Education at Empire's End
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The transfer, in July 1997, of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule marked the conclusion of a turbulent era of European imperialism. However, as Willinsky (Education/ Univ. of British Columbia) eloquently argues, the colonial legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of those educated, all over the world, in geographic, racial, and cultural categories crafted by European colonialists. As a result of the discoveries of Columbus and other explorers, Europeans’ medieval worldview collapsed and a new one rose in its place. This modern perspective is with us still, Willinsky asserts. Reviewing the vigorous, often violent centuries of European imperialism, the author focuses on the European emphasis on examining, classifying, and categorizing the diverse peoples, geography, and plant and animal life of the conquered continents. “It is not hard to argue,” the author observes, “that the whole venture had about it something of a great public education project intent on bringing the world together under the roof of European learning.” Willinsky goes on to make this argument, showing that imperialist attitudes pervasively influenced the teaching of history and gave rise to such disciplines as geography (National Geographic and geography textbooks tended to treat the non-Western world as a barbaric place gradually coming under civilization’s sway, the author argues) and anthropology (which often produced scientifically credible apologia for racism and eugenics). In his survey of racist bias in language and literature, the author identifies the evident links between the emergence of English as a world language and British and American imperialism: Less evident, the author points out, are potential racist, sexist, and chauvinist perspectives embedded in English that may dominate world culture, and the often smug assumption that English’s universality is evidence of its intrinsic superiority to other languages rather than, as the author contends, an artifact of British imperialism. A thoughtful examination of the changing mission of education in a multicultural world. (11 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8166-3076-3
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Univ. of Minnesota
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998