Josie Gray: Welcome to the BCcampus Mixtape. This podcast is a remix of previous recordings from BCcampus offerings such as the Lunchable Learning radio show, Open Knowledge Spectrums, and more! My name is Josie Gray. I am on the Open Education team at BCcampus. If you love to learn, you’ve come to the right place…
I am joining you today from Moh’kins’tsis on Treaty 7 lands, which includes the territories of the Blackfoot confederacy (which includes the Siksika, Piikani, and Kainai Nations), the Tsuut’ina Nation, and the Stoney Nakoda (including the Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley Nations). This place is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3.
This episode was originally published as part of my master’s major research project at OCAD University, a podcast titled Open Knowledge Spectrums. The episode was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 licence, and you can find it at knowledgespectrums.opened.ca.
In this episode, I am joined by Dr. Tadashi Dozono. Tadashi Dozono is an assistant professor of history/social science education at California State University Channel Islands. Through cultural studies, ethnic studies, queer theory, and critical theory, Tadashi’s research emphasizes accountability towards the experiences of marginalized students by examining the production of knowledge in high school social studies classrooms. His work draws on his experiences as a queer Japanese American cis-male, his family’s internment during World War II, and over twelve years of teaching in New York City public schools. He received his PhD in social and cultural studies from UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education, where his dissertation focused on “trouble-maker” students of colour in world history classrooms.
Let’s listen in…
Josie: So, to start, I was wondering if you could share a bit about your background, as a person, as a teacher, as a researcher?
Dr. Tadashi Dozono: So, I’m Japanese American, grew up in Portland, Oregon, and I identify as queer cis male. And I taught in New Your City from like early 2000s to just like a couple of years ago, until 2019. And I did my PhD work, kind of course work right kind of in the middle of that and finished doing dissertation writing while continuing to teach in New York City. And then now currently, I teach at Cal State University Channel Islands, just about an hour north of LA. Yeah.
And kind of teaching wise, I always taught high school social studies. For most of the time taught ninth grade world history, but also taught nine through twelfth grade U.S. history, civics, economics, and world history.
Josie: Great. And what brought you to work on epistemic injustice in world history curriculum?
Tadashi: I guess a lot of it was through my years of teaching in New York City, teaching world history to ninth graders, and almost all of the students are/were Black and Latino, and just knowing after years of teaching them, just how they ended up like seeing themselves or not seeing themselves in the world history curriculum.
And I think in a lot of ways that reflected my own experiences in K to 12 schools, of not feeling like there was room in history classes for my background in history. Yeah. I mean, a lot of why I ended up going into teaching was because of experiences of racism that I had had growing up. And so, it was kind of— I guess teaching was my way of dealing with racism, as my way to sort of create change around that. And I guess going into doing research on this stuff was my way of kind of further processing that. And figuring out— I guess even though I had been trying to change the narrative of world history to be more inclusive of my students’ backgrounds, they still felt overall excluded from the narrative. And so, as a teacher, that felt frustrating to feel like, I’m trying to make these changes but it’s not really— it’s not doing the sort of change I intended it to. And so, going into researching this stuff was trying to figure out, okay, what else needs to happen? Like besides— you know, I think the content— changing the content is important, but what else is going on here besides just changing, you know, the places that are included in the narrative of world history?
Josie: Yeah. Absolutely. Could you maybe talk about some the research that you have done? Like general overview?
Tadashi: Yeah. I mean I guess my PhD dissertation work was then focused on interviewing high school students of colour—pretty much all like Black and Latinx students—10th graders in world history classrooms. And then trying to really document their experiences and their relationships to world history. And so, it was kind of building off of what I had seen in my students as a teacher, and then going back into classrooms to try to document those experiences of different students in like urban classroom settings. And so, I guess in terms of my research, part of it’s like documenting those experiences that students have and their relationships to make teachers and researchers more aware of that sense of, you know, ways that students can feel like unseen or negated through the curriculum.
And then part of my work is also then looking at curriculum—often world history curriculum, like textbooks, or state standards, or curriculum units—and trying to look at, okay, what’s problematic about these? Like where— what could change in how these are structured. Because I think oftentimes the people creating curriculum, I believe that they are trying to do a good job of being more inclusive. But there are still these sort of issues, right. So, part of my work comes from this sense of like, I know that I as a teacher had good intentions of changing the curriculum for my students but it still— it’s like, what’s that something else that’s still missing that’s not creating that change that I want it to? And then I guess, yeah, I end up doing a lot of theory work to kind of— I guess it’s trying to get to the foundations. Like what are the underlying things going on beyond just the surface of like, this looks like an inclusive narrative, but then what’s actually going on underneath?
Josie: For sure, absolutely. And so, I guess you were just talking about like recognizing that people come into this with good intentions, but even with those good intentions, there’s still some— there’s a gap there. And so where do you think that gap is? Is it kind of— Cause it’s not— You’re right, it’s not just curriculum. It’s also the teacher, and how it’s taught, and how students are brought in. Could you maybe talk about that?
Tadashi: So, to some extent, I think, another layer of these tensions is how student thinking comes into play. I guess overall I think a lot about the idea of like knowledge production and the relations of knowledge production in the classroom. I guess I think about like, what’s the relationship between like students and the teacher and the text in the classroom? You know, okay, so if we just take the text itself, like the textbook or something. What went into producing that kind of set of knowledge that’s there? Right? And then I also try to think about, in terms of students, what’s the knowledge that students are bringing into the classroom, and how can that knowledge be incorporated into the overall kind of system of producing knowledge in the classroom. And then the teacher as well, right? What role does the teacher play in that in terms of kind of taking authority of themselves as the “expert” or kind of putting the expertise in the books that they are reading or the expertise in the students, right? And their ability to listen to what students are saying.
So, to some extent I— through my work with interviewing students, I really try to think about, okay, what’s all the thinking going on with that students are saying? Beyond just, is this a right answer or a wrong answer? What are the things going on into their thinking behind that, right? And to have the ways that students are thinking about history and world history to be just as interesting as what’s in the textbook itself. So, I think part of my goal is to get teachers to be really attentive to the ways that students are thinking about the world and to have that be just as important as the history that the world history textbook is presenting.
Josie: Right. And I was wondering if you could talk about, like how you do that in a context there’s this state-mandated curriculum with exams that students have to take. Like how do you do that kind of teaching with those structures being imposed?
Tadashi: Yeah with this I guess I’m thinking about this more from my own experiences as a high school teacher, and then also presenting this as like a possible solution for like other teachers to I guess to find the ways to subvert the state standards, kind of openings in the state standards. Like so for example, on the New York State exam, there would be these thematic questions about world history. And so, they don’t— They suggest some examples of cases that you could use. So, I would often try to take those themes and think about other examples that could be used that are not necessarily like in the traditional history textbook, right? So, for example like, thinking about like Jamaican Maroons, Maroon communities, as an example as kind of revolution or protest, right? So, thinking about like cases that might relate more to my students from the Caribbean and a New York City classroom, but that are not talked about much in the New York City textbook. Yeah. I guess it’s like trying to find those openings in the ways that you can—You can use the sort of bigger questions or themes and then find, you know, ways to incorporate different content into that.
Josie: Right. Absolutely. I guess that leads into another question that I have. My work life is very focused on textbooks [laughs], but I’m like fully aware that textbooks can be super limiting. So could you may talk about like, how do you feel about textbooks? And do you use them? Are they ever useful to you?
Tadashi: Yeah. It’s— I think textbooks are definitely useful in some ways I kind of think about their kind of like, something like Wikipedia, where it’s like a really good starting point, and it’s useful, but then it’s kind of moving from the sort of like kind of background knowledge, narrative foundation that the textbook might provide and then going into much more critical like depth of looking at primary sources and— I mean I think it would be great to do some analysis of what is going on in the textbook. So to get students to do kind of discourse analysis of like, okay, how is this narrative being constructed? Like what’s missing? What language is being used about certain groups and not being used around others? So, I think it would be great for teachers to use those issues around textbooks as a way to also study it as a text itself and to be critical about that text. Yeah. So, I mean I think— I definitely use textbooks as a teacher. You know, I will still use certain kind of base-narrative texts in my own classrooms, but then thinking of that as just the beginning point and then doing inquiry from there.
Josie: Right. Using textbooks as a tool to give students the abilities to kind of analyze like, what’s the narrative here? And be more critical about it rather than presenting it as this like “master narrative.”
Tadashi: And I think— I guess with my own work, I think it’s important to do the critiques of the textbooks, but then I also— I guess just for myself, I try to make sure that I’m doing a sort of balance of looking at like the problems that can be in textbooks but be also solutions-oriented. Right, so what would alternatives look like? And trying to look at models of that or examples of alternatives to using the textbook or ways to extend past just using the textbooks.
Josie: Yeah. I know that’s a question that I have, it’s like whether textbooks, just in the way that they’re designed, whether they could ever really be epistemically just. Or whether they could include multiple ways of knowing, like that’s a question I have about textbooks, is whether that’s possible based on how they are designed. Or if kind of new designs need to be imagined. Yeah, I don’t know the answer, but something that I’ve been thinking about for sure.
Tadashi: Yeah, and I guess kind of—I mean I think, I think one of the big tensions I have with textbooks is the presentation of “objective” knowledge. I think it’s important for the textbook and the teacher to be honest about this, this is presenting as objective, but there’s inevitably some sort of bias and ideological influence going into how this narrative is being presented. So, I think either the textbooks being upfront about that bias or the teacher helping students to unpack that bias and perspective that is there.
Josie: Yeah, absolutely. I’m trying to find a quote of one of your articles that I pulled out… mmm okay, there is a quote that went, “The promotion of ‘normal’ and ‘traditional’ curriculum is just as political as those deemed radical or politically motivated.” And I think that kind of speaks to what you were just saying, like claiming objectivity with a certain narrative is a political act even though it’s been kind of depoliticized by European ways of knowing or, you know.
So, you write a lot about epistemic violence. Could you talk a little bit about how you define the term and maybe an example of what that looks like?
Tadashi: Epistemic violence is— it’s basically when the ways that people understand the world and makes sense of the world when those ways of knowing are negated or ignored. It’s like when you deem someone’s way of making sense of the world as illegitimate, it’s really—in a big way, especially in terms of world history, it’s a way of dehumanizing people, of kind of taking away that part of their humanity. And I think in terms of world history, a big component of how being human is defined is that capacity to reason, and so when you take away the legitimacy of a group of people’s capacity to reason, then that’s an act of dehumanization. And so, to a large extent, that’s why I frame it through this term of violence. We often think of violence as these physical acts of harm. So, I use the term violence here to point to the way that like words can do harm and words can be an act in themselves. And so, to make that sort of judgement of whether someone’s way of knowing counts or not, to me it’s important, especially in schools, to understand that as a form of epistemic violence.
Josie: Right. And with you talking about language, in one of your articles, you really get into the language and grammar and look at how those are used to reinforce white supremacy in grade 10 world history curriculum. So, could you talk about some of the ways that white supremacy functions at the level of language?
Tadashi: Yeah, so it’s interesting because I— I think, partly I never really thought of myself as being a good student in English classes, and you know, I think I always thought that I was interpreting the text wrong, and things like that. But I’ve gotten really interested in the idea of grammar overall as really this representation of relationships of power. You know, it’s— Just the idea of who is the subject in the sentence and who’s the object in the sentence? And just doing some analysis around, you know, who gets to be a subject, who gets to be an actor in history versus who is the object, who is acted upon, I think really then opens up these power dynamics that can go kind of unnoticed. But they’re really kind of these powerful structures at the sentence level in these texts, right? And so— Yeah, and I guess beyond just sort of object/subject, there is also who then is being seen as passive? Or who has agency? You know, oftentimes non-white peoples in world history are included only once they are acted upon. They become a part of history once Europe has had contact with them. And then they enter history. And oftentimes, the events are only remarkable as a sort of reaction to something that Europe has done. If it’s a revolt or something. Like the Haitian revolution is remarkable only in terms of being a both an example of kind of redoing what Europeans were doing in terms of political revolutions, but then also sort of like repeating that action. But then also only in response to France’s actions. So yeah, so I think we can see these power dynamics at the sentence level in a lot of these texts.
Josie: Yeah, and I think like one of the examples that really illustrated it for me is where you talked about how passive voice functions both to remove the responsibility, or the— Yeah to downplay European or white actors that are often doing the violence and doing the dispossession and all those things, and how using passive voice means you don’t have to say who did those things. And then also how passive voice, like the same tool, is used to remove agency. Like it’s insidious the ways some of these things work.
Tadashi: Yeah, and that— that was an interesting process for me in my analysis, because I think initially, in doing my analysis of the state framework, was noticing those moments when the passive voice was used to kind of make non-white peoples objects being acted upon and then I started noticing this other dynamic of, oh, the passive voice is still being used for like white Europeans’ actions. And so, it was really trying to figure out, oh, but there’s still this significant difference in how that passive voice functions. So, it was an interesting process for me to figure out for myself what that meant, how the passive voice was being used differently. And it read very differently for me. I was reacting to that difference in the passive voice.
Josie: Yeah, yeah. Very interesting. I have an undergraduate degree in history, so— like history is very interesting to me, and how history is studied is very interesting. And you’re talking about how like history is periodized. Like all these frameworks that are “history,” how these come from a European tradition and are then imposed through all of history curriculum. And it trickles down through all of these levels. Even at the university level, a lot of these things that you have identified still exist, like these historical claims of objectivity and this periodization, like what kind of courses get offered and who teaches them.
Tadashi: Yeah. I guess along those lines, like, thinking about what epistemic violence can look like in curriculum is—Like I’ve been recently doing work at looking at like Indigenous belief systems in the curriculum, and a big tension that comes up with that is, you know, there might be room for Indigenous knowledge to be studied as an object of study, but not being acknowledged as having their own way of making sense of the world. So just the terms that are being used to study the knowledge of other people, it still takes the methods and the perspective of western science to then make sense of that and to make it intelligible. And otherwise, it’s just sort of like “culture” that we can study versus its own legitimate way of understanding the world and knowing. And so, I think that’s a way where epistemic violence can— it can have this appearance of like, oh this culture is being valued. But in actuality, it’s still being objectified. Yeah, it’s not being valued as its own legitimate system of reasoning.
Josie: Right, yeah, absolutely. This is another quote that I pulled from your article, which—and you said, “The goal isn’t simply to have marginalized people mentioned more often. Educators must always be attentive to how power shapes discourse.” And I think that really applies to what you were saying there. Like the goal is not just to talk about Indigenous knowledge systems. The goal is to value those as own knowledge systems equivalent to other knowledge systems and actually change how we think about knowledge and education, and all of those things.
Tadashi: Yeah. And along with that is— I think even in my early attempts to study world history on my own I would often still read, you know, books about Africa or China or the Middle East by white scholars. And then.. I think then at some point there was a shift for me of then trying to focus on reading texts about other places by people from those places. And you know, that’s not to say that scholars who are white who are writing about those places aren’t valuable, but it was to acknowledge that there’s this sort of difference in where the authors are coming from. Yeah just the approach that content ends up being different and the way it’s being presented is somewhat different.
Josie: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, reading some of your research I see you doing that, like kind of acknowledging your positionality and where you’re coming from and being transparent about your identity and how that affects the work that you do. So could you maybe talk more about how positionality of an author and who is being cited and all of those things play into epistemic justice?
Tadashi: Yeah, I think, I mean I think the idea of positionality to some extent I think that became important to me in a lot of ways through my students in New York in my first couple years of teaching. I think I learned humility pretty fast in teaching high school. And that it’s better to acknowledge those differences between me and my students than to make it seem like I know what they are talking about, or I know what they’ve gone through. And so, I think— I mean I think a big piece of that was like, having always identified as a person of colour, and then having my students point out that in their eyes, I’m not a person of colour because I, you know. And to acknowledge that my experiences growing up as Japanese American in Portland, Oregon, is so vastly different than my students growing up in New York City who like, grew up as Black and Latinx. And that even though I see a commonality there, there is still a big difference there.
Yeah, I mean I think in terms of positionality, it’s kind of an important piece of that is having a humility about the limitations of, you know, I’m not going to claim that I can understand this fully, or you know to, to acknowledge that perspective. And I guess that kind of comes to, like comes back to that conversation about textbooks. Like, you know, if I expect the textbooks to be honest about the perspective that they’re coming from and the bias that is inherent in those textbooks, I think it is important to be upfront about how where I’m coming from in my approach to writing of my research.
Yeah, and you know, that does play a role in who I end up citing in my papers as well. You know, I appreciate these sort of movements around citational practices. Things like movements to cite Black women. And that idea of, you know, what lineage are you creating in your work? And who are you placing at the kind of at the origin of knowledge for your work? You know, to me that speaks a lot of that idea of epistemic injustices is, you know, is the origin of all knowledge in Europe at all times versus changing citational practices and changing those lineages to be able to trace back to other locations beyond Europe. And I think there is, built into academia, there’s an expectation of who you cite. And you know, in the publishing process being told that I need to cite certain people. And that, you know, and that really becomes— it just kind of becomes this reproduction of lineages that will remain white if we just kind of continue those practices. So that— That’s kind of this other way that white supremacy can kind of become reproduced in the writing up of research is the expectation of who gets cited, how you’re tracing knowledge, often it ends up being tracing it back to Europe.
Joise: So, I guess then queer theory is applicable much broader than just the fields of gender and sexuality like it can be used in other contexts, is that right?
Tadashi: Yeah, and I guess queer theory ends up also critiquing sort of inclusive models as well a lot of times. I think kind of a good example that I use to help understand this is like, like the idea of gay marriage is more of a normative kind of assimilating into the mainstream by adding gay people into the system of marriage. And the sort of queer critique of marriage is more like, why would I want to be part of a club that didn’t want me in there to begin with? And why would I want to be part of a system that has been known for excluding others or also has strong roots in kind of placing women as objects of property. And it is sort of, instead of trying to be included into the norm, it’s critiquing that power of that idea of normal and like let’s get rid of that category.
Josie: Yeah, that makes me think a lot of Sasha Costanza-Chock’s work on design justice. They write about, in the book, about their experiences as a trans femme person going through airport security and being flagged every time they go through because they don’t conform to male and female like norms of what a body is supposed to be. And they talk about how design justice isn’t about making a more inclusive airport security, it’s about like taking down those systems of surveillance and all of those things. It’s kind of like breaking down those systems, not just trying to be included in those systems that cause a lot of harm.
Tadashi: Yeah, and I think kind of as a high school teacher I think I often would link queer theory with like critical disability studies and the ways that my students were being categorized based on their learning styles and the ways that they think and process things. Yeah, like categories of able-bodied and normal versus, you know, abnormal ways of thinking or being then become this other category, right. So trying to dismantle what that idea of what the normal child is or the normal functional body and mind, you know, instead of trying to get students to, you know, be able to fit into that category, well let’s question what that category is and what it’s actually doing.
Josie: Right, absolutely. So I guess maybe you could talk a little bit about, I think you kind of did there, but how epistemic justice shows up in your teaching practices? Both maybe in the K to 12 levels but also in the university system.
Tadashi: Yeah, and you know and cause like we kind of started talking about like textbooks, but I think at the end of the day, like I don’t care so much about the textbook. What I care about is the students and their sense of themselves and their education. And so I think that idea of epistemic injustice really comes down to, what’s going to help my students, I don’t know, like just have confidence in who they are and in how they think about the world. And you know, to continually push them, but to you know, I guess my concern is really about the students and how they understand themselves. And so, I think a big part of how it comes up in my classroom is— I guess even like K to 12, is to break down the idea of what being smart is. Or you know, trying to move it past the sort of like, this innate inborn capacity and, you know, that the grade means— You know, like I was always really so bothered when students would have this sense of like, “Oh, I failed this class. That means I’m stupid.” And when a lot of times there were all these other factors that were impacting the work that they were turning in or not turning in to the classroom, to the teacher.
So, I think, like in my work now with teaching elementary school teachers how to teach social studies, I’d say a big component of the work that I do with that is kind of repairing students’ relationships to what economics is, government, geography, history. I think a lot of my future elementary school teachers come in with kind of like a bad relationship to some of those things. Like economics feels intimidating. And I think a lot of my work there is trying to break it down to both to acknowledge their relationships to those disciplines and to really broaden the definitions of what those mean, right? That economics is really about resources and how we distribute resources and so that can be as simple as, you know, like having like a bag of candy and how we divide it amongst everyone in the class. So really trying to break some of those ideas down to their kind of core concepts. So, I think like a chunk of that is kind of repairing students’ relationships to those disciplines and to really kind of broaden what counts as knowledge in all of those disciplines, and to really engage students’ own background knowledge as a part of those disciplines, cause often times they are not seen as that. So, a big part of it is like encouraging my future teacher students to really try and incorporate like the knowledge that their students have as a part of that process of learning in the classroom.
Josie: Yeah, absolutely. So where do you see a potential to disrupt epistemic injustice and epistemic violence in world history education?
Tadashi: I think an important component of that is to trust teachers and to provide teachers with the time and the resources to develop curriculum and adapt curriculum. Because I think localizing the learning is really important for teachers to be able to incorporate not just the background knowledge of their students but also of the communities in which the schools are embedded and the students are embedded. And, you know, that takes time and resources to be able to learn the histories of the communities and to incorporate those in. And I think— I think that’s where the learning just reaches new levels of depth and richness when the knowledge is able to be localized and embedded within students’ communities. So I think a big piece of that is really entrusting teachers with, you know, so not just, “This is the state curriculum and you have to teach exactly what this says,” to “Okay, here’s this sort of beginning point of state curriculum, and let’s also make sure that we’re trusting teachers to be able to develop curriculum or expand on the curriculum to really figure out ways to link students’ lives and their communities to these state standards and the state curriculum, or right. Or even just go beyond what the state curriculum says [laughs].
Josie: [Laughs] Absolutely.
Josie: Thank you for joining us today. If you liked this content, let us know. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn under @bccampus, and on Instagram @bccampus.ca.
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“Epistemic Violence and World History with Dr. Tadashi Dozono” transcript by Josie Gray is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 License.