Decolonizing Education Through Dismantling Hierarchies Part 2B: Dismantling Building and District-Wide Hierarchies

Now that you know how I define “activist” and “leader” here are some examples of ways that I have worked to dismantle hierarchies with my community!


I have two specific examples I want to address here. I’m not going to name names, but people familiar with the circumstance will likely know who I’m talking about. This isn’t an attack on their moral character, but I can only speak to what I know, and using concrete examples is helpful for me in both giving explanations and seeking to understand. First, I want to address my school hierarchy.



The principal of my school is a white male. I’m pretty sure he hits every single point of privilege that exists: white, male, cisgender, straight, Christian, educated, citizen, English speaker, able-bodied, middle-aged, middle class… I’m probably missing some. On top of all of that, he’s the principal and has been at our school for nearly 20 years. He’s won a lot of awards and received a lot of recognition. Some view him as a leader on racial equity because our school has done a “good job” of “closing opportunity gaps.” (Makes a mental note to write a blog on her belief that “successfully closing opportunity gaps” is code for limiting access to education for Black and Brown kids since the gap is measured by standardized test scores.) Oh, I guess it’s not really a mental note if it’s published. Oopsy!


My principal really prides himself on his professionalism and objectivity. When I first started teaching at my school, I was impressed too. I didn’t really have to work with him much, so I respected that he left me alone to teach the way I wanted to. I took that as him respecting my role as a professional in the classroom. But then… I started acting more. I joined the Building Leadership Team and the Racial Equity Team – each of which he chairs. He also chairs several other leadership teams and frequently attends PLC (professional learning community) meetings. He sends a lower-level administrator as a surrogate to the PLCs he’s unable to attend. In these PLCs, he assumes a role of authority generally by communicating some mandate or policy. From what I hear from other educators, this is kind of the norm in other buildings. If I apply the definitions of leadership that I have outlined so far, I wouldn’t consider him a leader. I think it’s fair to say he does inspire some educators, but the question is, “Inspire them to do what?” He inspired me to write this critique of his leadership!


Let’s first unpack his “professionalism and objectivity.” He is often criticized by educators and students for being too cold and stiff. This makes me think of Freire who says, “To deny the importance of subjectivity in the process of transforming the world and history is naive and simplistic. It is to admit the impossible: a world without people.” One responsibility of the Building Leadership Team is to make budget decisions. Whenever we had to discuss cuts to positions, he would always remind us to talk in terms of positions, and not people. In one particular instance, we were deciding which of two elective offerings to cut. An argument was made for one over the other because the individual teaching the class was ineffective. My principal again reminded us to speak in terms of the position, not the individual. This focus on objectivity dismissed the human roles being played. One teacher was loved and effective, one was not. The decision really could have gone either way as both were art programs.


Limiting a critical discussion of the human element to our problem was indeed “naive and simplistic.” It was also when I started to see the facade fail and I began to question his leadership. At the time, I only pushed back as much as I felt comfortable. It was before I had my network of support, and there was only one other person in the meeting who felt it was wrong: our school librarian.


The fact that he shut down our attempts to see the humanity in the problem leads to my second unpacking. It involves his determination to “lead” nearly every single committee and team in the building. Unconditional love for humanity results in trust of our fellow human beings. Freire also says, “The convert [from oppressor to ally] who approaches the people but feels alarm at each step they take, each doubt they express, and each suggestion they offer, and attempts to impose his ‘status’ remains nostalgic of his origins [as an oppressor].” Not trusting a group of professionals to solve a problem through unrestricted dialogue is oppression.


As mentioned, our school has won awards for closing opportunity gaps, specifically in math. This has been achieved by funneling kids, mostly kids of color, into “extra math help” based on standardized test scores. This can happen during the regular school schedule, which means they miss out on an elective, or after school, which means they miss out on enrichment programming, sports, or family time. Kids are also frequently pulled in from lunch, which is their only opportunity to get outside and play with peers during the day. The worst part? Less than 70% of our students pass the math tests, and the rate for kids of color is about half that.


During a Racial Equity Team meeting, I brought this up. I expressed how, despite receiving awards for closing opportunity gaps, our practices were in fact perpetuating racial inequalities by limiting access to enriching programs to our students of color. By this time, I had built my network of support, which included the school librarian I mentioned earlier, Jeff Treistman. Jeff and I attempted to have a discussion about this with other RET members, most of whom agreed. My principal said, “We will not have a discussion about the math department,” and completely prohibited the conversation.


Are you ready? I’m going to quote Freire again. It won’t be the last time, either. “Within an object situation of oppression, antidialogue is necessary to the oppressor as a means of further oppression – not only economic, but cultural: the vanquished are dispossessed of their word, their expressiveness, their culture. Further, once a situation of oppression has been initiated, antidialogue becomes indispensable to its preservation.” It’s not just in this circumstance that he shuts down dialogue. He frequently shuts down dialogue between colleagues. He encourages one-on-one conversations and closely monitors large group conversations. This is the sign of an oppressor, not a leader. This is a hierarchy.


It’s unfortunate that he shutdown dialogue in the room that day. Well, unfortunate for him, because it encouraged Jeff to take it to our community – the Seattle Education Association. “…human beings in communion liberate each other.” Yes, Freire. With support from me and other members of our community, Jeff wrote, and our union passed, a resolution calling for a moratorium on standardized testing. He then took it to our national community by writing and winning a resolution in support of his moratorium at the National Education Association’s representative assembly! Hierarchies can be dismantled from inside or outside pressure. You just have to find your strength, the community, and the weak spot in the barrier.



The place where hierarchies have taken the strongest hold is school district offices. In Seattle Public Schools we have organizational charts several pages long indicating who reports to whom. We have codified hierarchies in our district. People in lower ranks generally don’t question or challenge the decisions being made by people higher up the org. chart, especially if that person has an EdD or PhD after their names.


My work in dealing with the district hierarchy has been on implementing an ethnic studies program. Decolonization is at the root of ethnic studies, and I’m arguing in this series that can’t happen until we begin to dismantle hierarchies. One way that I, personally, have worked to do this is by working to overcome my imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is that voice in your head that tells you you’re not capable or experienced enough. This can be caused by people actually saying these things to you, or by your own insecurities. Either way, if you know the answers, speak up! Push back that voice, whether it’s internal or external. Doctorate degrees are wonderful, and I don’t want to diminish the work that’s put into them, especially by people of color – which I’ll talk more about in part 3 – BUT there is more to knowledge than formal education. My expertise in ethnic studies comes from my formal education and my personal life experiences. One is not more valid than the other.


I’m frequently identified as a “leader” by my peers. I guess there is some truth to that, but when I’m asked to lead workshops or professional development sessions on how to be an education leader, my response is, “I don’t know how to teach people to speak up.” That’s literally all I’ve done to earn the title of “leader.” I have been in situations in which I’m in the room with a group of administrators that are fairly high up in the org. chart who have had no idea how to begin to think about a K-12 ethnic studies program, and many of them still aren’t even clear on what ethnic studies is. They would virtually wring their hands not knowing what to do, and I would say, “Well, what if we… “ fill in the blank. They would look at me and agree it’s a great idea. After a while, it got to the point where they stopped the hand wringing and looked straight to me and other educator leaders for answers. Where they left a hole, I was able to fill it with the knowledge I gained from my life experiences and education. If I had given in to my imposter syndrome, I don’t think we’d be where we are right now with our ethnic studies program.


Now, here’s the key. I need to take us back to that whole idea of holding the community in our heart. The only reason I was in the room with those administrators in the first places is because of the working relationship and friendship I have with other education leaders and my local chapter of the NAACP. The education chair, Rita Green, elevated my voice and position to be in that room. Without her advocacy, I would be seen as “just a teacher,” and her trust in me helped to break through that imposter syndrome. Being in community with Rita and the NAACP empowered me to speak up and gave me a sense of obligation to be an activist within that community, which meant not sitting on the sidelines.


Because of my community, because I faced my fear and insecurities, and because I used my life experiences and education I was able to dismantle a huge hierarchical structure to push through an ethnic studies initiative. In turn, I brought my community of educators with me. I built a team of educators, mostly educators of color, to work together to build the foundation, and now the curriculum for our program. I believe this team, which consists of classroom teachers, instructional assistants, and family support workers, stays committed to this work because we are a community. I wasn’t some administrator hiring them to do a job. I came to them as a peer who genuinely respects and values them and asked them to join a community. This is a skill that many administrators lack because they are still in that space of “I as an individual in an organization have authority.”


In no way do I believe that I have permanently dismantled a hierarchy. I did enough damage to it, though, to create an educator led fight for racial justice that is supported by our broader community of parents and community at large. I recognize that there is still a fight ahead of us, but our community continues to grow all the time. We are gaining recognition locally and nationally. The educators doing the work are becoming leaders in their own right because they have felt empowered by this community. I think that’s what I am most proud of, and what I take with me into the next phase. It’s also been the most valuable lesson for me on the absolute necessity of community building to dismantle hierarchies and decolonize education.


Decolonizing Education Through Dismantling Hierarchies Part 2A: Dismantling Building and District-Wide Hierarchies

So… I know I promised you a “four part series,” and I’m going to keep that promise, but I had to chunk out part 2 because it got kind of long. I realized that I can’t encourage people to go out and be teacher activists without explaining how to protect themselves first and what it even means to be an activist. So, part 2A in my four part series is some theory and soul searching. It builds on part one of the series by defining what I believe a leader is and then expounding on the idea of unconditional love of our community as a foundation for activism. Part 2B will give concrete examples of how I’ve worked to dismantle hierarchies with my community of teacher activists!



I’m going to start off part two by bringing it back to the title of this website, “Teacher Activist.” I reluctantly call myself an activist. I didn’t set out to be an “activist.” I went into teaching because of my experiences as a student and a woman of color. I knew I wanted to provide a different experience for students like me, but I wouldn’t have called it “activism” when I first started out.


The more I act, though, the more I consider myself an activist. I can trace it back to my junior year of high school when I found out I was pregnant. I was being told I needed to get married, go on welfare, go to the special school for expectant mothers, get an abortion, give my child up for adoption, and worst of all, from my mother I was told, “Your life is over.” My mom was also a teenage mother, so I realize she was speaking from a place of regret. She often made comments that she gave up her dreams to raise us kids. That’s when I made a conscious decision to break whatever cycle I was born into. That was when I began to be an activist.


I guess it took me so long to realize it, because we have this image of what an activist is. I always thought it looked like this, antifa or like this dolores-huerta-signature. I’m here to tell you, though, that activism can happen in small moments and actions. It can happen when you decide to not be a statistic, when you examine and transcend personal biases and allow yourself to love your students unconditionally, and when you refuse to teach from the textbook because you know it’s wrong. It can happen when you tell your administrator, “No. I will not align my professional growth goals to standardized test outcomes because it is racist and immoral,” which is based on a true story. Challenging and dismantling hierarchies can be as covert as ignoring building-wide policies, or as overt as challenging a high ranking district official when they lie in a school board meeting – also true stories.



I’ll be referencing what I learned from the XITO scholars a lot for a while because it makes so much sense to me, and it’s an affirmation of my Mexican roots. Tezcatlipoca means “smoking mirror,” and refers to the need to constantly reflect on your actions, your beliefs, and your positionality. If you don’t practice Tezcatlipoca, you probably shouldn’t be an activist – and you definitely should not be an educator. Both positions are positions of leadership and require a sense of humility and force that compliment one another. I believe these two things generally work in opposition of one another, and Tezcatlipoca helps mediate them.


Many of my colleagues tell me they are inspired by my ability to stand fearlessly in opposition to what I believe is unjust. This paints a picture of me that doesn’t match my own self image. What they describe looks kind of like this UN-Wonder-Woman,

but my mind’s eye sees something more like this me.

I think this perception I have of myself is the key: I don’t do what I do for personal gain, and I’m willing to get into trouble or lose my job. Yes, there are risks in challenging the structures, and I believe this is the difference between a “teacher” and a “teacher activist.” Not only am I willing to take the risks, I feel it’s my responsibility as an educator and an activist to do so.


Part of my practice of Tezcatlipoca is finding trusted advisors that I can share my insecurities and vulnerabilities with. The realization that I am a teacher activist was not an easy one to accept. As I said, I didn’t do this to be an activist. I wanted to make life easier for students like me. I wanted to empower them with knowledge I didn’t have access to when I was coming up. One conversation I continue to have with a good friend and colleague, Marquita Prinzing, is my reluctance to step into the spotlight. I resisted it so hard. Because of the love I have for my students, education, and racial equity, I couldn’t help but get involved when the opportunities arose, but I never meant to be here today. That’s the humility. The force that was born of Tezcatlipoca is called Huitzilopotchtli, the hummingbird on the left mentioned in part one of this series. Through Tezcatlipoca I realized that acting from the heart includes acts of bravery. I’m still uncomfortable in the spotlight, but Tezcatlipoca helps me realize that I have already made huge changes and being in the spotlight will help me teach others how to do the same.


If you are not practicing Tezcatlipoca, you aren’t acting from the heart. Watch the leaders you trust and admire. Listen to the words they use: we or I? love or authority? organizations or humanity? Individual or community? We, as a community, should always be using the language of love for humanity. If I talk about my authority as an individual in an organization, I am creating hierarchies, not dismantling them. Huitzilopotchtli: if your actions don’t say, “I do this because it’s right, not because someone will like it, or I will get recognition for it, or because I’m afraid to lose my job/standing/recognition/respect,” you are in no place to lead anyone.



Before I start giving examples of the barriers created by hierarchies in my building and district I want to go back to and emphasize the importance of leading in and with a community. My activism as a teacher skyrocketed when I became involved with my education association. It was Marquita who recruited me for a new project she was hired to launch which ended up to be The Center for Race and Equity. Through that I was connected to other educator activists and agitators, and next thing I know, activism is my life. Although it’s stressful at times, I’ve never felt more fulfilled.


In addition to a network of emotional support, mostly from women of color, The Center and my work within the union have created a safety net. Because I love my work, my students, and my colleagues, I know that when I stick my neck out, they will be there to support me. Small acts of activism can be carried out by an individual, but only if they carry the community with them in their heart.


This brings me to my next point. As an educator, other educators and families of students are my community. Too often educators are told they have no power, and we jump through hoops to please our principals because we’re afraid that rocking the boat will make our lives miserable. It could very well do that, but as an individual, you will be able to withstand whatever your administrator hurls at you as long as you have the support of the community. Here’s where love of humanity and dismantling hierarchies comes in. “Other educators” refers to any person that cares for children. Educators are paraprofessionals, custodians, counselors, food service workers, bus drivers, tutors, parent volunteers, and administrators. When we see ourselves as a collective community we are stronger.


When the families of our students see and feel that we love their children unconditionally, they will move mountains for us. I’ve seen it happen. When Seattle educators went on strike in 2015 we saw families rally around us and even go so far as to create a support network called Soup for Teachers, which currently functions as an education advocacy group. And in order to really break down hierarchies, we must include families as educators. They are our students’ first educators, and when they come to us we are building on the cultural wealth their families have passed down to them. We are educator activists.


Come back next week for Part 2B where I’ll share stories of how we are working to dismantle hierarchies in our building and district.

Decolonizing Education Through Dismantling Hierarchies: a Four Part Series

Image source:



I don’t think there would be much opposition to the following statement:


Social hierarchies of any kind result in oppression. Period.


When I teach my sixth graders about ancient history, one of the first concepts I introduce them to is that of the social hierarchy compared to the ideas of tribalism and egalitarianism. Haters will say, “But, wait! Ancient tribal societies were not egalitarian!” Yes, I know this, that’s why I said, “tribalism and egalitarianism.” While I know that many tribal structures include some type of a hierarchy, it is much less rigid than the hierarchies created by larger civilizations.




Francis Fukiyama, in his book The Origins of Political Order; From prehuman times to the French Revolution, does a great job of breaking down the differences between tribal and state governments. He does this mostly by describing the different ways in which personal property was valued, regulated, and shared. In tribal societies, personal property, mostly in the form of land holdings, was strategically traded between tribes, usually through marriage arrangements. Using this method required a sense of community and trust between different tribal governments. Yes, there were gender hierarchies and class hierarchies, but there was still a sense of family and community because of the cooperation between tribes. The leaders were in community and were familiar with the community, if not liked or loved by them. Leaders who lost the trust of the community lost power.


Fukiyama compares three ancient cultures and outlines when and why they went from tribal governments to state governments. All three, China, India, and Europe, started with tribal governments. The shift to state government came in waves in China because the tribal organization was so deep and the geography so wide. India remained largely tribal until it was invaded and occupied by European nation-states. Interestingly, Fukiyama points out that Europe’s transformation was the swiftest and strongest because of Christianity. Individualism, as discussed in the last blog post, and adherence to law are two important tenets of Christianity, especially after Reformation, and since early monarchies and Church leadership were virtually inseparable, Church law was law. This created a shift in how personal property was defined. It became more of an individual ownership and not something that is shared within community or to build alliances between communities. It laid the foundations for capitalism and individual gain over the common good. It also set the leaders apart from the people. Power was transferred to wealth instead of community agreements.


Through invasion, occupation, and colonization, other cultures eventually took on similar state governments creating the social hierarchies we are familiar with today: capitalist oligarchies, totalitarian dictatorships, constitutional monarchies, democratic socialism, etc. Those are just the state hierarchies. There are still the gender and class hierarchies, and we’ve added racial hierarchies. There are institutional hierarchies as well. I want to address the last few here, but as you can see… it’s going to take a while, which is why I’ve split this topic into a four part series.




In part one of this series, I want to begin to argue that decolonizing our schools can’t happen unless we actively work to dismantle these hierarchies. No, I’m not asking you to dismantle capitalist oligarchies (though I believe if we do what I am suggesting, that will be a natural consequence). I am asking you to actively work to dismantle racial, class, gender, and institutional hierarchies in the classroom, in your school building, and in your school district. Until we do, we are still colonizing our students and each other. I will start with the classroom. Part two will address school and district-wide hierarchies, part three will address higher education, specifically in school administration preparation programs, and part four will be a reflection on how I’ve worked to dismantle hierarchies in my classroom.


Paolo Friere tells us that liberation requires a “praxis.” This can be defined as “theory in practice.” Recently, I learned from the leaders of the Mexican-American studies program in Tucson that the Aztec word for this is Huitzilopochtli, which translates to “hummingbird on the left.” It is taken to mean acting from the heart. Friere writes at length about what it takes to be a revolutionary leader. He says, “… but leaders who deny praxis to the oppressed thereby invalidate their own praxis… Revolutionary praxis is a unity, and the leaders cannot treat the oppressed as their possession.” How can leaders act from the heart if they are not only detached completely from the people they are trying to lead, but also feel they know better than the people? I, and Friere, argue that it’s impossible. That’s not leadership. That’s oppression, and the only way to avoid it is to dismantle the barriers created by hierarchies.


In the classroom, we are the leaders. We can further oppress our students, or lead them to praxis through education. I recognize that there are many of us in the profession who are box checkers. We show up, we check off the boxes for the standards we covered, and check off the boxes in our scope and sequence map, we collect a paycheck, and take our summer vacations. This is my official call to action: if you are this educator immediately cease and desist this practice! If you work with educators like this immediately organize educators who believe this is immoral and push those educators to immediately cease and desist their practice! Box checking educators are funneling our children into prisons, poverty, drugs, streets, and police brutality. Box checking educators are responsible for the rise of fascism in the United States. Box checking educators are killing public education.


We need to return to tribal values of community and cooperation through praxis and egalitarianism in our own practice. We must recognize that our students, regardless of age or ability, come into our classroom with an astounding wealth of knowledge, and for most of their lives, they have been told that their knowledge is not valid or invaluable simply because of their age. I am saying that this is a hierarchy; an institutional hierarchy, yes, because a classroom is part of a larger institution, but also an hierarchy based on age and perceived knowledge. I’ll go deeper into the perceived knowledge hierarchy in part three.




One of the first messages I give my students is that I see them. I see their lived experiences, and I value them as educators. I explain that I am at the front of the room only because I have the privileges of age and formal education, and that in no way makes me or my knowledge superior to theirs. I also share how much I love to learn with and from my students.


Dismantling hierarchies in the classroom requires a complete shift on the definition of knowledge. The human brain is wired to perceive the world and process knowledge through culture. From the moment we are born, how we interpret our experiences is painted by the culture we’re born into. Unfortunately, when we go to school to learn, we are expected to check those cultural perceptions at the door and allow teachers to fill our heads with the perceptions of white American cultural “knowledge.” Our brains become colonized.


I think it’s impossible for every educator to learn the culture of every student that is in front of us, and the beautiful consequence of dismantling age and knowledge hierarchies is that we don’t have to! Our students have what Dr. Anita Fernández refers to as “cultural wealth.” They bring with them all of the cultural knowledge and experiences of their communities. Learn from them! Don’t invalidate their knowledge! Utilize it! Value it! Teach your students the value of having diverse perspectives when solving problems and analyzing their world. You are there to give them resources and guide them. You’re not giving them wisdom, knowledge, or even a lens through which to see the world. They came to you already equipped with those things, but part of our own education has told us that they are ill equipped if it’s not the white way of doing things, and that children aren’t sophisticated enough to already have skills that we deem valuable.




One thing I do think all educators have the responsibility to do is love their students. I love my students. I love who they are when they come to me. I love what they teach me and the joy they bring to my life. I love when they’re challenging and they push me to be a better human being. In order to fully dismantle hierarchies in the classroom we must love our students unconditionally. I have literally been laughed at in the past for suggesting this. It goes against what we’re taught – to be objective. Here’s another call to action: if you can’t love your students, get another job! If you know educators that don’t love their students, counsel them out of the profession!


If we don’t love and value our students, they won’t trust us as leaders. This is where we lose our kids. This is how we are funneling them into prisons or worse. Love your students! Be a valuable member of the classroom community. Don’t be a figurehead lecturing from behind a desk. Be with them. Learn with them. Commune with them. It’s not some hippy bullshit. It’s how we are meant to engage as human beings. Teaching and learning are part of the human experience, not some sterile, objective process.


Through unconditional love we can fully value the cultural wealth that our students bring to us and each other. When we love our students we see and build on their humanity, which is my goal as an educator. I’m not here to check boxes or prepare students for “college and beyond.” My goal is to grow human beings who value their humanity and the humanity of others. We’ve lost sight of that in education for a lot of reasons, mostly corporate ed reform, but that’s a blog post for another time.


By practicing unconditional love and valuing the humanity of our students we are modeling the kind of human beings we want them to be – not become! Emphasis on now. Part of dismantling the hierarchy is showing students that their cultural wealth can be put to use now, not when they graduate or turn eighteen. They can change their world now. In kindergarten? Change how they treat one another. In 6th grade? Change school policies. In 11th grade? Change laws and perceptions in their community. Dismantling classroom hierarchies through loving and valuing our students means empowering them to be change makers now, not after it’s too late.


Come back next week for part two of Decolonizing Education Through Dismantling Hierarchies: Dismantling Building and District-Wide Hierarchies

Christianity and Colonization

The next few blog posts will probably be on the subject of decolonizing education. It’s the summer; the time when educators do most of our learning and reflecting. I’m currently in Tucson, Arizona, where I have the great privilege of learning from the educators of the banned Mexican American/Raza Studies program. I’m learning a lot about myself and how colonization has created a need for Ethnic Studies and the need to decolonize the way we teach in our schools.


I chose this topic to write about today because … you know how sometimes you have these ideas or conversations where you know you’re on to something, but you can’t quite see it clearly, and then it’s like the stars align and new knowledge lights the darkened path you’ve been walking? That’s the experience I had today. It’s like an affirmation, or the glue you were looking for to put the puzzle in your brain together. It also makes you feel less crazy, because someone else “gets it.”


In my Google drive, I have all of these Google docs with ideas for blog posts. Is that what “good” bloggers do? Maybe it’s just me… Anyway, I had one with notes on writing about the role Christianity plays in colonizing the minds of the oppressed, particularly in Chicanx people. The only thing my notes said were, “Christianity is the shield. Colonization is the sword.”


In a workshop today led by Dr. Elias Serna, I was introduced to this quote by Eduardo Galeano:


“Vinieron. Ellos tenían la Biblia y nosotros teníamos la tierra. Y nos dijeron: ‘Cierren los ojos y recen.’ Y cuando abrimos los ojos, ellos tenían la tierra y nosotros teníamos la Biblia.”


“They arrived. They had the Bible and we had the land. They spoke to us: ‘Close your eyes and pray.’ And when we opened our eyes, they had the land and we had the Bible.”


Dr. Serna asked, “What does this mean?”


I raised my hand and said, “Christianity is the shield and colonization is the sword,” and we had this moment of connection in which we both knew we were on the same thought plane.


Dr. Serna began this section of his lecture almost apologetically, because it seems to be a taboo topic, but it’s something I’ve always struggled with personally and in my teaching practice. How can we have a truly critical, liberatory pedagogy without critically analyzing the role that religion, specifically Christianity, played – and continues to play – in colonizing our minds?


Currently I am an atheist. I say, “currently,” because I recognize that I am a reflective human being and that ideologies and belief structures should change when we are presented with new knowledge. One reason I am an atheist is because I learned the history of the genocidal roots of Christianity, not just in Mesoamerica, but all over the world. I could not reconcile the act of being Christian with the fact that Christianity justified physical genocide, cultural genocide, femicide, and slavery. Not to mention the killing of science and reason. Is there a “cide” word for that? If not, I’ll invent one here: cognocide.


The anti-intellectualism coming from the right is a continuation of this cognocide. People have abandoned their humanity because the cognocidal arm of Christianity continues to take its toll. From a decolonizing standpoint, Christianity has taught us to turn away from the knowledge and wisdom of our ancestors in favor of blind faith in a religion that tells us a mythical being holds all knowledge and truth, and that this being’s version of the “truth” includes all of the violence previously mentioned.


The legacies of Calvinism and reformation – meritocracy and individualism – have destroyed indigenous ideals of community, family, and collectivism. These beliefs open the door wide open to justifying the dehumanization of “others,” including the poor, and we are currently seeing it being used as a shield for the sword of abducting children from their parents and denying refuge to people seeking our help.


I struggle with this in my practice, because I believe with all of my heart in critical consciousness and teaching for liberation, and my students, the majority of whom are people of color, consistently rank their Christian, Muslim, or Jewish faith as an integral part of their cultural identity. How do we critique the role of religion in the ongoing process of colonization and oppression in such a way that does not further marginalize and oppress these students?


My hope in writing is that I never come across as having all of the answers. I hope that my writing leads readers down their own path of introspection, and that’s the purpose of this post. If we aren’t including a critical analysis of the role religion plays in colonization, specifically Christianity, are we doing it right?

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.