School was one of the primary tools used by European colonisers of Africa, Australia, Asia and the Americas. While the army was used to quell physical opposition to invasion, school was used to obliterate indigenous culture and brainwash populations into obedience and subservience.

It is important to realise that the content of the curriculum was possibly a smaller factor in the colonising process, than the structure and nature of school in and of itself. School worked inter alia because:

  • it removed children from community life where they would participate in traditional cultural transmission.
  • it age-segregated children so that peer-to-peer education couldn’t function.
  • it limited play, through which children develop confidence and creativity, and critical thinking, as well as leadership and collaborative teamwork skills.
  • it prevented communication and social skills development through forbidding children’s free communication and interaction with each other, keeping them instead mostly silent, and under adult supervision.
  • it enforced competition, preventing collaboration.
  • it deeply undermined each person’s sense of autonomy and empowerment and instilled a deep sense of fear and shame through micro-control practices such as preventing children from following their own physical wisdom around when to eat, drink, move around and relieve themselves, and making all of these most personal functions subject to permission from external authority.
    • All of these features typify the ‘divide and rule’ mechanism of colonial control.
    • It was necessary to use force to make children attend school, since so many indigenous people understood that this kind of ‘education’ was not in their or their children’s best interests. In many places children were forcibly completely removed from their families and communities.

Last but far from least, through the use of curricula, grades and tests, a worldview of ‘one truth’ was asserted, instilling the belief that only one dominant and dominating paradigm could be valid. Every statement, practise, thought and belief became either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Truths associated with the dominant culture became ‘right’ and any competing paradigm became ‘wrong’. We can euphemistically call this education, or we can call it indoctrination, or even more bluntly, brainwashing.

It is important to realise that when ‘decolonisers’ do nothing more than add indigenous games, stories, songs, and factoids to create a ‘decolonised’ curriculum, this is essentially just a re-decoration to disguise the re-deployment of the tool in the hands of a new ‘authority’.

To use the colonising tool of school in the same format, simply changing the content, is to take advantage of the opportunity to enculturate and indoctrinate children according to a new dominant paradigm. This is not actual decolonisation. As the saying goes, you cannot decolonise colonial systems.

True decolonisation of education must drop not only the content, but also all processes and procedures that are inherently oppressive.

Decolonised education must use different systems – systems that are not only respectful, rights-based and humane, but also consent-based. If any degree of manipulation or force ‘must’ be used against children or parents, to get children into school, we must ask why that is necessary if what is offered genuinely meets their needs and is truly for their benefit.

A child forced against their will, away from real every-day environments to sit in silence under adult supervision learning what they are told, is not free, and is actively having their mind and their being colonised – whether the subject of their studies is the glory of England, or the glory of modern day America, or the glory of Post-Apartheid South Africa.

On the other hand:

Self-Directed Education is the closest modern-day equivalent to the education system used by our common human ancestry who walked the earth in the days before the first army was ever even constituted.

Self-directed education is education that inherently supports the critical balances between diversity and cooperation, and freedom and responsibility. It allows for full individuation within a context of community accountability.

It is inherently decolonial.

Je’anna Clements

When it came time for me to educate my children, with my background with racism and understanding of slavery … and how schools were used to promote the concept of white supremacy, I really wanted to choose a school for my kids that was the exact opposite of that. That’s why I was really drawn to democratic schools, Sudbury schools… schools that were really about freedom, about students making their own choice, finding their own path

Dr Anika Prather

SDE truly supports each unique individual in fulfilling their own personal potential whether or not anyone else around them understands the value of their endeavours. It’s an approach to education that can free us from prejudice and cultural bias and truly allow each and every person to Be.

Je’anna Clements

…you can’t reproduce any order of societal oppression based on race, gender, class or sexuality without first destroying each generation of young people as soon as they enter the world.

Dr. Stacey Patton

Marginalized groups have been learning the world for a long time, and without school. Before and throughout this colonialist era, it is the way we learned to manage our food systems and organize communities. It is the way we learned to predict weather and navigate seas. It is the way we learned transportation routes and our stories. It is the way we learned ourselves and others. It is the way we learned who the oppressors really were, despite what they told us about themselves in their schools. It is the way we learned to survive under Western colonialism and imperialism. And it is the way we will thrive beyond it.

Dr. Kelly Limes-Taylor Henderson

Here are six good reads to kick off more exploration on this topic:

And a phenomenal documentary here: