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Decolonizing the Elementary Classroom: Possibilities and Constraints in the Common Core Era


Decolonizing pedagogy requires teachers and students challenge classical and present day colonial colonialism. Questions arise when examining the implementation of such practices in the elementary classroom, especially since the passing of the Common Core: Is it possible to implement such pedagogy in the midst of restrictive standards and dehumanizing testing? With the recent shift to the Common Core in California, few examples of transformative applications exist at the elementary level, and even less with decolonization as a central focus. The purpose of this study is to examine the practical realities of implementing a critical decolonizing pedagogy in a Common Core elementary classroom. The following questions guide this study:

1- What are the colonizing conditions facing an elementary decolonial educator?

a. How does a decolonial educator navigate, confront and address these conditions in her classroom?

2- How do the classroom, the youth, the community, and my experiences transform my pedagogy along the way?

3- How do I as an educator, develop the support you need to confront your own traumas of teaching under colonial conditions?

Using a mixed methods approach, blending autoethnography and portraiture, data was collected throughout the 2012-2014 school year, and consisted of observations, artifacts and field notes from a public school in Los Angeles. The fifth grade classroom was in a low-income urban community of color in South Central Los Angeles, comprised mostly of Latino and Black students.

Multiple examples of decolonial curriculum were possible within language arts and social studies common core standards. Despite limitations in the classroom schedule, activities addressing student trauma were imbedded throughout the year, in both academic and informal settings. Substantial constraints were found within standardized testing, both with the state-wide assessments online, as well as with the project-based assessment for the school district. Lastly, participation within a collective of decolonial educators was necessary to sustain such classroom practices and resist colonial practices being encouraged by the school and district.

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