“We were never meant to be squares. We are circles and circles with Nature.”
It was a member of the audience who, with soft urgency, reminded everyone in the room whose heads had swiveled.
I recently had the pleasure of attending the 2019 conference for CACUSS (Canadian Association for College and University Student Services) in Calgary, Alberta. The jury is still out (expected back soon) but this may have been the best conference I have ever attended. I made one of the most fruitful decisions of my career and attended a number of streams on Indigenization and Decolonization and kicked it all off with a session on decolonizing assessment. I am a scholar in educational psychology, a colonial stronghold. I have connection and experience to Indigeneity in a number of personal and private ways, but I have not delved into the literature to any degree worth noting. I made the decision to enter the frame quietly and humbly, with curiosity because it’s respectful to do so in any new frame (cultural, linguistic, historical, or otherwise) but also because I didn’t want to assert in a place of rebuilding and reconciliation.
I wanted to recognize being a settler and decided that the best way to do that was to keep quiet, at least until I knew more.
After the session, I touched this magnetic audience member on the shoulder. “Thank you so much for your thoughts. I really liked what you said.”
He looked deeply into my eyes, all the way down into my arteries, put his hand on his chest, and said thank you.
I think I broke the circle.
I think I broke the circle by asking all those grown-up, measuring questions that The Little Prince (de St - Exupery, 1945) abhorred, the ones that make you think you have learned something about a person when you have learned nothing. Where do you work. What do you do. Have you been doing it for long. I stammered and stumbled, horrendously shy, feeling my betrayal. I made a quick escape shortly after.
Since, I have been overcome and can’t stop thinking about circles.
Colonialism has translated to measuring, showing value, hierarchically developing ways of knowing. It means validating, objectifying, pulling into line, and marginalizing that which cannot be pulled into line. It means creating squares and boundaries and cutoffs and lines.
Decolonizing is to break it all down. To start with yourself, to know where you are and where you have been. Unwinding oppression means that you start with unwinding yourself and recognize your gifts. Decolonizing means that we work first on relationships and recognize the imbeddedness of our lives, our history, and our thinking.
I think that decolonizing is important in Universal Design for Learning. In our modern times, as we search for new solutions to climate change, plastic pollution, pipelines, poverty, and disenfranchisement, we talk about connectedness and we talk about relationships.
I don’t think it goes far enough. If we are going to look at education in terms of universal design, I would like to argue that universal goes beyond “all people who could be in your class” and “all the ways that people can vary”. It stretches outward, way beyond into shared and unshared history, our animalism, our belonging, our radiance, our gifts, and our darkness.
Indigenization can mean that we universalize on the grounds of a shared journey, on the whole being. We can universally design, thinking about circles, on the way our histories and humanness are knitted together. I’m not sure what else to say or how to get there but in offering choice and different ways of demonstrating knowing, I feel that we may have a way, at least in education, to unravel, to recognize our own gifts and in turn, recognize each other’s. Maybe it’s a way education can feel like thank you, right down to our arteries.