Decolonizing Curriculum on the 4th of July

On this 4th of July, during a moment in history in which we see massive protests against a racist presidential administration, I have been giving extra thought on how to “decolonize” curriculum through Ethnic Studies. The longer Trump is president, the more urgent this task seems to be. Today, July 4th, 2018, is weighing heavy in my thoughts.


Tomorrow, I fly from Southern California to Tucson, Arizona to attend the XITO Institute. There I will learn about Mexican-American studies and techniques to implement a district wide K-12 Ethnic Studies program in Seattle Public Schools. Part of the language being used in Ethnic Studies circles is “decolonize.” Our aim is to decolonize the curriculum, thereby decolonizing our minds. I often say that people who don’t “get it” are “colonized,” meaning that their culture and social paradigms are dominated by the Master Narrative.


As I sat in a restaurant drinking coffee this morning, I observed patrons wearing their red, white, and blue. Not only white patrons, though. Being in Southern California means that white Americans are the minority. Many of the Latinx patrons were also proudly sporting American colors as our Latinx brothers and sisters are being detained and torn from their families. It’s because they, or their ancestors, came for the “American Dream.” They believe that it’s still possible to do better for their progeny, even if our country is currently in turmoil. I believe the possibility is still there if we fight, and Ethnic Studies is part of that fight. The question I’m wrestling with today is, “At whose expense?”


Recently, a colleague of mine sent me an article entitled, “Decolonization is not a metaphor,” by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang. Most the content of the article I’ve heard of before and considered in my work on Ethnic Studies, but the crux of the argument is that people of color cannot talk about decolonization without realizing that they are colonizers themselves.


The impossibility of fully becoming a white settler – in this case, white referring to an exceptionalized position with assumed rights to invulnerability and legal supremacy – as articulated by minority literature preoccupied with “glass ceilings” and “forever foreign” status and “myth of the model minority”, offers a strong critique of the myth of the democratic nation-state. However, its logical endpoint, the attainment of equal legal and cultural entitlements, is actually an investment in settler colonialism. Indeed, even the ability to be a minority citizen in the settler nation means an option to become a brown settler. For many people of color, becoming a subordinate settler is an option even when becoming white is not.


As a biracial woman, this resonated with me more than the other ways in which colonizers try to deny their colonial status. As a Mexican-American woman, I can claim North American indigeneity, but I also have European ancestry. How do I reconcile this with the fact that, either way, I benefit from colonization of Native American land, people, and culture?


The authors also argue that solidarity amongst “colonized” groups creates a vague sense of oppression that glosses over the fact that we are colonized on stolen land. How do we honor that and decolonize education? My goal is not to “decolonize” in the broad sense, which would require returning land to sovereign Native tribes. That is both beyond the scope of my ability, and something that I won’t claim an expertise for. But decolonizing curriculum? I believe that’s possible, and I want to do it in such a way that recognizes we are all settlers. The fact that I am able to write this blog means that I have some degree of privilege granted to me by settlers. I’m benefitting from colonialism as I criticize the Fourth of July holiday.

My Number One Priority as an Educator

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Below is an essay I wrote for the Teacher of the Year application. My colleagues and I have been accused of “pimping” students of color in order to push our agenda. I guess that is supposed to mean that we don’t actually care about the kids. Fortunately, I think most people who know me would disagree with that; however, I understand the sentiment. I feel that way about white passive progressives who use kids of color to argue in favor of fully funding education. People who argue that money will fix racial disparities don’t understand the history of racial injustice in our country.

The prompt I was asked to respond to is, “What do you consider to be a major public education issue today? Describe why this is important to you. How are you addressing this issue from your classroom?”

Racial equity is the number one educational issue of our time. Every other issue that has come forward is about racial equity, even if nobody likes to admit it. Students of color are impacted to a greater degree by things like funding, tracking, special education, support services, high-stakes testing, culturally responsive teaching, discipline, graduation rates, etc.

As a woman of color, this issue is important to me for what should be obvious reasons, but it is also important to me because I teach in a school with mostly students of color. I see, every day, how racial inequity affects their ability to learn, but most importantly, their ability to see themselves as learners. There are a lot of social inequities that cannot be solved by teaching and school policy alone, but that is no reason for inaction. Educators have a moral obligation to examine their own part in systemic injustice and the school to prison pipeline that is funneling our Black and Brown students straight from our care into the care of the State.

In Washington, there is currently a lot of talk and organizing around fully funding our schools. Many people pin racial equity to this ideal of what fully funded schools look like. Without a racial equity lens to full funds, however, racial equity is only lip service. Fully funding from a racial equity lens includes money set aside to recruit, educate, and retain educators of color. Full funding with a racial equity lens will include professional development on things like critical race theory and racial identity development for all educators. Racially equitable funding will include entire programs and departments in each school district dedicated to racial equity initiatives that are fully staffed with the capacity to serve each building in their district. Unless state funding includes those things and more, schools will not be funded to end racial disparities. The same old policies and programs will perpetuate some of the worst disparities in the nation, the only difference being a larger budget to support them.

I believe in the power of grass roots and collective organizing for change. My number one priority is to interrupt racial injustice in practice and educate my students about the laws and policies that continue to oppress them in their neighborhoods and education system. Our generation cannot have a sustainable solution to this issue unless the generations that come after us are equipped to continue the fight. I do this through creating lessons on social and racial justice, upending the Euro-centric Master Narrative, and teaching the true history of power and oppression in the United States and the colonial world. I want all young people to have the skills to identify and dismantle racial and social injustices wherever they are found. I challenge my students to question every semblance of power and authority and to see themselves as agents of change, with their own power, who are capable of continuing the work that their idols and mentors have begun.

Day 1

This isn’t really a blog post. It’s me making a commitment to create a blog post once a week. If you haven’t read it yet, check out the home page to get an idea of who I am, then check back weekly to learn more!