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Education as a tool of liberation: nurturing the vital branch between Ethnic Studies and revolutionary community organizing

Davalos, Emily Anne (2021) Education as a tool of liberation: nurturing the vital branch between Ethnic Studies and revolutionary community organizing. Doctoral thesis, Northern Arizona University.

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The pandemic and uprisings against police terror have heightened the devastation of white supremacy and capitalism. During this time of heightened devastation, revolutionary organizing efforts have amplified. As people are coming together to resist and create alternatives to these murderous systems, the purpose of this project is to strengthen the connection between revolutionary organizers and educators who struggle for the justice condition (i.e. racial liberation and decolonization). The fight for Ethnic Studies in 1968 marks the beginning of a field to bring this revolutionary struggle into schools. Ethnic Studies has taken a variety of shapes, but a revolutionary approach to Ethnic Studies is grounded in community struggles for racial liberation and decolonization. The three branches of decolonizing pedagogy, culturally responsive pedagogy, and community responsive pedagogy ground ethnic studies programs to the revolutionary roots of the field to resist the incessant co-optation of liberalism and repression of conservatism. Communities engaged in revolutionary struggles have tended the roots of the field, and yet, ethnic studies literature rarely centers their knowledge and experiences. Repeatedly, ethnic studies literature indicates that Ethnic Studies is a community-centered and community-directed approach to education; however, there is a sparsity of research that learns from people who have taken up the struggle for racial liberation and decolonization. To begin seeding this sparse area, this research will gather the stories of people engaged in the revolutionary struggle that ethnic studies educators work to bring into schools. The purpose of this research is to bolster the connection between Ethnic Studies and community organizing for racial liberation and decolonization. To this end, I worked with revolutionary organizers to create a collaborative autoethnography. We wrote autoethnographies of revolutionary organizing and collectively analyzed them to address the following research questions: What can the stories of revolutionary organizers offer ethnic studies educators who are struggling to carry this work into schools? Moreover, what do their stories illuminate about resistance to co-optation and repression? This collaborative autoethnography uses the theoretical framework of critical race theory (CRT) to center race in analyses of systems of oppression and will rely on the experiences and knowledges of people from racialized communities for these analyses that inherently disrupt dominant ideologies. The collaborative autoethnography functions as a critical race counterstory by disrupting majoritarian stories that deny the importance of stories to produce knowledge. Furthermore, this theoretical lens fits the Chicana feminist epistemology, which uses decolonial approaches to position margins as sites of strength and necessary to fuel the struggle for liberation and decolonization. This collaborative autoethnography includes the stories of three revolutionary organizers using the four movements of the Nahui Ollin (a.k.a. the Aztec calendar) as a decolonial framework to shape our stories. The themes in the data fit into the four movements of the Nahui Ollin and offer an embodied understanding of these elements: home, family, education, resistance, and organizing. Within these themes, there were also subthemes that appear. First, home and family aligned with the critical self-reflection of Tezcatlipoca. The three elements of culture, language, and land are present in data on home, and the two elements of roots and resistance appear under the theme of family. These themes illuminate the sacred nature of the work because it carries the intimacy of home, and they reveal what is at stake in the revolutionary struggle against US imperialism’s destruction of home and families. Secondly, education is distinct from schooling, and the precious and beautiful knowledge offered by, Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent radicalized us through study and organizing. Furthermore, the data illuminated the common cultural elements in ethnic studies classes (e.g. music, food, language, and family) are vehicles of embodied learning. Thirdly, the radicalization we experienced is sustained through the gifts of Huitzilopochtli as the hummingbird to the left, at the place of our hearts. Our willpower is sustained through the dialectical nature of individual and collective resistance fueled by a revolutionary spirit guided by love. The interdependence inherent in this resistance disrupts the destructive ideology of individualism embedded in whiteness and capitalism. Finally, revolutionary organizing offers the transformation of Xipe Totec that carries all of the movements. Furthermore, the transformation offered through revolutionary organizing relies on the foundation of revolutionary love. The patterns in the data illuminate the organic nature of the three branches of ethnic studies pedagogy outside of classrooms. Secondly, the data addresses the process of radicalization that we experienced through study and organizing outside of schools. Third, the reciprocity between the revolutionary struggle inside and outside of schools offers space to support both in the areas where there are pitfalls. In response to the first research question, these findings offer five areas of fertile ground for ethnic studies educators. First, our autoethnographies and collaborative data analysis reveal the importance of removing boundaries between inside and outside of the classroom for the branches grounded in the revolutionary struggle to flourish. Secondly, community responsive pedagogy can be the most difficult branch to flourish, and this research indicates that this branch also holds the most space to cultivate the reciprocity between Ethnic Studies and revolutionary organizing, which, in turn, strengthens both. Third, we have to recognize the prevalence of harm when people reproduce the destructive systems we seek to dismantle. A decolonial politics of caring offered by critical pan ethnic studies (CPES) can be used to mitigate these harms. This research speaks to why all three branches are necessary because community responsive pedagogy without the medicine of the other two branches, more often than not, cannot tend to these harms in ways that do not inhibit the work. Fourth, this research indicates that expecting the work to meet schooling’s expectations is not fruitful, and ethnic studies educator must develop assessment that can reflect embodied knowledge developed through the praxis of study and organizing. Finally, this research illuminates the sacred nature of the work, which is a key reminder that we must produce generative work to avoid the performative nature of producing isolated events. To address the second research question, we offer seeds for tending to strengthen our resistance to co-optation and repression. Valentina emphasizes the importance of a strong and clear political line. Micaela offers the importance of claiming and being claimed. Finally, as someone with a foot in struggles inside and outside of schools, I maintain that we must dismantle the walls of schooling so that the reciprocal flow of the work feeds el camino of the revolutionary struggle and cultivates power that is not easily co-opted or repressed. Future research can gather more people who straddle these walls and use CAE to harvest their lessons in order to support collectively dismantling these walls. Additionally, we can gather more revolutionary organizers to harvest lessons that are not bound by the imposed timeline of a dissertation; this carries the potential to cultivate the reciprocity between educators and organizers separated by school’s walls. Finally, we can apply this research to creating paths for future educators to earn their degrees through doing this work.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Publisher’s Statement: © Copyright is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the Cline Library, Northern Arizona University. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
Keywords: decolonization; Ethnic Studies; justice condition; liberation; revolution
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2361 Curriculum
NAU Depositing Author Academic Status: Student
Department/Unit: Graduate College > Theses and Dissertations
College of Education > Teaching and Learning
Date Deposited: 02 Feb 2022 21:06
Last Modified: 02 Feb 2022 21:06
URI: https://openknowledge.nau.edu/id/eprint/5629

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