Around the year 2000, I moved to the UK and began navigating down the open and unchartered waters of my post-graduate degree (it being a self-created research project). A few months into the degree programme, I dove deeply into a great sea of literature that engaged with critiques of education and international development.
During this phase of literary free-diving, many new worlds of thinking, acting and living began to open for me. I found it simultaneously thrilling and disorientating. Yet, the direction it has led me to, this journey of enlivened learning we are on now, feels exactly right.
Since that time in the early days of living in the UK, I have often encountered three terms that are expressed in overlapping ways – de-colonization, unlearning and de-professionalization. It has taken me a long time to understand what these mean and I am still learning, particularly along this journey we are on now. I feel that I can grasp the logic of these terms, intellectually, but it has taken me much longer to be able to grasp what it might mean to experience them.
These last several months, I have noticed many, many different things that are causing me to pause and reflect on how my mind and body have been conditioned and colonized through my education and social upbringing.
As Udi finishes a series of posts on Brazil, I am going to finish a series of posts that explore de-colonization, unlearning and de-professionalization, as I have not only come to understand them, but as I have come to experience them more fully along this journey. The pictures you will see in this post I have taken straight from the internet – images that come from googling ‘unlearning’. I thought this would be an interesting way to represent how others have represented what this term means through imagery. I will put in my own images in future postings on this topic.
This post here is a beginning – that I hope will help to open a series of windows to reflect on how, during our enlivened learning journey, I am unlearning and relearning much of what I was educated to believe, to think, to do and to live — how I am ‘deprofessionalizing’ myself, and how I find that I am becoming increasingly ‘de-professionalized’.
This image comes from a consultancy-related blog: http://franklincovey.com/blog/consultants/durelleprice/2009/02/21/unlearning-101/ — I found it interesting that the first lines of this post use Einstein’s famous quote and how ‘unlearning’ is imperative in the university context: “Albert Einstein, icon of intellect and insight, said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Universities are focused on higher learning when perhaps they should promote a course entitled Unlearning 101.”
First, a little bit on colonization….
The words ‘colonized’ and ‘colonization’ are often reserved for, and orientated towards, different indigenous and minority ethnic groups. During my own schooling, for example, the word colonization was used in ways that referred to the taking over of people, communities (most often indigenous or other minority groups) and land by another outside, foreign force. In other words, we (sort of) learned about the physical aspects of colonization. I say sort of here because our learning exploration on colonization, even as a physical force, was very limited and almost entirely one-sided.
Being taken over by physical force is violent – where the perpetrator and the victim experience violence. During school, I do not remember any point in time when we critically considered the colonization processes, the unjust forms of violence, that Native Americans endured (and continue to endure today). It was something of an inevitable fact that was going to happen, that was meant to happen. It was always downplayed, minimized and cushioned into a formation of knowledge that somehow (implicitly) validated and legitimized the violent taking over, the colonization, of all of the United States of America and the genocidal impacts on the many hundreds of indigenous communities that once covered these lands – that emerged from these lands. The many forms of violence, associated with colonization, that I have learnt so much more about on this journey, is incomprehensible.
This image was used several times in the film ‘Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden’ to help understand the multiple processes of colonization and the dominant understanding of ‘American Progress’ – see other images used in the film here: http://schoolingtheworld.org/film/presskit/photo-gallery/
Since my initial literary free-diving phase when I first came to the UK, I have come to perceive and understand colonization, and the processes of colonization, as not only something that is physical. I now see colonization as mental, emotional, cultural, spiritual, ecological… I also understand colonization as long-lasting, inter-generational – and continuously masked in new forms (I will discuss this more later – but an example of this is the ‘Empire of Money’ phase that the Zapatistas describe and I discussed in a previous post).
Colonization is violence in multiple forms – violence that does not disappear, that has not disappeared and continues to be deeply and traumatically experienced – in North, Central and South America, in Australasia, South Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, Africa, Europe and the Arctic…
Each of the educational initiatives we are visiting along our journey are directly facing previous and continued forms of violence associated with colonization — but, significantly, aside from just facing them, they are creating ways to move beyond them. This aspect to me – this moving beyond is what is most important.
This image comes from Jack Uldrich a ‘global futurist’ blog called Unlearning 101 — http://www.unlearning101.com/fuhgetaboutit_the_art_of_/unlearning-curve/
What moving beyond does is to not only perceive places, other people and ourselves as in deficit, but instead focus on possibility, healing, compassion, community, creativity and imagination. I feel this moving beyond is what we can all learn from, no matter our own background, cultural context, social and educational upbringing.
I really like this quote by Arundhati Roy – it was used on the facebook page of ‘Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden’ — Roy now publishes a great deal of social and eco-justice related writing that is as poetic and engaging as her first (and only) work of fiction, ‘The God of Small Things’
For any of us to move beyond, from what I understand, we must go through de-colonization processes of unlearning and re-learning much of what we have been taught.
My own process of de-colonization is about going to the core of my own assumptions of what I think is true or ‘right’ — for example, about the stories through which I was taught in school (particularly with reference to ‘history’ that is often incredibly one-sided and narrow) and all sorts of aspects of my life, or how I have chosen and will continue to choose to live my life (what is important to me and what I value), particularly my so-called ‘professional’ life.
All of us have to learn to ‘be professional’ to be absorbed into any working system. To get to the point that I was working as a lecturer in academia, I had to unsurprisingly jump through all sorts of professional hoops.
Within the walls of the university, I have often sat through long departmental meetings and reflected on the communication structures that are in place during those hours – how we communicate, the words and the tones that we use, who dictates the flow of communication, the minute and mundane details – typically around illogical administrative expectations – that occupy hours of discussion, the context of where we are actually sitting (inside plain, institutional walls). The air is stale. There is no fresh breath of creative life during these hours. Yet, this is the essence of professionalism. The conduct and criteria carried out during these meetings.
My quest to de-professionalize my so-called professionalized self came long before leaving the institutional halls of academia. I have always pushed boundaries, this is part of who I am, and I am highly sensitive to structures of power and authority. I am sure my parents have much to say on this topic!
This wonderful book, along with several others related to unlearning, is published through Shikshantar: The Peoples’ Institute for Rethinking Education and Development and is freely downloadable here: http://www.swaraj.org/shikshantar/stories_resistance.html
My sensitivity to power also led me to my post-graduate studies which were essentially a critical exploration of power structures within the education and international development fields.
How we each experience and ‘exercise’ power – on each other and on ourselves — and why we do so as well as the effects this (can) has – have been burning questions and interests that have consumed many hours of my life. I use the term ‘exercise’ here as I feel that we all are constantly receiving and exercising power. It is what makes us human. Explorations of power are not only an intellectual exercise for me — in fact, it has been a passion of ethical, moral and even spiritual belief.
There is much about leaving my academic work in the UK and embarking on this journey that is to do with ‘de-professionalizing’ myself, to somehow disconnect with the hierarchical structural centre of academia, whilst still staying connected at the margins.
I want to disentangle myself from the constraints of rationalism that comes through forms of institutional power and authority that I experienced during my time in studying and working in academia.
This logo comes from the ‘Institute of Unlearning’ website: http://www.unlearning.org/home.htm
I want to unlearn the hierarchies of power and legitimacy, particularly around leadership, knowledge and relating, I feel that I placed on myself to be able to survive within the institutionalized system.
I want to experience and learn more about how generosity and hospitality can be a central priority (how it can be offered) that has often been devoid within the academic system.
I want my learning to be transformational, not imposed.
Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educational activist (whose writing is accessible and inspirational) wrote in his most well-known book Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the young generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.
In the academic environment, as in many institutional working environments, leadership decisions, ways of relating and professional conduct most often take rational forms for efficiency and accountability. And, being rational tends to be driven mostly, if not almost entirely, by ourheads. In other words, our hearts tend to be marginalized, if not silenced.
This image comes from the blog ‘All things learning’ — http://allthingslearning.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/unlearning-teacher-learning/
Rather than working only through our heads (as is the dominant form of learning in the educational system, including academia), Udi and I have both struggled to continue allowing our hearts to lead our work, our ideas, our relationships – with students and staff within and outside the walls of the university.
As the university becomes increasingly bureaucratized and corporatized, there is very little space for anything beyond teaching-learning relationships that are based on efficiency. Thus, teaching-learning relationships that are based on co-creativity, generosity, curiosity, hospitality are becoming increasingly rare.
When we each learn through and make decisions with our hearts (rather than only our heads), there is more life. What I have experienced in each of the places we have visited over these last 7 months – is that learning, relating and leading is prioritized as much with the heart, the hands and the home —- as the head. This is because learning is about connecting first and foremost – connecting between theory and practice, connecting to a deep sense of self with community and the land and all of its beings.
It is a somewhat brave step for me (part of the de-professionalizing process I think) to open up personally on this topic. I feel slightly timid, like I am about to jump into cold water. I know the water will be refreshing and rejuvenating, but it is still somehow intimidating. However, I feel it is important for my own un-learning.
If you are still reading at this stage, thank you! I’d love to hear comments and feedback — and even more, to hear about your own experiences of resistance in your professional life, or your own un-learning, de-colonizing or de-professionalizing processes!
This image comes from a blog – ‘artsyville’ — posting March 23, 2009 ‘an odd kind of math’ — http://artsyville.blogspot.com.au/2009_03_01_archive.html