Ignorance in the settler colony: Angélique Stastny, Settler regimes of ignorance: teaching indigenous-settler relationships in schools in Australia and Kanaky/New Caledonia, PhD Dissertation, University of Melbourne, 2018


Abstract: Schools are institutions for knowledge dissemination but at the same time also sites of power. They inculcate students into specific ideological and emotional norms and social relations. Far from being politically neutral institutions, schools disseminate government-sanctioned ways of understanding and engaging in Indigenous-settler relationships. Schooling, as a form of power, has particular salience in settler colonial societies such as Australia and Kanaky/New Caledonia. In these societies, schools have, historically, been a crucial tool for the assimilation and oppression of Indigenous people. The latter have contested, refused, but have also used to their advantage these colonial education institutions to challenge colonial hegemony. In response to continued Indigenous resistance and struggles, schools have attempted more recently to reform historical knowledge and redefine Indigenous-settler relationships. This thesis focuses on the ways that the historical and political relationships between Indigenous people and settlers are taught in public schools in two settler colonial societies: Australia and Kanaky/New Caledonia.

Based on an analysis of history curricula, textbooks and interviews with history teachers carried out in these two societies, this thesis addresses the following questions: What political understandings of Indigenous-settler relationships are disseminated in schools? To what extent can or does the teacher – as the ultimate institutional actor, the inheritor of a historiography, and a political and emotional agent – shape the relationships between Indigenous people and settlers in schools? Can the school system decolonise itself? Pushing the existing boundaries of research on settler colonialism and decolonisation, and taking the original approach of engaging with settler colonialism across European colonialisms by bringing together British/Australian and French forms of settler colonialism in the analysis, the thesis examines processes of producing both knowledge and ignorance. It argues that settler colonial power rests on settler regimes of ignorance that sustain the political status quo. This thesis interrogates the ways that teachers deal with these settler regimes of ignorance and their capacity (or lack thereof) to challenge them. The thesis concludes that the production of knowledge may not necessarily be a solution to settler colonial ignorance but, rather, that the attitudes towards that ignorance are both where the problem is and where the solution lies.

Findings from my research reveal that history curricula, staffing trends, textbooks, and some teaching practices sustain settler regimes of ignorance. The school system in both these societies continues to disseminate historical knowledge that fails to comprehend and wilfully ignores the mechanisms and contemporaneity of settler colonialism. This ignorance constitutes a most effective tool of settler colonial power within the school system. However, some history teachers, on an individual level, attempt to destabilise and rethink institutional practices to shift power relationships between Indigenous people and settlers within this public institution. In doing so, teachers’ practices bring an unexpected finding, that is the potential of ignorance – rather than increased knowledge production – to facilitate such a political shift.

%d bloggers like this: