Our Civilizing Mission is at once an exploration of colonial education, and a response to current anxieties about the historical and conceptual foundations of the ‘humanities’. On the one hand, focusing in detail on the example of Algeria, it treats colonial education as a facet of colonialism, exploring work by ‘colonized’ writers that attests to the suffering inflicted by colonialism, to the shortcomings of colonial education, and to the often painful mismatch between the world of the colonial school and students’ home cultures. On the other hand, it asks what can be learned by treating colonial education not just as an example of colonialism but as a provocative, uncomfortable example of education. Placing writers’ literary and personal accounts of their transformative and often alienating experiences of colonial education in historical context, it raises difficult questions – about languages, literatures, ways of thinking, nationalism and national cultures – that need to be reconsidered by anyone teaching subjects such as French, or English, especially through literature.
'Our Civilizing Mission upends many of the basic assumptions that prevail in Francophone and Postcolonial Studies about colonial education. While many of us are familiar with extreme examples of colonial arrogance laid bare on the chalkboard, Harrison describes a decidedly more complex, and at times contradictory, web of relationships between and among the metropole, the colonizer, the school, and the colonized.'
Corbin Treacy, Florida State University