Reimagining Education to Make Ripples Beyond the Academy

Background is a pink/purple sky, filled with clouds that are partially covering a sunset above an open body of water with blue and white waves crashing into the foreground. Quote in white text reads "you have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time. -Angela Davis"
A quote from activist, academic, and author Angela Davis.

Zooming out a bit further, this chapter asks you to consider ways in which you can take teaching and learning well beyond the classroom to address wider barriers to education – to think about the wider ripple effects of your action. You’ll notice in this chapter there isn’t one particular strategy – rather a culmination of strategies laid out in the guide to support your call to action of challenging the status quo in education and advocating on multiple fronts for more equitable access to education.

In order to change the systems we operate in, you have to begin by unlearning the indoctrination learned in our current education system. Starting at a young age, children are taught about society’s norms and values through our education systems. Education is a tool that can be used for good or bad. Educational institutions in Canada and the U.S. have been a place of indoctrination, assimilation, and exclusion since their beginnings. Examples of this include segregated schools, mandatory attendance at boarding and residential “schools”, and even enfranchisement. Both of these countries deem education as a fundamental right and social good. However, rather than using education as a tool of lifelong learning, curiosity, and civic engagement and responsibility, both countries have instead used education as a tool to reinforce the settler-colonial narrative of these countries founded on stolen land and slavery. From discriminatory hiring and admission practises to Eurocentric curriculum and pedagogical practises, these institutions have been and continue to be primarily rooted in a European colonial mindset.  As former Senator and former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Murray Sinclair famously said, “education is what got us here. Education is what will get us out.” It’s crucial for educators to connect education work beyond pedagogy and OER, as this work does not matter if the material conditions for people do not improve. In the words of Gholdy Muhammad, “we live in a period where there’s no time for “urgent-free pedagogy.” Our instructional pursuits must be honest, bold, raw, unapologetic, and responsive to the social times.” (Muhammad, 2021).

Every decision made outside of education impacts education – take the example listed above of the current push to ban the teaching of critical race theory in school. Reimagining Education: Beyond the Rhetoric, from the Mahatma Gandhi Institution of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (UNESCO Library) notes that this perpetuation is “because we look at education purely as an instrumental perspective – as a means to an end – an end which is material wealth and social status, propagating the I vs. you and the us vs. them.”

One way to reimagine education is by leveraging teaching methods where educators and students have agency to learn about things that make sense in the realities that aren’t separate from their lives. By applying classroom learning to students’ own lived experiences and encouraging curiosity and critical thinking, we can shift education from an extractive manner of taking from communities to a reciprocal process of connecting classroom learning to community and connecting communities to learning. We can nurture curious, critical thinkers who are compassionate and caring for the communities around them. We can also create safe learning spaces for students to bring their whole selves into the class, and feel a deep sense of belonging.

Educators work to serve the needs of the communities in which they work, but how do you know the needs of a community if you don’t seek that out? A good first step is paying attention to the news. See whose stories are told, how they are told, and by whom. What you’ll see is individualized narratives turned into generalizations of groups of people. These generalizations turn into stereotypes, negative attitudes and biases. Stereotypes turn into prejudice, including biased thinking which turn into discriminatory beliefs, actions, and policies (a good example of this is the banning of critical race theory in many states). These discriminatory actions turn into systemic discrimination, operating across the full spectrum of income, education, health, housing, culture, policing, public infrastructure, and beyond.

This can be done by making learning opportunities and materials available to a variety of places outside of a classroom, such as community centers, immigration centers, detention centers, libraries, etc. In the previous chapter, the example of hosting educational events in more public spaces, such as libraries was brought up. Other examples could include civic literacy guides for voters distributed for free online and at city or community centres, or introductory resources to civic engagement and responsibilities, so citizens are aware of their rights and responsibilities and are able to make informed decisions. The beauty of open educational resources is that they’re designed for people to easily access them. OER in this regard can be reimagined and utilized far beyond the walls of a classroom, encouraging members of our community opportunities to learn pivotal information they may not otherwise be able to access. Can you think of any examples of learning materials being used outside of the traditional academic setting?

“Realizing the potential of open education is only going to be possible to the extent that it roots out structural racism. We must be more ambitious about dismantling racist policies, practices, and ideas through our work.”

Through the lens of open and equitable education, we have the influence to challenge the current status quo and systemic issues that we all encounter daily. Angela DeBarger, Program Officer at the Hewlett Foundation, makes an incredibly important point about the field of open education and the need to challenge the status quo in order to build a more equitable world. “Realizing the potential of open education is only going to be possible to the extent that it roots out structural racism. We must be more ambitious about dismantling racist policies, practices, and ideas through our work.” (2020) The cost of inaction on the part of educators (no matter your role in the educational system) is immeasurable. You, as an educator, hold a lot of responsibility and power to write the future! All of us as people have to shape the future too — we are both sides of the coin; minting a new currency to propel the world forward.

Pause & Reflect on the Larger Ripple Effects of Education

  • What do you consider your role in society as?
  • What do you see the role of education in society as?
  • Look at the open education movement – who are the initial founding voices of OER? Who are the loudest voices? Why did you buy into open education? Why are you doing this work? How are you doing this work? Who are you doing this work for? Whose values is this movement rooted in?

Action Plan: Create Your Own Ripples of Change

How can you bring lessons learned from this guide and create your own ripples of change?

Using the ripple effect graphic as a reference, think of one action you could take for each ripple (individual, classroom, institution, community/society) and commit to making these actions a reality.

Find an editable worksheet here.


Muhammad, G. (2021). Cultivating genius: An equity framework for culturally and historically responsive literacy. Scholastic.

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Making Ripples: A Guidebook to Challenge Status Quo in OER Creation Copyright © 2023 by Rebus Community (Kaitlin Schilling, Apurva Ashok, Jördis Weilandt) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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