Personal story: life background of activism
- My Grandfather was industrialist, he came to Canada from England and started a plastic factory in the 60s, this means that my social position in settler colonialism is property-class settler. This means I’m not descended from workers who were forced by capitalist dispossession to come to Canada to sell their wage labour in order to survive. Nor am I descended from First Nations people who were dispossessed of this land by capital moving into this territory to enclose it, make it private property, and enter it into a global economic system based on the production of commodities for markets. Rather, I’m descended from the people who owned, controlled, and profited from that system. That puts me into a particular position of responsibility to engage in lifelong learning and activism to resist those forms of dispossession and fight for economic democracy and indigenous repatriation of land and sovereignty.
- Marxist critique of capitalism: dispossession of the commons from workers, creation of private property and wage-relations of production, surplus value, primitive accumulation, crisis of over-accumulation.
- Imperialism: dispossession of new lands and peoples to expand the flow of capital into new spaces, forestalling capitalist economic crisis
- Settler-Colonialism: Within the broader global process of imperialism: controlling a new territory politically and economically, forcing the removal/disappearance/genocide of existing societies and economies, occupying it with settlers, in order to exploit the territory economically.
- So I started learning about this structural analysis when I went to university and took anti capitalist courses. I became a student movement leader and got elected to the highest possible student position at the university, on the board of directors and all that. We did campaigns against university privatization, budget cuts, neoliberalism. I also got involved in the anti-globalization movement and helped organize G20 protest actions in Toronto. The anti-globalization movement was a broad affinity of anti-capitalist, environmentalist, and indigenous sovereignty movements seeking to end the power of corporate globalization and global capitalism, and in its place create a society based on economic democracy and indigenous sovereignty and reciprocity. So from a young age I was dedicated to this anti-imperialist work. And then in grad school I joined the BDS movement. This is the movement, led by indigenous Palestinian people, calling on the world to boycott, divest, and sanctions against Israel in order to end the Israeli occupation and genocide of Palestine. I engaged in campaigns, and wrote open letters, eliciting a lot of backlash from like macleans magazine, in solidarity with my friends who were Palestinian, with Anishinaabe activists, and with anti-zionist jewish activists. When I got to Saskatchewan I was in relationship with radical anti-colonial activists, so for example I was helping out a bit with the justice camp and I was able to ask, “hey, do you want me to write this op-ed,” and my friends were able to say, “yes, that really helps our strategy”
- So the point is that these movements all come out of deep and lifelong relationships of settler-indigenous solidarity, they don’t come out of the blue. Ever since I was 19 I’ve been constantly involved in these types of movements and it’s a lifelong driving identity, not an incidental practice.
- So how that relates to education is, my goal in the education program has been extremely explicit and front-of-mind for me since the beginning: how do I take this anti-imperialist, anti-globalization, postcolonial, trans-national goals and translate them into a teaching practice. A teaching practice that is aimed at increasing human freedom through resistance to capitalism, imperialism, settler colonialism, neoliberalism.
One key learning in this course for me has been the opportunity it offered me to work through systematic curriculum deconstruction. I loved writing the second essay and I think it’s one of the best products I created in my whole education degree. All through my internship I was deeply frustrated by the History 20 curriculum. As I read through the things I was required to teach, I would be like “ah that’s not true!” Or “ah that’s such a liberal lie!” But I was so disoriented during internship that I didn’t know how to unpack it, deconstruct it, break it down, and rebuild it into a course that wasn’t a total lie. So the second essay gave me the opportunity to work through this problem systematically and figure out, OK how would you approach this in a way that isn’t totally bogus. And basically what I figured out was that if and when I teach these courses by myself, I will take the curriculum, and I won’t worry about the specific curriculum topics, like I won’t get into the weeds and go “ok this week we have to learn about what Tsar Nicholas said to Kaiser Wilhelm and why that caused world war 1” or “this week we have to learn about why Woodrow Wilson created a league of nations to protect peace for the world.” I won’t get into those lies, what I’ll do instead is I’ll literally just take the overall topics of the units: world war 1, world war 2, Cold War, international cooperation, and I’ll build a course that focuses on the perspectives of the marginalized and oppressed in history. As I concluded in my essay – the lies inherent in the liberal discourses of history, these work quite intentionally to obscure and hide the capitalist interests that drive history and control our lives. So telling a counterhegonomic narrative can work, in turn to expose those interests and increase students’ historical sophistication, opening their minds to why radical and revolutionary and anti-colonial movements were necessary in history and are still necessary today.
Another key learning in the course for me has been Katia’s distinction between curriculum as process and curriculum as praxis. For a long time in the ed program I was grappling with something like this: “ok, equitable and inclusive classrooms are a crucial goal. Anti-racism and identity politics, politics of representation, are a crucial goal. But on their own, they fall badly short of emancipation, because they essentially focus on the individual, and they focus on culture. What I mean by that is they focus on transforming ideas, transforming cultural discourses, belief systems, attitudes, citizenship practices – for example, striving to help students develop more tolerant, more inclusive, more diverse beliefs, or become more active citizens for social change. And those things are crucial, but not sufficient, for human emancipation. Because they are fundamentally liberal ideas. Because in the marxist-leninist tradition you would say they lack a political economy or a theory of revolution. Or another way to put this is to say their theory of social change is that if a great many individuals just change their beliefs, or learn to love each other and unpack their biases, or become more active citizens, then society will improve and we’ll move towards greater justice. But you could critique this. You could say that it’s based on what Herbert Marcuse calls an “ideology of social harmony” – the idea that we can change society through fundamentally harmonious processes. This sidesteps or avoids the antagonisms of capitalism and the dialectical process that is necessary to overcome a capitalist, imperialist world order. It essentially ignores the fact that these structures won’t be dismantled and revolutionized without somehow tackling the deep, foundational material systems on which they are built. And that takes real confrontation, not harmony. SO I would argue this identity politics-only approach is limited in that it misses a marxist-leninist critique of capitalism, and a postcolonial or transnational feminist critique of imperialism and colonialism, and therefore has a limited theory of social change in that it doesn’t provide any idea of how to overcome the deeply entrenched, antagonistic, dialectical, materialist structures that create the oppression at which anti-racism takes aim.
SO back to my point – a key learning has been the framework of process versus praxis, when it comes to curriculum. To me, process is the identity politics version: let’s make our classroom spaces inclusive, allow everyone to learn: good, but fundamentally Liberal, and insufficient, because it doesn’t do anything about revolution. So to shift into the praxis piece is crucial. And for me, that has to be taken up in a marxist-leninist, anti-imperialist framing. So I think if you read Freire and Giroux, they super duper help one to re-frame onto this materialist and revolutionary, as opposed to idealist and liberal, theory of social, cultural, political change. Because Freire and Giroux are talking about revolution, not inclusion. It’s extremely explicit: Freire says we don’t’ want to integrate the oppressed into society, we want to help them to transform the structure – and he’s not talking about the cultural structure, or the discursive or attitudinal structure – he’s talking about the material structure, like literally WHO is in charge, HOW is society and the economy being run – WHO owns the industries – he’s talking about creating a distinctly democratic, homegrown, peasant-controlled radical Latin American socialism. And those are the projects and movements that were underway at the time Freire was writing and that unfortunately have been largely beaten back, in successive waves, since the 1970s, through US dirty wars, through coups and overthrowing governments, and through the systemic economic violence of the IMF, of global oil markets, of structural adjustment, of debt crises. So when Freire writes that “freedom cannot unfold in the antagonistic relations between oppressors and oppressed,” he doesn’t mean that the oppressors need to learn to value the knowledge of the oppressed and stop looking down on the indigenous people, or whatever – he means the indigenous people need to take over the whole show. And so something that Freire and Giroux offered to me is the idea that education needs to move into direct participation in expanding the quality of democracy in your society, contesting public spaces, resisting oppression directly. And again, it would be easy to accidentally mis-appropriate this in liberal ways, to imagine that it calls on us to be more vigilant citizens, write more letters to our MPs, question the underlying causes and potential solutions to social problems, join the NDP or Greenpeace, always make sure to vote, even attend disruptive rallies. I see this as kind of the Joel Westheimer model, and its limited, and that’s not how we should take up Giroux: for Giroux and Freire it’s much deeper and much more than that, remember they’re both marxists; it’s about revolutionizing and smashing capitalism down to the fundaments, the distinction is nuanced but crucial. The British marxist cultural critic John Berger says rallies are rehearsal for revolution – and that’s kind of what I’m talking about here.
So this course gave me an opportunity to think about how do we move into praxis with our teaching practice. And I thought about how it has to go beyond critical knowledge- it’s not about high political theory, it’s not about learning the truth about history. Because I had a realization. I reflected on my internship and I said… you know.. the marginalized students understand exactly how the world works. They understand it intuitively because their life experience lays bare the inherent violence of capitalism. I reflected on this in one of my blogs. I had First Nations students who right on day 1 wrote on their “what do you want to learn” slip, they wrote “I don’t want to learn about god damn European monarchs and United Nations and all this garbage, I want to learn about First Nations issues.” She wrote about Dakota access pipeline and the political struggles of her grandfather who was a chief. A sudanese student talked constantly about black lives matter and police violence and it was clear that there was never any doubt for her, and it was never difficult for her to understand, that policing is inherently racist. She might not have used the words “policing is an institution designed to enforce the laws of a capitalist, white-supremacist state and protect the interests of capital, cops are the shock troops of capitalists against their own citizens, and therefore it’s inherent to policing to be racist and kill black people” but she knew it intuitively. She knew that when you look at policing, its clear that it’s us-against-them; that there are two sides in society and police represent one and black people represent another. In other words she doesn’t need to unlearn the myth that police are here to protect everyone and uphold the law.
So the praxis question made me think about – those marginalized students know what’s up, they’re ready and eager to talk about it, so what I need to do is centre my course around their knowledge and building it forward with them. They want to inquire further on these things. The woke students will run with it, and the un-woke students will benefit from it. So I think that giving power to those knowledges first of all is part of praxis because it’s what Freire talks about with problem-posing instead of banking education: oppressed students posing problems about THEIR world and how to solve it. So that’s very exciting. And I’m so excited, looking forward to doing this, to planning my own courses and teaching my own class where I don’t have to adhere to old banking-education ideas about curriculum; where I’m able to build out a curriculum practice based on problem-posing education.
And then the next piece of praxis is where do we go with our problem posing education? how do we make it an education based on what Giroux would call expanding democracy? This course has had me thinking about how IF I create an authentic problem-posing education with my marginalized students, THEN the opportunities for direct engagement in our world will emerge constantly through the work we’re doing together. I don’t know what it will look like but I’m thinking about it.
So to sum up, this course has had me really systematically think through the following: FIRST STEP: don’t teach the lies. SECOND STEP, Do teach to build forward on the knowledge of marginalized students. THIRD STEP, translate this into direct engagement with expanded democracy.