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Cultivating Justice in Higher Education: Simplicity as a Decolonial Philosophy and Practice of Liberation


My dissertation puts forward a decolonial philosophy and practice of education rooted in simplicity. It explores how simplicity offers a philosophical way forward for those attempting to think, act and live in ways that transcend violence and oppression. The goal of this work is to create a path for students and lifelong learners to embody a life justice ethic (an ethic guided by love and social/environmental justice). Simplicity allows for conditions in which students can think, act and live differently. In doing so, we can actively work to create alternative forms of existence that value the sacred connections we have, not only with one another, but all the other living beings we share home with. I show how cultivating a philosophy and practice of education rooted in simplicity helps us re/learn how to live in, and with, the Earth.

I suggest that through choosing to think, act and live differently, other ways of existing become possible. It is education that helps us make the philosophical and material shifts necessary to bring about these new possibilities; it is education that helps us cultivate ways of living that align much more with the rhythms and essence of life. In my work, the elements of the Earth are what guide the philosophy and practice of education. The elements are our teachers. They teach us of the cyclical and profound truths found in nature—and in us.

In this work, each element represents a specific aspect in the process of decolonizing: (a) Tierra/Earth teaches us to be clear and ground each other in the deep dilemmas inherent in colonization and oppression so we can (b) begin to see/understand ourselves in the conditions of a problematic dominant worldview (Agua/Water). By understanding the ways in which we may be complicit in maintaining these structures and systems of inequality and suffering, we then (c) free ourselves to envision a world not based on systematic exploitation and enslavement (Viento/Wind). By consistently engaging and reflecting on these areas of focus, we can (d) move towards these new visions in tangible ways without reenacting the colonial projects that have trapped us in this iteration of what it means to be “human” in a more than human world (Fuego/Fire). What is at the center and holds all of this present is the spirit, which moves through all in one.

Together, these elemental teachings form a cyclical path towards decolonization. They help us understand, reflect, dream and act other paradigms into existence. Simplicity creates space and time to engage with the decolonial teachings of the Earth; and, in doing so, allows us to overgrow systems predicated on domination and oppression.

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