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  • Décoloniser l’école? Hawai‘i, Nouvelle-Calédonie: Expériences contemporaines by Marie Salaün
  • Nathalie Segeral
Décoloniser l’école? Hawai‘i, Nouvelle-Calédonie: Expériences contemporaines, by Marie Salaün. Rennes, France: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2013. isbn 978-2-7535-2165-0, 303 pages, bibliography, table of contents, French. Paper, €17.00.

With Décoloniser l’école?, Marie Salaün provides a highly informative, detailed, and thorough comparative study of the school systems of New Caledonia and Hawai‘i, with a fixed gaze on the relationships and experiences of indigenous populations with state-sponsored education. An anthropologist and historian of education, and one of the very few French specialists of colonial and postcolonial studies in Oceania, Salaün starts from [End Page 570] a deceptively simple question: How can one seize the postcolonial moment in education? In the wake of the intellectual and conceptual disruptions such a question can foster, the author explains how she moved from studying the part played by education and the school system in the perpetuation of the colonial order to focusing on how these can contribute to the dissolution of that same colonial order.

This is a complex, timely topic, and Salaün is at pains to lead the reader into rich discussion of the material contexts and issues facing education in the colonial and postcolonial Pacific. In a notable early passage, she reminds the reader of New Caledonia’s 1999 organic law, article 215, which specifies that Kanak languages are recognized as appropriate for teaching and cultural practice (15). Thus, she notes that the question of how the education system can be adapted to indigenous cultural contexts is woven into the country’s contemporary political and legal framework. Refusing to engage in a discussion of what is possible or what is desirable, she rejects a normative position, but, more importantly, her aim is to acknowledge the evolution of the social and political context. Drawing on the length of her research engagement with the region, beginning in 1994, she is well positioned to note that such evolution has only been accelerated by the 1998 Nouméa Accord. In the new context, in which it is now taken for granted that Kanak languages and cultures must be included in the curriculum, she asks, what are the new stakes? The question has now shifted from “Should we do it?” to “How should we do it?”

The first chapter deals with the discrepancy between the principle of equality among all citizens in contemporary democracies and the acknowledgment of specific collective rights for indigenous people. How do indigenous people’s rights challenge the model of the democratic nation-state? The second chapter confronts a first level of complexity in implementing decolonization in the school system on indigenous lands: To what extent does the emergence of a school system specifically designed for indigenous children challenge “l’indifférence aux differences” (16), the indifference to differences that is characteristic of the way in which the French school system operates? To her mind, such a shift requires a careful reflection on the nature of the “colonial” in order to rid oneself of the illusion under which some believe that there is a continuity between the colonial period and today, when, in fact, there is a complete rupture (16–17). She reminds the reader that, literally, to decolonize (dé-coloniser) amounts to undoing (dé-faire) the school system that colonization had implemented (17). And yet, to “decolonize” education, it is not enough to introduce Kanak languages and cultures. As an assistant professor of French at the University of Hawai‘i, I have noticed firsthand that several of my undergraduate and graduate students who come from Tahiti voice recurring complaints regarding the contemptuous and prejudiced attitudes that were displayed by some of their metropolitan school teachers when they were growing up in French Polynesia. It appears that decolonizing the school system remains intrinsically linked with decolonizing mentalities. [End Page 571]

The third chapter deals with the discrepancies among the various objectives attributed to indigenous language and culture teaching. The fourth chapter questions the tensions between theoretical models, practical experiences adapted to indigenous people, and expectations in terms...


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