Decolonizing the Curriculum

Decolonizing the curriculum is a way of questioning and broadening academic practices and pedagogies to include and respect all cultures and belief systems, not just the cultures and belief systems of countries that participated and participate in modern colonialism, i.e.,  the process of gaining political and economic control of a region after occupying it with settlers . The countries typically considered as colonizers include Western European nations, as well as Russia, Japan (i.e., in Korea) and China (in Tibet and beyond), although these definitions shift depending on location and time period.

Please note that while decolonizing one’s syllabus is important for creating a culturally inclusive learning environment, doing so without “having ever engaged with the long tradition of scholars who have written on decolonizing is sloppy and opportunistic” (Appleton 2019). Instead, Appleton (2019) recommends that faculty focus on diversifying your syllabus, devaluing hierarchies in and outside of the classroom, moving beyond cited literature, and carefully considering the voices you bring into the classroom.

If you’ve never engaged with this literature, you’re invited to visit the Decolonizing the Curriculum Duke University Library Guide, curated by Janil Miller. For another perspective on the language of “decolonization” consider reading Frames by Bri Alexander. If you’re particularly interested in dismantling racism in the classroom, you might read this NPR Article with resources. Also,  considering reading the following:

  • Morreira and Luckett (2018)’s article on Questions Academics Can Ask to Decolonise Their Classrooms
  • Race, Whiteness, and Education by Zeus Leonardo
  • Feeling White: Whiteness, emotionality, and education by Cheryl Mattias
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire (N.B. This book isn’t a teaching technique book, but is considered foundational literature in understanding the roles of colonization and oppression in education, see Annotated Biography below).
  • Tuck, E. and K. W. Yang. 2012. Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization Indigeneity, Education & Society 1(1): 1-40
  • Paris. D. 2012. Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy: A Needed Change in Stance, Terminology, and Practice. Educational Researcher 41(3): 93-97
  • The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein (2007) (An example of the use of science and academia to legitimize horrendous violence around the world, particularly in Latin America. Extremely heavy trigger warning for violence, torture). 

Other disciplinary specific books to read include (Liboiron 2019):

  • Chandra Prescod-Weinstein’s Decolonising Science Reading List
  • An entire reading list devoted to Decolonizing Conservation
  • A reading list dedicated to Decolonizing Primatology, but with links to great reading and TEDx videos on the subject of decolonization.
  • Colonial Botany by Schiebinger and Swan
  • Indigenous Statistics by Walter and Anderson
  • Green Imperialism by Grove
  • Ecology and Empire by Griffith and Robin
  • Science and an African Logic by Verran
  • The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power, privilege, and environmental protection by Dorceta Taylor
  • Sciences from Below: Feminisms, Postcolonialities, and Modernities by Sandra Hardings
  • The Land Was Ours by Andrew Kahrl (discussing how capitalism and law has shaped the dispossession of Black coastal lands).
  • After Nature by Jedediah Purdy
  • An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz
  • A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None by Yussuf (geology/earth science) (summary of one chapter available in annotated bibliography below).

If you have a particular interest in indigenous ways of knowing and indigenous science, consider reading these books (adapted from Snively and Williams 2016):

  • Snively, G. and W. L. William’s (2016) Knowing Home: Braiding Indigenous Science with Western Science. Victoria, B. C. Canada: University of Victoria.
  • Aikenhead, G., & Michell, H. (2011). Bridging cultures: Indigenous and scientific ways of knowing nature. Toronto, ON: Pearson Canada.
  • Berkes, F. (2017). Sacred Ecology, 4th Ed. Abingdon, UK: Routledge Press.
  • Cajete, G. (1994). Look to the Mountain: An ecology of Indigenous education. Skyland, NC: Kivaki Press.
  • Cajete, G. A. (1999). Igniting the sparkle: An Indigenous science education model. Skyand, NC: Kivaki Press.
  • Cajete, G. (2000). Native science: Natural laws of interdependence. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishers.
  • Inglis, J. Ed. (1993). Traditional ecological knowledge: Concepts and cases. Ottawa, ON: International Development Research Centre (IRDC) Books.
  • Menzies, C. R. (2006). Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Natural Resource Management. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
  • Nelson, M. K. and D. Shilling. (2018). Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Learning from Indigenous Practices for Environmental Sustainability. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Context and connectivity are key elements of the practice indigenous science. These practices recognize human embeddedness in the natural world, which often is a stark contrast to the stance of objectivity that Western Science upholds. For a perspective on why context, particularly history, should be paired with Western Science, check out Saini’s (2020) Want to do better science? Admit you’re not objective (pers.comm, 25 Feb 2021, Dr. Elaine Gomez-Guevara).

Recommended Citation: Cagle, N. 2020. How to Create a Culturally Inclusive Course. Available online at

Looking for the Reference List? Check out How to Create a Culturally Inclusive Course