This is a copy and paste from an email that I received about a Coursera April Fool’s Day joke. A course on Underwater Basketweaving. Given the course content this was important for the learning team to respond to immediately. I was enrolled as a student in this course, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). People of color, racialized people, Indigenous people and their cultures should not be the butt of jokes in education or elsewhere.
Ahniin! We have just come off a week of sacred celebrations including Passover, Holi, Easter, the vernal equinox and the coming of spring. Whatever event you celebrate, we hope it was a good one for you.
Today a learning opportunity fell into our lap. Coursera issued an April Fool’s Day joke course calledUnderwater Basketweaving.
In order for the joke to work, it relies on deep cultural assumptions about the inferiority of indigenous knowledge. While the writers and performers of the piece likely didn’t even realise or intend the offense it might cause, I’m sure there are keepers of indigenous knowledge who would be offended. I get that it’s meant to be lighthearted and a joke but anyone who has actually spent time learning about basket making processes would realize it’s about more than the finished product. Even the preparations and gathering of materials involve a great amount of knowledge. If there’s any doubt about the meaning of actual basket making, check out these courses on Six Nations Basket Knowledge and Storyweaving.
Basket making is serious business and there is a lot more to it than the basket that is made. The process more than the product, the human growth and reflection on greater things than the physical object. Not to mention how sacred we hold our traditional languages and burial sites, also mocked in the April Fools Day “joke.”
Should I really be upset about this? In our forums there has been much discussion about a refrain that is used when Aboriginal people talk about colonial policies and practices that is dismissive and hurtful. That phrase is “Get over it!” I would suggest that people who say “Can’t you take a joke?” could benefit from a course to see how the colonial rule over diverse indigenous populations is buttressed by “jokes” like this one that undermine the value of our knowledges and peoples.
You might be surprised to find that jokes like this one help lead to the misinformation and stereotyping that underlies attitudes and opinions like those expressed in a recent letter to the editor of the Nanaimo Daily News. Taken together over time and in quantity, embedded in schools and media and harmless jokes, these attitudes and opinions in turn can lead to discrimination and the support of racist laws and policies.
I am sure that the writers of the coursera April Fools’ Day joke did not intend for their comments to cause harm. If only they could enroll in a course to see how this process works. Fortunately such a course exists on Coursera (#aboriginaled). And it’s FREE! Please encourage the learning among coursera staff to continue.
Looking forward to a few more enrollments.
Aboriginal Worldviews and Education Course Team
I do think that the Professor and Teaching Assistants make some salient points. The joke falls flat for various reasons. The joke is insensitive and I assume that Coursera will later apologize. Hopefully, they won’t pull a Nanaimo Daily News and attempt to say it was human error or martian error (now that is a joke). I stand with the Professor and Teaching Assistants and say: this is not funny. Instead make a joke about MOOCs and incessant emails, students who troll, and other things that are funny or hard-biting.