Today I wanted to provide a brief crash course in the decolonizing movement in relation to my current work which falls within bioethics and the sociology of education.
“Sociology arises alongside a self-understanding of the world” (Bhambra, 2016)
What is the decolonizing movement?
- Argue that there is a silenced view of the world/world events.
- Engage with different voices that move us beyond pluralism and towards complexity.
- Take seriously the histories of interconnection that have enabled the world to emerge as a global space.
- Criticize structures of meaning and their limitations.
- Recognize the global forms of domination that are integral to the histories of the nation/imperial state.
- Work to break down barriers, promote accessibility and communication.
Let’s take a look at the following:
The hold intelligence has on the popular imagination is, in part, informed by a long history in which genetic ideologies have been (mis)used to further racist and classist agendas. Francis Galton, Charles Darwin’s cousin and the father of eugenics and the field of behavior genetics said in 1869: “I have no patience with the hypothesis occasionally expressed, and often implied, especially in tales written to teach children to be good, that babies are born pretty much alike, and that the sole agencies in creating differences between boy and boy, and man and man, are steady application and moral effort. It is in the most unqualified manner that I object to pretensions of natural equality” (Galton, 1869: 12).
Today, the field of behavior genetics is a rapidly growing science. It is situated in a world that places high social value on qualities like intelligence and educational attainment. Behavior genetics is an evolving science. Researchers in this field are interested in determining not only how much genes influence behaviors and outcomes like cognitive ability and educational attainment, but also which genetic markers predict these behaviors and outcomes.
The value-ladenness we associate with intelligence, when combined with the value-ladenness we associate with capital S ‘Science’ and pre-existing implicit and explicit racial conceptions, results in a new era of eugenics, or as David Gillborn of the University of Birmingham who also conducts research on the ethics of this genetics research calls it: “Newgenics” (Read this).
“Raising school performance of poorer children … would not necessarily lower parent-offspring correlations (nor change heritability estimates). When people look at the gaps between rich and poor children that already exist at a young age (3-5), they almost universally assume that these differences are because of environmental reasons (“privileges of wealth”) and ignore genetics”
– Dominic Cummings, 2013
While there is a body of literature examining teacher perceptions of intelligence and student ability, the recent increase in the proliferation of behavior genetics research means there is a gap when it comes to examining how genetics research on cognitive ability and educational attainment may inform teacher conceptualizations of student achievement and understandings of documented racial and socioeconomic disparities in the US system. Prior research has not yet assessed the impact behavioral genetics research on education outcomes may have on teachers, their views on intelligence, and their understandings of education disparities, including low-income and Black and Hispanic underrepresentation in gifted education programs. This is what I do!
Why might I consider my work to be a decolonizing effort? How might decolonizing efforts help us to understand and address educational inequality?
- Stories of domination have linked Science to race, resulting in the tacit reproduction of inequality.
- This history shapes the landscapes of the American education system today and the disparities within it.
- Race expands our understandings of educational inequality beyond class by shedding light on how skin color has become a signifier for domination and violence, both symbolic and physical.
- Through decolonizing efforts we can begin to understand how research like that conducted in behavior genetics might act as a form of reproduction that is carried out in schools.
I recognize the plural experiences and global forms of domination that are key to the histories which shape my work. Drawing upon Bhambra, I believe that engaging with different voices adds complexity, it moves beyond simple pluralism. As an interdisciplinary work, my research examines overlapping territories and intertwined histories; I see the ways in which the same colonial power matrix continues to operate and silence certain views of the world and certain people. Decolonizing projects are works of resistance.
To learn more:
I also think Barbara Christian’s “Race for Theory” is a decolonizing work before its time.