Chapter 4- The Educational Mission
This summary is by Valentina Migliarini and Dr. Teresa McConlogue, who will be leading the discussion on this chapter.
By dealing with the building of the colonial schooling, this chapter marks the final step of the journey into learning, organising and exhibiting the ‘native’ and ‘primitive’ culture of the ‘Other’. It highlights the final aim of the imperial enterprise, namely the consolidation of colonialism through education.
Willinsky attempts to describe the various forms of schooling that took place within the global process of imperialism. He starts by arguing that the scope of the colonial schooling was to exert the right to raise the colonized toward a level of civilized maturity. The presumption of much of this schooling was that the colonized society was in an infantile state, while Western education stood as the universal model. Within forms of colonial schooling, especially those supported by the nineteenth century British liberals, education acquired an exchange or gift value, which was used to justify land occupation and colonial rule. Importantly, the author quotes Sargant’s views on the educational problems of the British Empire, and Parekh’s criticism of the nineteenth century British liberalism. In Sargant’s view the educational mission of colonial schools was to instill a manly maturity in its students, in order to have a class of young children that were not only able to read and write but also to think like Englishmen. This model of education would have repaid the colonised with a level of civilisation that “will warrant you [the colonized] taking charge in your house” (Sargant, 1914, p. 91). On the contrary, Parekh critically highlights how the rhetoric behind civilising education required a combination of “British gifts, colonial needs and strength and native deficiency” (p. 92).
The idea that the “British had something to give to the colonies that the latter badly needed, were unable to acquire unaided, and which was so precious as to compensate for whatever economic and political price”, as Parekh puts it (p. 91), seems to resonate with contemporary discourses on the universal right to education (e.g. “education for all” agenda), and on issues of empowerment of people from the global south- see for example the strategic mantra of “we do not give you the fish, we teach you how to fish”, used by the majority of internationally well-known NGOs.
Colonial education began as missionary work, as Willinsky reminds us. Therefore, it is essential to address the role of Christianity in building schools that served both as safeguard and supporter of the larger imperialistic project. As the author argues, Christianity used imperial conquest and education to make Christians and thus to achieve its global expansion.
The aim of schoolhouses, residential schools and collèges, built by Jesuit among others, and sponsored by the Christian churches, and which were mainly opened to boys, was to introduce children to the ostensible rationality and enlightenment of the colonial power, while creating a deep fracture with the ways of their parents’ lives. The desire to capture and shape the mind of the “new-found souls” has produced generations of children alienated from their cultural identities and that have experienced various degrees of emotional and physical abuses.
An iconic figure amongst the missionaries was Bartolomé de Las Casas, who gained his fame through the criticism of the abuses on the Amerindians by the Spanish. De Las Casas and other missionaries managed to deliver the Vatican the message that “Ameridians were rational beings with souls and worthy of conversion as well as protection” (p. 93). De Las Casas’ criticism has contributed to assign a new role to the priest-educator, which will then redeem both the native and the European.
Willinsky then moves on to presenting Macaulay’s liberal view on colonial education. Macaulay’s educational vision marked a shift in the role of education from being a means to ‘civilize savages’ to being the carrier of British values. Thus, the educated or civilized ‘Other’ would have been able to participated in the economical and political administration of the colonies (but only to certain extent), so long as an overarching cultural imperialism would have been preserved through Western arts, morals, literature and laws. English literature, according to Macaulay, would have extended and secured the empire. Willinsky also highlights how Macaulay’s liberal views on colonial schooling have lead him to dismiss Indian history, astronomy and medicine, as false education.
Although Willinsky has given a harsh review of colonial education throughout the chapter, at times he has also attempted to draw attention on the (indeed few) positive aspects of it. He argues how schools were also a middle-ground (often a battle-ground) between cultures and a refuge from colonialism. Unfortunately, teachers were unable to create a space for an exchange among equals, and far too often school were the site of abuse and sometimes of violent expression of home-grown nationalism.
Willinsky warns us that education is an unpredictable force and although he intends to show it as a source of hope, he demonstrates its resilience as a source of wariness. I believe this chapter is an incredible source to reflect critically on colonial schooling and its legacy within contemporary forms of education. In fact, the author draws our attention on how the desire to instill standards and values in the young, which defined religious and secular education in the colonies, is not far from the aspiration of a vast majority of educators and policy makers.
However, while education was an instrument of oppression, Willinsky argues that the situation was more complicated. Education provided an opportunity for a ‘certain class’ of colonial women who set up their own schools and became politically active:
‘within the moral space of the school house, women were able to confound roles of submission and domination’ (p104)
Teaching in India opened these women’s eyes to the prejudices and injustice in colonial government; through education they challenged patriarchy and gender inequality in India and Great Britain. Through associations such as the Indian Brahmo Somaj, British women came to India with a view to promote feminist concerns and redress ‘colonialism’s racial injustice’.
Western principles were also used to argue against cultural norms such as early marriage of upper-caste Hindu girls; thus western ideas were used to effect change in Indian culture. Further evidence of the impact of education on Indian women can be seen in their contribution to Indian journals where they campaigned for independence and fought for women’s right to education.
Similarly in Egypt, education emancipated and radicalised some women. From 1882 to 1920, ‘the first Egyptian women were licensed as school teachers’. These women went on to become influential and campaign in other spheres e.g. journalism. Some attacked the Western claim to protect the rights of Muslim women. However, much of the schooling offered to women was limited and designed to keep them in an inferior position e.g. needlework and Bible reading. Mary Wollstonecraft’s critique of British education for women as a ‘false system of education’ could equally be applied to colonial education.
Willinsky argues that education is an ‘act of power’ and a ‘form of cultural imperialism’ (p107). For example, Carnoy describes how western schools developed an ‘indigenous elite’ who were used to help maintain and develop capitalist structures. This was the case not only in the colonies, but also in the USA where the role of schools was often to train workers for their role in society.
The influence of colonial education persists to this day. Willinsky gives the example of school children in Lesotho who pay to take the Cambridge Examination Syndicate exams; given the influence of assessment over the curriculum, children taking these exams will follow a curriculum shaped by them, thus demonstrating the ‘lingering colonial force of western schooling’.
How can we decolonise knowledge? Willinsky discuss this question in detail in part 2. In this chapter he provides a preview. He takes the case of mathematics, important in maintaining world trade. The western standard that is taught has been derived from work from other cultures. Joseph argues that school mathematics derive ‘from the work of mathematicians originating outside of western Europe before the twelfth century’ and recommends a multicultural mathematics which acknowledges that no one culture has produced this body of knowledge.
While Willinsky acknowledges the power of education to perpetuate cultural imperialism, he recognises that students can actively use what they are taught to further their cause. He cites the example of Indian students who developed ways of fighting for independence after learning the history of the storming of the Bastille and the French revolution.
Western educational thinkers were influenced by the new cultures they studied. Progressive education, centred on developing the child, rather than transmitting knowledge, is seen as deriving from Rousseau’s interaction with aboriginal peoples. Others found in Native American life a sense of cooperation and consensus, and these principles then influenced the founding of free schools in the west, such as Summerhill.
After centuries of colonisation, it would be surprising if education did not still carry influences of imperialism. While Willinsky’s chapter has contributed to enrich Gramsci’s argument on the inexistence of a “disinterested education”, one in which children’s destiny is not predetermined to respond to the many interests of the people in power, we are left with the following questions:
-What is the purpose of education?
- Can education change society, and if so what are the premises of this change?
- How can we use the “master’s tool to dismantle the master’s house” if we are so embedded in imperial forms of schooling?