Decolonizing Pedagogy

Developed by Asilia Franklin-Phipps

As the decolonial paradigm gains traction in the world of education, we pause to consider what that means in CUNY, how it is connected to larger discourses and practices by educators and scholars, and the ways we can conceptualize of a teaching practice that is aligned with goals and principles that are decolonizing. This session will first offer space and resources for discussion on decolonizing research and teaching methodologies in academia, both imagining the possibilities and problematizing our positionalities of a decolonial practice in the classroom. The second part of the workshop will turn to how we select texts (and other materials), structure courses, privilege particular ways of knowing over and others. Together we will consider how to unsettle colonial practices that are taken-for-granted in higher education in order to better engage in decolonial pedagogies. 

Learning Goals:

  • Reflect on our individual attachments and commitments to the college pedagogical space. 
  • Consider the limitations and affordances of decolonial pedagogy in the higher education institution. 
  • Connect decolonial theory and pedagogical commitments to issues of developing, structuring, and teaching courses in the CUNY context. 


Read: “It’s Time to Decolonize that Syllabus” 

Consider the following: 

  1. What is your interest in decolonizing pedagogy? 
  2. What kinds of experiences have you had as a student that inform your thinking about this? 
  3. What are some challenges you might encounter in developing a decolonizing approach in your field?  


Look at a syllabus in your discipline and/or your own syllabus. You might also choose an assignment, group of texts, an assignment, or policy that you plan on using in your course. Then, with one of these things in mind: 

Reflect on Knowledge

In the traditional college classroom we are often most concerned with students gaining knowledge and academic skills. Instructors hope to structure their courses in such a way that students might expand their knowledge about course topics. From there, instructors might ask students to represent that knowledge by writing term papers, taking quizzes, or doing projects. 

Decolonizing pedagogy requires that we critically wonder about knowledge and how we approach knowledge in ways that reinforce the “monolithic, monocultural, mono-epistemological academic traditions” (Biermann, 2011, p.386) in higher education space. We should wonder about what counts as research, what texts do (historically, politically, and culturally) and for whom. We should wonder about how some ways of knowing cohere and/or challenge how people are ordered and managed historically and presently. Decolonizing pedagogies requires that we are continually concerned with how theories of knowledge undergird our pedagogical practices and how those theories of knowledge are informed by colonization. Finally, decolonizing pedagogy requires that we do this work with students. Decolonizing pedagogy must be concerned with what counts as knowledge, how knowledge is represented, and how knowledge is related to power in ongoing and shifting ways. 

Here is one way to begin to do this:

Additional Reading: 

Biermann, S. (2011). “Knowledge, Power and Decolonization: Implication for Non-Indigenous Scholars, Researchers and Educators.” Counterpoints, 379, 386-398. 

Mahrouse, Gada. “From Knowledge Consumers to Knowledge Producers: A Project in Decolonizing Feminist Praxis (Dispatch).” Studies in Social Justice, vol. 11, no. 1, 2017, pp. 160–169.

Sasi-Diaz, A., & Mendieta, E. (2012). Decolonizing Epistemologies: Latina/o Theology and Philosophy: Latina/o Theology and Philosophy. New York: Fordham University Press.

Teo, T. “What Is Epistemological Violence in the Empirical Social Sciences?” Social and Personality Psychology Compass, vol. 4, no. 5, 2010, pp. 295–303.


Examine your approach by critically considering several of the choices  that constitute your course. You might consider the syllabus, course policies, your approach to students, your planned activities, how you grade,  and how you diverge and/or align with your discipline. You can do this by freewriting, sharing your plans with a friend or colleague for feedback, or any other way you’d like. 


The syllabus is a guide to how the instructor plans to lead students through a field of knowledge, a series of topics. This is likely informed by the instructor’s political commitments, theories of knowledge and learning, expertise, and discipline, even if those things are not explicitly stated. The syllabus is more than a document that you distribute to students, which they may or may not read. It’s a map for your own thinking, and the space where you can develop, present, and refine and revisit the principles you want to lay at the heart of your course.   

Some questions to consider as you apply the thinking of this workshop to your syllabus: 

  • How does your syllabus reflect how you imagine knowledge? Is knowledge collectively explored and produced? Is it decimated and consumed? Or is it performed? Who benefits and who is harmed by this approach? 
  • Who do you imagine as knowers? Who do you imagine as needing knowledge?  What kinds of knowledge count? What kinds of ways of knowing are implicitly or explicitly welcomed? What kinds of ways of knowing are implicitly or explicitly unwelcome? How is dissent engaged? 
  • How do you assess student knowledge? How do you frame your knowledge? Are they experts? Do you draw on other voices? Where are the places that students can challenge or inquire into knowledge claims? 
  • Who is represented in your syllabus? If you are including perspectives often discounted, are they treated as supplemental to the canonical thinkers? How do you engage how the discipline is implicated in colonization and oppression of colonized people? 

You might also consider how you might approach course policies, assignments, classroom norms, assessment, and community in ways that resist norms and hierarchies rooted in colonization. 

Additional reading

Decolonizing the syllabus, part 1 | The Activist Classroom

Show Don’t Tell: Decolonize your classroom, syllabus, rules, and practices

Not Just the Syllabus, Throw the Whole Discipline In the Trash

Decolonizing your syllabus? You might have missed some steps

Conflict in the Classroom

Share/Connect (optional)

The work that has begun in this workshop will continue as we approach the fall semester, and beyond. 

We encourage anyone who wants to share their work for feedback or participate in a community of practice and reflection around the practices explored here to join a private group on the CUNY Academic Commons, which you can access and request membership in here: 


Knowledge of resources and research about decolonizing pedagogies in higher education. 

1-2 policies, assignments, readings, and/or activities that are inspired and/or informed by decolonial pedagogies. 

Additional Resources: 


Decolonizing Pedagogies by Prof. Heidi Safia Mirza

More Reading: 

Toward a Decolonizing Pedagogy: Social Justice Reconsidered 

Do Not ‘Decolonize’ If You Are Not Decolonizing:  Progressive  Language and Planning Beyond a Hollow Academic Rebranding 

Questions academics can ask to decolonise their classrooms

Revolutionizing my Syllabus: The Process


Abdi, Ali A (2012). Decolonizing Philosophies of Education. NewYork: Peter Lang. 

Hooks, bell. (1994). Teaching to transgress : Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.

Love, B. (2020). We want to do more than survive : Abolitionist teaching and the pursuit of educational freedom. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press.