CCK08: Reflection Week 8: Part 3

Qallunology and the Hidden Costs of Technology

Note: footnotes originally included in the following excerpts have been removed for ease of formatting and readability.

Derek Rasmussen, a former Policy Advisor to Nunavit Tunngavik, wrote the article “Qallunology: A Pedagogy for the Oppressor” in the 2002 edition of Philosophy of Education. Since its initial publication, I have not been able to find a copy of the article available online. In the essay introduction, Rasmussen states,

Inuit observations are cited in this analysis to help shed light on Euro-Americans, those whom the Inuit call “Qallunaat.” This term “Qallunology” was coined by Zebedee Nungak to denote what we might colloquially call “the study of white folks.” Given that the property-based individualistic civilization that characterizes the Qallunaat emerged in nineteenth-century Europe, the words “white,” “Western,” or “European” denote its closest parentage and its place of birth, not the skin color of its current adherents or its current geographical limits. In his book, The White Arctic, sociologist Robert Paine said that his one “message” to whites was to drop the illusion that they were “in the Arctic to teach the Inuit,” and instead focus on “learning about white behavior.” Qallunology says that if Euro-Americans really want to study something they should study themselves; if Qallunaat really want to rescue indigenous peoples they should stop pushing them overboard to start with; and if Qallunaat educators really want to study something helpful to Inuit, they should study why Education was invented, and how it is a result of the ideology of scarcity (1).

Though many are now familiar with the roots of North American education being derivative of Prussian military training (in fact, this is finally being included in introductory history of education courses in universities), we are perhaps less familiar with Aboriginal perspective on education that existed and persisted over thousands of years prior to European colonization of the Americaas.

Rasmussen does not mince words when he describes European attitudes towards education indigenous peoples:

Qallunaat rush around the world proselytizing their alphanumeric fetishism, supposedly rescuing “primitive” civilizations from their richly integrated physical oral-mental cultures. Meanwhile they pat themselves on the back because they are out in the igloo or under the banyan tree teaching liberatory pedagogy to the suffering locals so that they can hang on to that twenty percent of the world’s resources that the Rescuers’ civilization has not gotten hold of yet (2).

Rasmussen contends that education is the means by which traditional community values, once uprooted, are replaced with a mentality of spiritual scarcity and depravity:

Education is the main compensatory mechanism invented to deal with uprootedness and the collapse of family and community relations, and to train converts to the new non-social economy. Education is a “designed process which is carried on in specially constructed places under various kinds of bribe and threat,” as John Holt defined it. It always denotes some kind of “treatment.” Education is an “odd, modern social phenomenon” that entrenches the belief “that competence in the world derives from being instructed about it, taught about it.” The word “education” itself does not show up in French until 1498, in English not until 1530, and in Spanish not until 1632. Europeans first began to conceptualize the “world as school” in 1759, and when, thirty-three years later, a Cambridge tutor introduced the idea of grading student papers “human thought succumbed to writing and writing had succumbed to numerical evaluation” These dates could be said to mark Europe’s surrender to the “ideology of literacy”: the beginning of the widespread belief that knowledge is a subset of writing and that “learning can be sliced up into pieces.” (4)

If this assertion is accurate, then how can a Connectivist model, within which learning ecologies are posited as the basis of a design for learning, be realized? To my reckoning, where context is as important as content, and where learning is being treated as part of a larger ecology within which the learner is embedded, how are the variable factors that influence the ecology in question parsed out?

There are limits to how much can be achieved in a classroom. Wisdom can only be gained by engaging with life, by honouring ones heritage and by mastering the skills necessary for independence. We used to have this when we lived on the land….Wisdom was essential for survival on the land, but it is not essential for survival in institutions…. What happens in most schools is that children and teachers are caught in a mechanical organization that has no interest in wisdom or independence. There is no preparation for life, just preparation for work in another controlling institution (7).

Rasmussen’s article provides examples of how citizens of the world would benefit from the Qallunaat first examining their own behaviour, before investing energy in the study and judgment of the behaviour of others. Compulsory schooling for Aboriginal peoples destroyed their traditional way of life. Meanwhile, factories continue to spew out deady chemicals, which in turn affect Inuit communities. For example,

…over sixty percent of the Inuit children under the age of fifteen and almost forty percent of Inuit women of childbearing age were found to have PCB body burdens exceeding “tolerable” guidelines.14 Mothers in Nunavut have twice the allowable levels of dioxins in their breast milk. Nunavut’s and America’s communities are tied together by America’s invisible exhalation of death. America breathes out, Inuit die (3).

Rasmussen asks, “Instead of exotic slide shows on the Arctic, why do not American schools take exotic field trips to Bethlehem Steel and US Steel’s iron sintering plants in Chesterton and Gary, Indiana (3)?”

E-Waste Dumping Ground

In turn, why is it that only last week, due to the efforts of investigative reporters in China, that the injustices being committed in China were brought to the attention of Canadians via The National in the report, “E-wast Dumping Ground” ? Though the educational technology sector is by no means the only economic driver behind the regular upgrading of computer hardware, there is certainly a relationship to be drawn between the ability to use the most up-to-date hardware and software applications, and the drive to be at the cutting edge of technological development. Are we aware of what happens to our old computers? How many computers have you discarded in your lifetime? What can we do to turn the tide of companies that are illegally shipping old computers to China, where in turn they are dismantled in hazardous conditions?

I do not have simple answers to these questions. Nonetheless, especially in light of the discussions this week on the subject of power and authority, I believe that we are alll obligated to question our own involvement in what may very well be the hidden (or possibly overt) curriculum of educational technology: stay current. Buy now.

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