Local artist AJA Louden says graffiti and street art allow people to tell their individual story. Louden will facilitate the Connecting through Hip Hop workshop on February 19.
Local artist AJA Louden says graffiti and street art allow people to tell their individual story. Barry Boroditzky

Feb. 17, 2022

Academic, Indigenous and arts communities team up to decolonize understandings of literacy

Workshops will explore methods of expression that value diverse cultures, histories and ways of knowing

A workshop series hosted by the Werklund School of Education and the Calgary Public Library is bringing artists, educators, knowledge keepers and researchers together to challenge narrow definitions of literacy.

Mobilizing Anti-racist, Arts-based, and Land-based Literacies: Working Together to Decolonize the English Language Arts invites participants to reframe their understanding of literacy beyond reading and writing by making space for, and valuing, the diverse ways people ‘read’ the world. 

“The English language arts, in theory, are based on the idea that literacy is communicative practice; these practices are unique and grounded in our cultures, our bodies, where we live and what we believe in,” explains Werklund School postdoctoral associate Dr. Towani Duchscher, PhD’19.

“However, practices commonly seen in classrooms continue to teach literacy in a Eurocentric context. This marginalizes many students and precludes them from developing literacy skills connected to reading their own realities, embodied understandings, connections to the land and positions in relation to the dominant discourses.”  

Duchscher, who is partnering with Werklund School Canada Research Chair Dr. Kim Lenters, PhD, to lead the event, considers respecting the multiple ways individuals have for connecting and communicating with the world an important step toward decolonization.

“Many of us have been taught that for different reasons we are outside of what is valued. The impact of this can teach racialized students to also devalue and discredit the ways that our ancestors not only survived but thrived on the land,” says Duchscher.

Every student deserves to be seen, valued, and cared for as a learner and as an important part of our interconnected society.

Engaging community

To ensure authentic knowledge exchange, Lenters and Duchscher invited a diverse lineup of speakers to address arts-based, land-based and anti-racist literacies.

“Our inclusion of academics, knowledge keepers and artists as expert informants is one way we are able to address imbalances in the teaching of ELA created through narrow ideological positioning,” says Lenters.

She adds that the spectrum of expertise the speakers bring gives voice to visual, oral and embodied literacies — literacies that are essential for supporting students of all backgrounds to express themselves in ways that exceed the written.

Arts-based and land-based connections

The next session — Mobilizing Arts-Based Literacies: Connecting through Hip Hop — takes place Feb. 19 and explores how educators can communicate the importance of Black history and ways of knowing through hip-hop art forms. Duchscher and Dr. Bianca Nightengale-Lee will present; local artists AJA Louden and Ajay Musodi will lead workshops on self-expression through graffiti art and hip-hop dance.

When people with diverse realities, experiences, beliefs and education come together with a common understanding, it sparks change,” says Musodi. “Hip hop is a great source to demonstrate the benefits of diversity in expression. This is done through dance exercises designed to teach collaboration skills, while acknowledging a new way of communicating.”

Ahstanskiaki Sandra Manyfeathers and Lesley Tait will share the beauty of Blackfoot ways of knowing and the importance of connecting and learning from the land on March 12. This event will include a walking tour intended to inspire participants to build a relationship with Mohkinstsis (Calgary). 

“Our hope is that those who attend will come away from each workshop with an awakening to the ways that ELA classrooms so easily operate to continue the legacy of colonization as well as practical ideas for chipping away at those legacies,” says Lenters.

All are welcome to these free sessions. Full details are available on the Werklund School of Education website.

About Black History Month

During Black History Month, people in Canada celebrate the many achievements and contributions of Black Canadians and their communities who, throughout history, have done so much to make Canada the culturally diverse, compassionate, and prosperous nation it is today.

The theme for 2022 is February and Forever: Celebrating Black History today and every day.

Learn more