Part 2 of "Education as a Means of (Post) Colonial Control in the Literature of Zimbabwe and Singapore: A Theoretical and Literary Analysis"
The British colonizers of Singapore and Zimbabawe made the primacy of the English language its literature, and scholarly achievements and, by extension, English societal and cultural values as crucial goal. In his 1835 "Minute on Indian Education," Thomas Macaulay states simply that "We have to educate a people who cannot at present be educated by means of their mother-tongue" (Ashcroft, 428). The issue of the need to educate the Indian people is not even addressed; it is assumed to be obvious, and inarguable. Almost as taken for granted is the fact that the language in which the colonized peoples are to be instructed is that of the colonizing nation, English. The language of the conqueror provides "access to all the vast intellectual wealth, which all the wisest nations of the earth have created and hoarded in the course of ninety generations" (428).
It is this philosophy, that "the English tongue is that which would be the most useful to our native subjects" (Ashcroft, 428),that has prompted theorists, critics, and writers of colonial and postcolonial literature to call attention to and reject the "ruling anglocentric assumption" (443) that continues to dominate the educational systems of former British colonies (including the United States). This argument has not only pedagogical but also political implications for the postcolonial subject. For, as Gauri Viswanathan points out, the study of literature brings with it certain humanistic concepts, such as the development of standards of aesthetics, ethics, and character, that are also linked to the establishment and maintenance of sociopolitical control (Ashcroft, 431). Alan J. Bishop extends this idea of the educational disciplines as being "culturally loaded" beyond the humanities to suggest that even the study of western mathematics, as a set of principles constructed by humans, has a particular cultural history (Ashcroft, 72). The choice to educate colonized students not in their own languages, and not according to their own cultures' histories and practices of thinking serves to educate them away from those cultures, and towards a belief in the superiority of the culture with whose knowledge and values they are being filled.
It is this type of colonialist philosophy, and the fact that it is still in place to at least some extent in most postcolonial educational systems, that prompted Ngugi Wa Thiong'o to "question the role and status of an English Department in an African situation and environment" (Ashcroft, 438). Pointing to the cultural implications of the educational practices in the English Department of the University of Nairobi, Thiong'o posited that
Underlying the suggestions (on revisions to be made in the university's English Department) is a basic assumption that the English tradition and the emergence of the modern west are the central root of our consciousness and cultural heritage. Hence, in fact, the assumed centrality of the English Department, into which other cultures can be admitted from time to time, as fit subjects for study, or from which other satellite departments can spring as time and money allow . . . Just because for reasons of political expediency we have kept English as our official language, there is no need to substitute a study of English culture for our own. We reject the primacy of English literature and culture . . . The aim, in short, should be to orient ourselves towards placing Kenya, East Africa, and then Africa into the centre. All other things are to be considered in their relevance to our situation, and their contribution toward understanding ourselves. (Ashcroft, 439)
Thiong'o's proposition reflects a reversal of the positioning of English language, academics, and culture at the center of the colonial student's awareness, with his own language, traditions, and history relegated to the margins of his experience and consciousness. As he states in his conclusion, "The question of literary excellence implies a value judgement as to what is literary and what is excellence, and from whose point of view" (Ashcroft, 441). These questions remain at he forefront of the issue of education as an institutional method of colonial control, and therefore in the experiences of the postcolonial subject. Naturally, then, postcolonial authors have examined the implications of linguistic, literary, and cultural privilege and exclusion as they explore the experiences of the postcolonial subject in their own works.
Bishop, Alan J. "Western Mathematics: The Secret Weapon of Cultural Imperialism." Ed. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. The Post-colonial Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 1995. 71-76.
Docker, John. "The Neocolonial Assumption in University Teaching of English." Ed. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. The Post-colonial Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 1995. 443-446.
Macaulay, Thomas. "Minute on Indian Education." Ed. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. The Post-colonial Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 1995. 428-430.
Thiong'o, Ngugi Wa. "On the Abolition of the English Department." in Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin, 438-442.
Viswanathan, Gauri. "The Beginnings of English Literary Study in British India." in Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin, 431-437.