Do International Schools Promote Colonial Racism?

Dear ISR,

Years ago, I worked as an international educator, happily exploring the world through the better part of my 20’s. With the increasing racial tension, violence and divisiveness here in the United States, my husband and I are considering taking our kids and reentering the circuit.

My concern is that while I will be introducing my children to different cultures and the wider world, I worry we will be jumping out of the ‘frying pan’ of racial tension in the U.S. and into the fire, so to speak. I’ll explain:

Part of why I previously left international teaching was my dislike of the culture of colonial-era social racism that pervades the whole concept of international education. Not in every international school, of course, but generally speaking the hierarchy tends to be:  A few (usually) white men in leadership roles, a bunch of white teachers, and a large group of grossly underpaid, host-national staff and teachers in subservient positions. This microcosm of the ‘colonial model’ of society is pervasive. I’ve witnessed it extend to off-campus life as well.

The idea that a white face bringing Western values and a curriculum such as CCSS or Cambridge is somehow perceived as superior to anything and everything local is colonial racism, at best. The narrative begins with school websites and brochures featuring almost exclusively white teachers and white students, and extends to the very fabric of the school itself.

Wealthy people around the world have apparently bought into the belief that a white, Western education is the expected path for their children. At least that’s how it was before I left the profession. For example, at one school that I know of, parents refused to allow their kids to be taught by a credentialed, African American who had been recently recruited. Rather than stand up for their teacher the school cancelled the contract and replaced her.

As a parent I worry that early exposure to the antiquated hierarchy of international schools is not the world view I want to instill in my girls. Short of only looking for schools in Europe, I am not quite sure how to avoid this dynamic. I am seeking feedback. Is the culture of international schools as white-washed and outdated as it was, or has social progress changed it for the better?

Sincerely,

Mrs. B

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