Leigh Patel (2019): Fugitive Practices: Learning in a Settler Colony, Educational Studies, DOI: 10.1080/00131946.2019.1605368.
Paywall: Taylor and Francis
None, really thanks to some information privilege. The article is paywalled, obviously. It doesn’t show up in any of our indexes yet because it’s still an early article, not really published. So I had to do the ILL request manually. At this point, even the ILL request form no longer requires page numbers or anything else that would be hard with a preprint, so the main issue there was knowing that I needed to and could do it.
I submitted the request before logging onto Zoom for an online meeting, and had the article before the meeting was over.
This is a short article that is more a call to action than a traditional scholarly piece. Patel argues that educators and educational researchers should resist and reject dominant narratives about learning (narratives that are infused and sustained by settler colonialism) to see the practices that create real learning — learning that sustains in the face of violent erasure and dehumanization — which are there in what has been erased.
And here we go…
“The stories that individuals tell about themselves, their people, their nation, other people, and success or failure all have material force in the shape and functions that institutions perform in society.” — page 1
Patel starts by giving a whirlwind summary of U.S. history, national-narrative style — one that starts with religious-freedom seeking European settlers and ends with Barack Obama’s election marking the end of racism. In between we touch on westward expansion, American exceptionalism, bootstraps and rugged individuals, melting pots, freedom and this land of opportunity.
Slavery is in there, but mostly as an unfortunate (and past) period of time. Settler colonialism is “rarely mentioned” and flourishes in that silence.
Patel pulls out a few key characteristics of this story: it is linear and progressive — concepts illustrated perfectly by American Progress, a painting so perfect you probably thought of it when you heard “westward expansion” even if you didn’t know what it was called. It is also a story that is built on, names and entrenches what Patel calls “hierarchies of humanness.” And, of course, in the American story we have to start with the fact that these hierarchies are historically and currently racial
“The perpetuation of the myth that race is biological categorically served the purposes of rendering Black, Indigenous and other people of color as belonging to groups that were less than human.” — page 3.
After this introduction, we go on to dig into some of these concepts as Patel establishes the theoretical lenses we need, starting with settler colonialism and education.
ERASE and REPLACE
Drawing on Veracini, 2011 Patel describes these as the “core concept and organizing principle” of settler colonialism, and then she digs deeper into the ways that settler colonialism shapes our understanding of: how we know what we know, what counts as knowing, and the policy and practice built on this shared epistemology. Key elements to this epistemology include:
- Property has value; knowledge is property.
- Achievement is individual.
- Learning is linear and progressive.
Think about how an epistemology that reflects values rooted in land — as an interconnected, living, life-giving, shared thing — would shift our understanding of learning, achievement and knowledge.
So that brings us to the second lens, learning as fugitive.
Patel uses descriptions of the many ways that enslaved peoples shared teaching and learning in secret, when being literate was illegal for them. And while some of this fugitivity is about those concrete practices, some of it is about shared epistemology –how people in this context knew what they knew — starting from a recognition that the truth is not always what is taught, that those national histories that that say some are lesser than and erase others, are not unassailable truth even as they are presented as such.
This fugitivity, this resistance, is not just an individual thing. Dominant cultures are dominant, but they are not the only. There are counternarratives and countercultures that exist at the same time, and these are seen in individuals and communities and in activism and social movements, movements that are frequently sparked and carried forward by young people.
Which brings us to the call to action…
Educational researchers (and educators) should shift away from questions of achievement, grounded in the individualist, property-focused progressivism of settler colonialism, towards questions that focus on what learning really is. And she further argues that the moment we are living in makes this shift essential — “an imperative moment.” She doesn’t deny that this kind of shift could never be neutral or safe and she argues that the risks she’s talking about aren’t romantic, but necessary.
Educational studies scholars can bring in the history, the contextual accuracy of settler state desires, and raise up the authentic and purposeful learning that has been passed from generation to generation. — page 8
Harney, S. & Moten, F. 2013. The undercommons: Fugitive planning and black study.
Mignolo, W.D. 2012. Local histories/ global designs: Coloniality, subaltern knowledges, and border thinking. Princeton University Press.
Sleeter, C.E. 2017. Critical race theory and the whiteness of teacher education. Urban Education, 52(2), 155-169.
- This is paywalled (though it might be available out there perhaps on one of those for-profit scholarly social article places) BUT the author has done an open summary here on her blog.
Veracini, L. 2011. Introducing: Settler colonial studies. Settler Colonial Studies, 1(1), 1-12. (PDF at the Swinburne University of Technology repository)
Wynter, S. 2003. Unsettling the coloniality of being/power/truth/freedom: Toward the human, after man, its overrepresentation — An argument. CR: The New Centennial Review, 3(3), 257-337.
- This is paywalled but it might be out there if you did some searching, I mean maybe. BUT there is an extensive discussion of this article out there on the Always Already critical theory podcast. I haven’t listened to it, but hey, that’s pretty cool.