children in Australia and enslaved them in indentured servitude, were actually helping those children.
  3. That context and intent matter more than the action, so none of history is racist.
  4. That Frida Kahlo wasn’t talented at all, and only rode on Diego’s coattails.

I could write about this at length, and I’ve already written about some of this in a couple other posts: “Consider the Context” Part 1 and Part 2. When education becomes the problem, is when we make excuses. When we reframe to make the subject matter more palatable, easier to digest for our students and, if we’re honest with ourselves, easier to teach because if we reframe everything as a matter of “context” then we won’t have to push our students to acknowledge our history, and we won’t have to deal with the push-back we get from them.

Context, is of course, important. But I’m going to repeat here what I’ve said in my other posts on context: the context of the history of colonialism is racist, nationalistic, sexist, misogynistic, capitalistic, and all around fucked up.  If we don’t acknowledge that, it is not possible to acknowledge the roots of this discriminatory and oppressive thinking and weed it out of our culture and our political practices today.

When our educators teach that the context and the intent negate the result, they are teaching racism, sexism, etc. When our educators have the audacity to utter the disgusting words that colonizers helped indigenous peoples by stealing and enslaving their children, they are furthering the idea of the White Savior, and also white supremacy.

And, when an educator in art history has the audacity to disparage Frida Kahlo’s talent and credit her success to Diego, it’s time to take off my earrings and throw down.

My only wish is that I live closer to my friend so I can help her, and her daughter, in their efforts to address this. They’re working out a plan. This will not stand. Our educators cannot be the problem; they must be part of the solution.

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