1 Exploring perspectives and frameworks: Interculturality, decolonization, and anti-racism

In recent years, examinations of how inequity and injustice have negatively impacted many postsecondary students have come to the forefront of discussions about teaching and learning. Inequities affect students’ access to institutions, their classroom learning experience, and their persistence and academic success in their chosen fields of study. Awareness of these impacts has focused attention on movements for change, including intercultural teaching, Indigenization and decolonization, and anti-racist education.

An examination of interculturality, Indigenization, and anti-racist education acknowledges that educational processes are deeply contextually embedded; the classroom is not disconnected from the social contexts and systems within and around it. Battiste (2013) highlights the pervasiveness of Eurocentric, colonial education systems, historically and continuing into the present. Dei (2021) states that the broad global social problem of anti-Blackness affects educational power structures, knowledge systems, curriculum, and pedagogy, impacting educational access for Black, Indigenous, and other racialized students. As educators, we acknowledge that our work takes place in social contexts where education has often been embedded within unjust systems and used as a tool for maintaining existing power structures.

Anti-racist education, Indigenization, and intercultural teaching are responses to large and complex social phenomena, as they manifest in our classrooms and educational institutions. As awareness grows about each of these movements, a practical challenge in interculturalizing the curriculum is understanding how each of these important priorities can be incorporated into the classroom, without neglecting or diminishing other streams. How can we think about this challenge?

One possibility is to consider each perspective as one side of a prism (Mertens, 2009), revealing knowledge about addressing injustice and moving towards a more just future. Some considerations in exploring the prism include:

  • Avoiding conflating movements and schools of thought together in a way that minimizes the unique foci  of each, while
  • Avoiding positioning these concerns as being in competition with one another, and
  • Acknowledging the common values across these movements and the ways that educators can work together to promote equity and justice.

Intercultural Teaching

Of the three perspectives discussed in this chapter, intercultural teaching is perhaps the most challenging to define, as the perspectives contained within the literature in the field represent a wide spectrum of thought. Gorski (2009), in an analysis of curricula for educator development in multicultural education, outlined a continuum of five perspectives used within the field.  The first approach, which Gorski identifies as the most conservative, focuses on teaching the “Other” by understanding the cultures and lifestyles of cultural groups (in an essentialized fashion) in order to teach them in a way that helps them assimilate into the dominant culture educational system. The second and third more liberal approaches focus on teaching with cultural sensitivity, tolerance, and intercultural competence. These approaches focus on addressing bias and prejudices, as well as adapting pedagogical strategies to meet the needs of students.  The fourth and fifth approaches are critical, focusing on teaching as a practice that is anti-oppressive and works to transform existing systems through activism .

Conservative Approach Liberal Approaches


Critical Approaches
Teaching the “Other” Teaching with cultural sensitivity and tolerance Teaching with multicultural competence Teaching in sociopolitical context Teaching as resistance and counter-hegemonic practice (Gorski 2009)

Definitions of intercultural teaching are connected to how we define the intercultural dimension. The term multicultural is frequently used in the Canadian context.  Multiculturalism, however, often refers simply to the fact of cultural diversity, perhaps with the addition of tolerance and celebration of it (Brosseau and Dewing, 2018). Interculturality shifts the focus towards the relational dimension of interaction between individuals and groups with different ethnicities, languages, experiences, and values. Tubino (2005) writes that while multiculturalism promotes tolerance, interculturality promotes dialogue. Critical interculturality interrogates both multiculturalism and interculturality as practices that continue to promote the status quo of unequal relationships rooted in colonial histories (Mignolo and Walsh, 2018).  The critical intercultural tradition emerges from the work of historically marginalized Indigenous groups in the South American context, and calls for transformed relationships. Ortiz and Gutiérrez (2020) define critical interculturality as:

an ethical, political project based on the recognition of coloniality, which puts into question the historically constructed differences and inequalities based on class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and race, among others; it works for the construction of a just, plural, and equal society in which all social groups can build new positive and equal relations with each other. (p. 74)

A critical intercultural approach to intercultural teaching, then, does not only focus on technical shifts to classroom practice or increased sensitivity in relating to students from different cultural backgrounds than one’s own. Critical intercultural teaching includes a consideration of the systemic factors that contribute to inequitable student outcomes, and how these are practiced in our disciplinary cultures and normative classroom practices. These practices aim for full inclusion and justice within the classroom, and ultimately work towards the hope of social transformation.

An emerging criticism of frameworks that focus on interculturality or intercultural teaching is that these frameworks can be used to ignore the ongoing reality of racism in favour of less challenging paradigms of ethnicity or culture. When considering literature within the intercultural teaching tradition, it is helpful to critically explore the range of perspectives represented in the field, with its broad spectrum of positions ranging from the conservative to the transformational. A critical intercultural perspective to teaching considers issues of power, equality, and justice in intercultural teaching practice and therefore, while often drawing from different lenses and sources than anti-racist and decolonial approaches to education, includes many compatible and complementary perspectives.

Another contribution of intercultural approaches to teaching is their focus on personal growth and development that results in new perspectives and changed actions. Attending to our own intercultural development provides foundational ways of thinking, being, and relating that enable us to step into anti-racist and decolonial practice (Harewood & Zemsky, 2020 ).

Anti-Racist Pedagogies

Anti-racist pedagogies are rooted in the framework provided by critical race theory movements.  Critical race theory outlines the ways in which racism is an embedded, systemic reality; only the most overt and blatant forms of discrimination are addressed within this system, making racism difficult to uproot. This structural racism also serves to provide benefits to the dominant social group. Critical race theory also highlights the socially-constructed nature of race, and considers the ways in which groups are racialized within society, with shifting categorizations that are designed to maintain the power and control of the dominant group in society (Douglas et al., 2017).

Intersectionality is a key concept informing how racial identities and other social identities impact experiences of oppression in a racialized society. Crenshaw (1991) developed the concept of intersectionality to highlight the ways in which multiple identities intersect in an individual’s experience of marginalization. Crenshaw (1991) outlined the ways in which neither understandings of feminism or racism adequately addressed black women’s experience of sexual violence. An intersectional perspective highlights that people will experience discrimination differently based on the intersection of their identities; for example, an Asian woman will experience the world differently from both an Asian man and a white woman.  An additional component to understanding intersectionality is the idea that everyone has an overlapping set of distinct identities, not all of which are visible (Douglas et al., 2017). These identities include racial, ethnic, linguistic, religious, gender, and sexual identities.

Critical race theory seeks to understand the ways in which the social construct of race and racialization perpetuate discrimination and inequality.  It provides a lens for understanding economic inequality, overrepresentation of racialized groups in prison populations, and inequitable educational outcomes. Patton (2016) applies critical race theory to an understanding of postsecondary education systems, highlighting the ways in which disciplines have centred and maintained white Eurocentric perspectives within the core of disciplinary knowledge.

Additionally, diversity initiatives within education that fail to emphasize transformation can reinforce, rather than challenge, dominant culture perspectives.  Anti-racist pedagogies emphasize that, because of the systemic nature of racism, it is not sufficient simply to avoid active acts of discrimination; actively challenging racism and the systems that support it is required.  Singh (2019) writes that anti-racist practice involves different processes for white people and people of colour.  For white people, this work involves acknowledging participation in a racist system, having internalized it as “normal” through the lens of the dominant culture. This work also includes acknowledging power and privilege, interrogating the dominant culture system, and taking active steps to learn the full history of other racial groups.  Anti-racist work for people of colour may include challenging internalized racism and stereotypes, and developing a broader knowledge of the history of struggle other ethnic groups have under white supremacy.

Anti-racism also seeks to identify and interrupt microaggressions often perpetuated against people of colour. Microaggressions are subtle verbal or non-verbal assaults that may be frequent and commonplace.  They include insult, invalidation and assault. Microaggressions, though they involve a clear perpetrator and victim, they may occur outside of the conscious awareness of the perpetrator (Sue & Spanierman, 2020). Microaggressions are a symptom of broader patterns of systemic racism. They can be easily perpetuated by well-intentioned dominant culture members because of their blindness to the ways in which the dominant culture ways of being are assumed to be normative.

Anti-racist teaching practices require both a commitment to personal growth, learning, and internal change, as well as an active commitment to shift teaching practices and ways of relating to students.  Personal practices include learning about one’s own positionality and privilege, assessing the impact of white supremacy on both the body of knowledge taught and the ways of teaching in one’s discipline, and learning about the impacts of racism and racial trauma on people of colour. Action steps that inform pedagogical practice include considering how expectations of an “ideal” student may be racially biased, assessing course content, and considering how assessment practices may reinforce racism (Wheaton College Massachusetts, 2021).

Developing an anti-racist teaching practice includes action in five domains:

  • Course content
  • Pedagogy
  • Assessment
  • Classroom climate
  • Power relationships (Georgetown University Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship, 2021).

An anti-racist exploration of these five domains has much in common with culturally inclusive practice. Anti-racist practice, however , challenges the idea that culture is a neutral construct, and that it is possible to talk about difference without also addressing racial injustice and how constructions of cultural groups are used to maintain white supremacy (Holliday, 2010). Anti-racist pedagogy requires attention to the ways in which our teaching practice is rooted in broader systemic structures, and the ways that these systems might perpetuate racism in the classroom, on campus, and in the broader society.

Indigenization and Decolonization

Calls for Indigenization and decolonization within postsecondary education arise from recognition of the ways in which education has caused harm to Indigenous peoples through the erasure of their cultures and languages in the residential school system, and the ongoing practices that minimize and suppress Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing.  Battiste (2013), highlighting the largely negative impacts of mainstream Canadian education on Indigenous youth, writes that the path forward requires fostering learning  environments that value Indigenous languages, cultures, and ways of knowing, allowing Indigenous learners to embrace and celebrate their identities and cultures. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015), makes several calls for action requiring a response from educators and educational systems.  These include:

  • “We call on the federal government to develop with Aboriginal groups a joint strategy to eliminate educational and employment gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians”. (Call 7)
  •  We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, to:
    • i. Make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students.
    • ii. Provide the necessary funding to post-secondary institutions to educate teachers on how to integrate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms.
    • iii. Provide the necessary funding to Aboriginal schools to utilize Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods in classrooms.
    • iv. Establish senior-level positions in government at the assistant deputy minister level or higher dedicated to Aboriginal content in education. (Call 62)

The calls arising from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission provide initial steps to move towards a different educational future, recognizing the impacts of colonialism and moving towards decolonization. Wilson (2018) defines decolonization as “the ‘undoing’ of colonization and a process by which Indigenous Peoples are regaining their rightful place in Canada and are thriving” (Section 3: Decolonization). Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999/2012), a Maori scholar, writes that decolonization “is about centring our [Indigenous] concerns and world views and then coming to know and understand theory and research from our own perspectives and for our own purposes” (p. 39, as cited in Battiste, 2013, p. 185).  Walsh (2014) views decoloniality as an act of pedagogical praxis, emerging from the margins, that challenges colonial power structures with new “practices of being, action, existence, creation, and thought” (n.p.).

Kirkness and Barnhardt (2001) write that postsecondary education systems, to meet the needs of their Indigenous learners, must ensure that they are spaces that offer respect for Indigenous cultures and ways of being, demonstrate relevance to the needs and goals of Indigenous learners, foster reciprocity where “give and take” relationships between faculty, non-Indigenous students, and Indigenous learners support learning, and facilitate responsible Indigenous participation in the governance of universities, as well as self-governance.  At the postsecondary level, decolonization also involves questioning and de-centring the dominance of Eurocentric ways of knowing, making space for the full integration of Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing. This both creates space for Indigenous students to bring their own cultures and ways of being fully into their learning, and enriches the university learning environment for all participants (Battiste, 2013).

The aspects of decolonization often referred to as Indigenization involve weaving Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing throughout the curriculum and learning experience, allowing all students to benefit  from wisdom about learning that arises from Indigenous cultures. These emphases include an understanding that learning is holistic, lifelong, experiential, rooted in nature, communal, and spiritual (Battiste, 2013).  LaFever (2016) presents an example of Indigenization in postsecondary curriculum design. Moving away from the Western and cognitively-focused perspectives of Bloom’s taxonomy, LaFever proposes a four-domain framework for the design of learning outcomes: physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. The spiritual domain encompasses learning that extends beyond self-interest, and involves connectedness, relationality, empowerment, and self-actualization.

While settler educators are invited to grow in our understanding of Indigenous communities, their histories, and knowledges in the context of reciprocal relationships, Indigenous control and leadership in the process of Indigenization should be upheld. Tuhiwai Smith et al. (2016) identify the problematic trend of settlers extracting Indigenous knowledges for their own benefit, reinforcing, rather than dismantling colonial relationships. Kovach (2010) emphasizes that research with Indigenous communities should incorporate protocols that ensure that research or learning activities are carried out in a way consistent with community teachings. As Kovach notes, this includes reciprocity and following appropriate gifting protocols when community knowledge is shared. In a research context, Kovach notes that key guidelines include ensuring mutuality and reciprocity, seeking appropriate permissions, and ensuring that work done is neither exploitative nor extractive. When considering our use of Indigenous knowledges as educators, good practice includes ensuring that we have used knowledges with permission, and that our work reflects appreciation, rather than appropriation of these knowledges. It is also important to remember that some Indigenous knowledges are held within the community, not to be shared with those to whom they do not belong.

Decolonization is a necessary shift in addressing past wrongs and for ensuring that Indigenous students have the opportunity to achieve their educational goals in a space of cultural flourishing. The gifts offered by Indigenous ways of knowing also offer opportunities to shift to new educational paradigms that support the learning of all students.  The use of the word decolonization, however,  has been problematized, particularly if its use becomes overextended beyond its core meaning. Tuck and Yang (2012) caution against using decolonization as a blanket term to refer to all social justice and human-rights oriented educational movements.  According to Tuck and Yang, metaphorical uses of decolonization de-link the movement from its focus on Indigenous sovereignty and the return of stolen lands to Indigenous control. From this perspective, the aims of decolonization are distinct from other critical or emancipatory educational movements.

Attention to the calls of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the need to ensure that Indigenous learners participate in education that offers respect, reciprocity, relationship, and responsibility (Kirkness & Barnhardt, 2001) requires pedagogical shifts. These shifts also invite us to consider how we might learn alongside our Indigenous colleagues and students, finding ways to appreciate and apply our learnings without appropriation. While we seek to consider new ways of teaching that respond to the needs of all equity-deserving groups, the caution not to conflate these efforts under the decolonization label recognizes the distinct harms caused by settler colonialism, and the ways in which repair differs from other forms of justice-seeking pedagogy.


Intercultural teaching practice is informed by multiple streams of thought, each with their key emphases and contributions; while these streams should not be conflated, they offer a prism that can expand the possibilities for pedagogical practice. This chapter outlined the emphases and contributions of three key discourses: intercultural teaching, anti-racist pedagogy, and decolonial thought. As these discourses continue to increasingly inform pedagogical practice, a deeper understanding of intercultural teaching as a transformative practice that contests racism and other forms of discrimination can continue to develop.


I would like to thank Rajiv Jhangiani and Jennifer Hardwick for their helpful feedback on this chapter.


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