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Universal Design for Learning
Decolonizing Curriculum

Codes of Power

When we design curriculum to welcome the variability and diversity of all learners from all cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, we are “challenging the codes of power that exist in the classroom.”

Fritzgerald, 2020

These codes of power are the result of colonization. As discussed above, we all have a variety of intersecting social identitiesOpens in a new window including raceOpens in a new window, IndigeneityOpens in a new window, culture, class, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, as well as ability. These are structured, in society and in our institutions, in ways that result in the oppressionOpens in a new window and marginalizationOpens in a new window of many groups. Constructing a system where some groups dominate over others is the cornerstone of colonization. Let’s take a closer look.

Colonialism Opens in a new windowis the historical practice of European expansion into territories already inhabited by Indigenous peoples for the purposes of taking land and resources. It was based on the notion of “terra nullius” (Latin for land of no one) and occurred during a period of time when the Doctrine of DiscoveryOpens in a new window was in effect. This was an international law issued by Pope Nicholas V that gave license to explorers to claim “vacant land” in the name of their sovereign. Lands not occupied by Christians were considered to be vacant and therefore “discovered.”

ColonizationOpens in a new window, the process by which Europeans established control over the territories they “discovered,” involved the dehumanizing of Indigenous peoples and the violent suppression of Indigenous peoples’ governance (i.e., legal, social and cultural structures) and ways of knowing. Colonialism forced and continues to force Indigenous peoples to accept and integrate into the institutional and social structures of the colonial state. Education has been instrumental to colonization since industrial nations first started to educate their populations. For example, Canada’s industrial and residential school system was formed to keep Indigenous children “constantly within the circle of civilized conditions” (Davin, 1879).

Anti-Indigenous racismOpens in a new window is one legacy of colonization. Indigenous peoples across Turtle IslandOpens in a new window continue to experience ongoing raceOpens in a new window-based discrimination, negative stereotyping, and injustice. Ideas and practices stemming from the legacy of colonial policies and practices in Canada establish, maintain, and perpetuate power imbalances, systemic barriers, and inequitable outcomes. These practices and their impacts can be seen in our education system.

What does it mean to decolonize our curriculum and teaching practices?

To decolonize Opens in a new windowour curriculumOpens in a new window, and engage all learners, we need to challenge the legacy of systemic oppression Opens in a new windowthrough our teaching design and practice. (Later in the course we will explore the ways that critical pedagogy and critical digital pedagogyOpens in a new window can support this process.)

Ontario’s postsecondary education institutions continue to identify significant gaps related to enrolment and retention of Aboriginal learners, as well as in the number of Aboriginal teaching and non-teaching staff within publicly assisted institutions.

Ontario’s Aboriginal Postsecondary Education and Training Policy Framework, MTCU, 2011

DecolonizationOpens in a new window “is not a single event or prescribed blueprint but a complex and contested process of unlearning and undoing centuries of colonial ideas, desires, and infrastructures” (Stein, 2017). Our education system is a crucial site for transformative work to occur, working together with the Indigenous peoples of Turtle IslandOpens in a new window as well as other colonized, racialized, and marginalized peoples. We can all start somewhere when it comes to shedding our colonial mindset and ideas!

Colonialism remains an ongoing process, shaping both the structure and the quality of the relationship between settlers and Indigenous peoples.

(Visit this linkOpens in a new window for the TRC final report).

Truth and Reconciliation Committee, 2015.

The term settlerOpens in a new window is used for the social identityOpens in a new window of all non-Indigenous people because, whether past or present, people coming to Canada have settled on land that was taken from Indigenous peoples. Awareness of these social identities is important when reflecting on the biases that happen in curricula design and pedagogical practices.

Education is what got us into this mess and education is key to getting us out of it.

Sinclair, 2015. The Honourable Murray Sinclair was the senator and chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

We will continue to return to this important work in each module, inviting and reflecting on lived experienceOpens in a new window and critically selecting course materials and options that promote discourseOpens in a new window, discovery, and new learning that reflects anti-oppressive practice and UDL. You will also see “Decolonizing Curriculum” as a thematic code in the Learn More Resource Library, where there are many resources to explore.

We must believe that teachers and students can confront and defeat the forces that prevent students from living more fully and more freely. Every school is either a site of reproduction or a site of change. In other words, education can be liberating, or it can domesticate and maintain domination. It can sustain colonization in neo-colonial ways, or it can decolonize.

Battiste, 2013
Next chapterCollaborative Activity 2 (Discussion): Experience to Action