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Colonizing the Student: “Craving Difference”

by Stephen Hebert on Friday - 15 January 2010

in Education

Now we come it: colonizing the student. What do I mean by that?

As I mentioned earlier, I think that the relationship between teacher and student could, in dysfunctional situations, be compared to the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized.

As the teacher, I represent the colonizer, an imposing powerful force who comes on the scene prepared to exercise my hegemonic privilege. I am the dictator who controls what happens in the classroom. Every word that they read has been vetted by my censors and every word they write comes under my careful and exacting scrutiny. With the stroke of my pen, I have the ability to enact legislation that can doom the poor, oppressed student to what seems like an eternity of academic servitude. This is the power I wield.

The student, on the other hand, has little autonomy once she enters the door of my classroom. She can do nothing but wilt under the pressures of my potency. I can subdue her will and force her to perform academic feats that meet my approval. My goal: To make her think exactly as I think.

This is the dysfunction. Why would I want a student to think like me?

I recall attending a church service back in high school when I was a “pagan”1 The fellow leading the Bible study that morning, Lyle, was a middle-aged, red-haired gentleman who was nice enough. At one point during the study,2 Lyle asks, “Wouldn’t the world be great if everyone thought exactly like you do?” I snickered, but he was serious. “How wonderful would it be if we all believed the same thing?” I answered by telling him that I thought it would be awful.

I don’t marvel at a snowflake because it is exactly like all the other snowflakes.

I don’t go to the Rocky Mountains and wish that every mountain looked the same.

I don’t look at a collection of clouds and hope that they all morph into the same shape.

Beauty in nature is not found in similarity but difference. Most people would hold this to be true. It’s incredible to us that there are millions of species of insects. Just insects! Not to mention all of the other types of animals. Everyone has different fingerprints, different smells, different different different.

So, why in the world would I want my students to think exactly as I do? Why would I want to impose my own thought patterns on them? If the beauty of the world is expressed in variety rather than similarity, shouldn’t the beauty of my classroom mirror that?

Unfortunately, I think that this is exactly what many teachers do. They come on strong, their brains invading the minds of their students with a powerful case of “shock and awe.” Once their borders have crumbled, the teacher begins to setup an infrastructure in the students’ minds. The teacher then fosters little gray matter clones with synapses that fire in exactly the same fashion so as to reproduce patterns.

These are the machinations not of a teacher but an ideologue, a diviner and desirer and devotee of dogma.

This is what I mean by colonizing the student: placing the student in the position of the “other” and then seeking to conquer her mind by whatever means necessary. I think there is another way, a better way. There is a reason that universities consider diversity a key initiative. While some may think that this is simply a marketing ploy because “diversity” is the academic buzz word du jour, I do not. I think there is something to very different minds from very different molds getting together and communicating.

Diversity. That’s part 4. Stay tuned, please.


  1. NB: Not my term. I hate that word. I hate the us vs. them paradigm that it imposes on my thoughts. But, that’s what they called me! Now that I think of it, maybe my hatred for this term has something to do with my hatred of that experience.
  2. By the way, I have no idea what the study was actually about.

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