The school as a space for interrupting and re-inscribing settler colonialism: Amanda Michelle Gebhard, In School but not of the School: Teaching Aboriginal Students, Inferiorizing Subjectivities, and Schooling Exclusions, PhD Dissertation, University of Toronto, 2015


Abstract: Education for Aboriginal peoples is championed as a great equalizer and antithetical to a future of incarceration. Even though Aboriginal peoples are experiencing upward trends in education, they continue to be incarcerated at ten times the rate of their non-Aboriginal counterparts in the Canadian prairies. This study explores the discursive connections between education and incarceration for Aboriginal students. Specifically, the researcher sought to understand how educators’ normative discourses about learning and school legitimize and make possible the criminalization of Aboriginal students, and how educators work to disrupt normative discourses and open up possibilities for who can be a learner. This study is informed by multiple race frameworks, and poststructural theorizing about knowledge, power and subjectivities, and offers a discourse analysis of interviews with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal educators working across one prairie province. The central finding of this thesis is that normative discourses about Aboriginal students are exclusionary discourses that position Aboriginal students outside of acceptable learner status, and effectively, outside of settler society. This argument is constructed over three interrelated chapters: Chapter Five demonstrates how cultural discourses are often racializing discourses that allow educators to evade considerations of racism and claim commitment to Aboriginal students, Chapter Six explores how inferiorizing discourses produce Aboriginal students as impossible learners and naturalize schooling exclusions, and Chapter Seven presents the discourse of the taken-for-granted-as-troublesome Aboriginal male student and the normalization of a police presence in schools. Throughout each chapter, the author demonstrates how subjectivities imposed upon Aboriginal students are not only incommensurable with normative expectations of student behaviour, but also at odds with the imagined qualities of citizens of the nation state. Counter-narratives of participants who disrupt normative discourses and produce Aboriginal students as belonging in school are also included. Emphasizing the school as a powerful identity-making space where students learn who they are and where they belong in a settler society, the author suggests race power deployed through normative educational discourses naturalizes spaces of abjection as rightful spaces of belonging for Aboriginal peoples.

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