Diversity and inclusion versus decolonization

Poverty can affect people of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds in different ways throughout their lifetimes. Nevertheless, challenges related to poverty are more likely to have a negative impact on children,1 indigenous peoples,2 black and Latino families,3 people with disabilities,4 and certain rural populations,5 among other groups. From an ethical perspective, the uneven distribution of poverty can be described in terms of “injustice […] embedded in a particular [economic and political] ideology.”6 Thus although their specific circumstances may vary greatly, students from low-income households are connected through experiences of oppression, sustained by disparities in economic and political power.7

For example, more than 60 years have passed since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation is “inherently unequal” and therefore unconstitutional.8 Yet after two decades of progress following the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, U.S. schools have experienced a period of resegregation. In 2011, the percentage of black students in majority white schools decreased to 23 percent – about the same level as in 1968. Today, many students of color “face almost total isolation” on the basis of race and income.9 In roughly half of the country’s largest 100 urban centers, most black and Latino students attend schools in which at least three-quarters of students are from low-income households.10 Such school environments are often characterized by “extreme overlaps of poverty and racial concentration” resulting in “fewer educational resources and lower student outcomes.”11

Even when students attend the same school, there can be significant disparities that reflect a relative lack of power. One example is “academic tracking,” a practice that “separat[es] students – ostensibly on the basis of ‘ability’ – into different ‘tracks,’ ‘levels,’ or ‘groups,’ with distinct or differentially paced curriculums.”12 In addition to affecting academic performance, such within-school segregation undermines opportunities to facilitate social connections and friendships among students from different backgrounds.13 These conditions also influence the distribution of resources like “teacher experience, class sizes, high-achieving peers, and academically rigorous curricula.”14 The result is not only to limit certain students’ “chances of success in college” but also their “occupational choices and potential for financial mobility.”15

As a result of these and other inequities,16 many students from low-income households struggle to learn within school environments that embody “injustice, exploitation, oppression, and the violence of the oppressors.”17 (In this paper, “oppressors” refers to the overlapping influence of people and institutions that exert their collective power, intentionally or unintentionally, in a manner that restricts students’ freedoms.) These conditions have also been described as “colonization of the mind” – a process that seeks to limit critical consciousness.18 At school, the effect is crystallized as “classroom colonialism,” through which students from low-income households are “confronted by curriculum that is blind to their realities and school rules that seek to erase their culture.”19 This phenomenon is perpetuated when those in power overlook or actively avoid opportunities to “learn from and about the communities in which they will make their livelihood.”20

The meaning of “colonization” is rooted in indigenous peoples’ experiences of oppression – specifically, the seizure of native resources – which “represents a profound epistemic, ontological, cosmological violence.”21 Similarly, students living and learning in conditions of poverty – who are connected to indigenous peoples “through the experience of being oppressed, marginalized, and colonized”22 – can be identified as “neoindigenous”:

Like the indigenous, the neoindigenous are a group that will not fade into oblivion despite attempts to rename or relocate them. The term neoindigenous carries the rich histories of indigenous groups, acknowledges powerful connections among populations that have dealt with being silenced, and signals the need to examine the ways that institutions replicate colonial processes.23

Such colonial processes combine both “internal colonialism” – which leverages “modes of control” including “prisons, ghettos, minoritizing, schooling, [and] policing” – and “external colonialism” – which includes “the expropriation of fragments of Indigenous worlds,”24 as exemplified by the commercialization and exploitation of urban youth culture.25

These trends can also be examined through the lens of “diversity” – conceptualized as “the varied perspectives and approaches […] that members of different identity groups bring.”26 According to U.S. Education Secretary John King, “there’s a case to be made that diversity is not just about trying to expand opportunities for low-income students, but really about our values as a country and to improve education outcomes for all students.”27 Such a perspective is aligned with the so-called “business case for diversity”, which refers to “the need to better understand and find competitive advantage in an increasingly diverse marketplace.”28 Yet in most organizations, “diversity programs aren’t increasing diversity” – largely because those in power resist top-down change.29

In order to realize the potential benefits of diversity within K-12 education – which include not only improved academic performance, but also increased “social and civic engagement, inter-group relations, emotional well-being, and life course trajectories”30 – leaders must work to “support and stabilize” diverse public schools from the bottom up.31 Such an emphasis on engaging community members – including students from low-income households – necessarily requires a comprehensive approach to “inclusion,” which can be defined as “the extent to which individuals can access information and resources […] and have the ability to influence decision-making processes.”32

Phenomena like resegregation, within-school segregation, and academic tracking represent “the inclusion of [diverse] communities on the margins in ways that do not decenter dominance, but actually insulate it.”33 As a result, “inclusivity becomes functionally useless” because it fails to confront “violent normativities positioned as normal.”34 In the face of such injustices, decolonization is not a metaphor.35 Instead, decolonization is defined by “meaningful and active resistance […] Its ultimate purpose is to overturn the colonial structure and realize Indigenous liberation.”36 In other words, in order to achieve freedom it is critical to go beyond decolonizing the mind to take concrete action that leads to more equitable distributions of land, power, and privilege.37 This goal requires a commitment to “processes of healing” that are “not only political and social, but also psychological and spiritual.”38

Equity and edtech

1. Spies et al, 2014
2. Tuck & Yang, 2012
3. Leff, 2002
4. Pinilla-Roncancio, 2015
5. Miller & Weber, 2003
6. Brand et al, 2013, p. 273
7. Dei & Asgharzadeh, 2006, as cited in Emdin, 2016, p. 14
8. Brown v. Board of Education, 1954, § 495
9. Orfield et al, 2014, p. 15
10. Boschma & Brownstein, 2016
11. Orfield et al, 2014, p. 15
12. Kasten, 2014, p. 202
13. Conger, 2005
14. Wolf, 2014, para. 10
15. Kasten, 2014, p. 238
16. Wolf, 2014
17. Freire, 1970, p. 44
18. Dascal, 2009, p. 2
19. Emdin, 2016, p. 13
20. Ladson-Billings, 1991, p. 194
21. Tuck & Yang, 2012, p. 5
22. Dei & Asgharzadeh, 2006, as cited in Emdin, 2016, p. 14
23. Emdin, 2016, p. 14
24. Tuck & Yang, 2012, pp. 4-5
25. Emdin, 2016
26. Thomas & Ely, 1996, para. 6
27. King, 2016, as cited in Deruy, 2016, para. 6
28. Daniel, 2011, p. 31
29. Dobbin & Kalev, 2016, para. 3′
30. Wells et al, 2016, p. 12
31. ibid, p. 34
32. Roberson, 2006, p. 215
33. Samudzi, 2016, para. 4
34. ibid, para. 5
35. Tuck & Yang, 2012
36. Waziyatawin & Yellow Bird, 2013, para. 7
37. Tuck & Yang, 2012
38. Dudley, 2013, para. 11