Teaching Places: possibilities and challenges of unsettling education in British Columbia, Canada

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Lamb, Christopher
Place , Education , Unsettling education , Settler colonialism , Colonial geographical imaginary
This dissertation draws together Indigenous, anticolonial, and place scholarship with recent work on ontological pluralism to consider the possibilities and challenges of unsettling place pedagogy in Canada. Recently, scholars have begun to express the decolonizing potential of place-based ontologies. Place in such work is not a static, rigidly bounded site of insular identity and hostility towards diversity, nor ‘the local’ scale in a ‘local-global’ binary. Rather, place gives form and expression to the inter-relationality amongst human and more-than-human co-existents. In this understanding, ontologies, politics, and education do not just take place in place, but through and as place, and place has many lessons to teach non-Indigenous and settler peoples. Such an understanding counters the liberal Western ontology deeply embedded within settler colonialism. Settler societies secure their futurity by reproducing a colonial ontology and geographical imaginary. This imaginary of land as ‘empty’ until given meaning as territory, exploitable resources, nature, and property perpetuates the dispossession and displacement of Indigenous peoples and denies the unique creative and educational powers of every place. This dissertation illustrates the role of formal education in British Columbia, Canada in the reproduction of settler-colonial ontologies, explicating some possibilities and challenges for unsettling education by and through place. I studied the roll-out of a new K-12 curriculum in BC (2015-2019) by undertaking textual analysis of the curriculum documents and conducting interviews with educators (n=17) in the Cariboo-Chilcotin region of BC. Results from these studies demonstrate that, while the curriculum emphasizes localized and Indigenized pedagogies, settler-colonial ontologies continue to pervade curricula and impact pedagogical delivery. However, place substantially influences what and how students might learn. Place fundamentally shapes the on-the-ground realities of education delivery through challenges like rural/urban and regional disparities, remoteness, and underfunding of high-Indigenous population regions. Place also offers opportunities for co-embodied, co-emplaced, and inter-relational learning amongst human and more than human co-existents. I argue the importance of attending to place for unsettling education: countering the settler-colonial tendencies of formal education and developing unsettling, situated, and open ontologies for relationships of co-becoming amongst Indigenous and more-than-human co-existents of and through place.
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