Education at top of Mick Dodson’s agenda

Believe it or not, one of the benefits of retirement is being able to watch National Press Club addresses. If you watched Australian of the Year, Mick Dodson’s speech today and didn’t ask what you could do to help meet his simple but seemly unattainable goals then you’re reading the wrong blog:

I’d like to see every Australian child next Australia Day geared up for the start of the 2010 school year.

And I want to be confident that those children are going to get the best education this country can give them. I want it for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and I want it for other children who aren’t getting it now because of where they live, because of poverty and because we’ve failed them.

To take up the challenge, Mick suggested actions we can all take:

If like me you believe education is the principle pathway to reconciliation, you need to act on that belief. 

Indigenous or not, if you are a parent you need to value your kids’ education – get them to school, take an interest in what they’re learning.

If you are non-Indigenous parent, find out how many Indigenous kids are at your children’s school and whether your kids learn about their history and culture. Do you know enough about local Indigenous history and culture to help your kids learn?

If you’re a teacher, demand only the best, of yourself and your pupils.

If you’re a government official working in an education department, ask yourself what are you doing to support schools that achieve great results? What are you doing about those that are failing?

What do you do about schools with poor attendance records or poor literacy outcomes? What did you do this week? Last week? What problem will you fix before you go home?

If you’re a university lecturer what do you teach the next generation? Do you know why there are so few Indigenous students at your university? What are you doing about getting them there?

If you are an employer, do you offer opportunities for Aboriginal trainees, hope for students that their education will lead to work that values and respects them for who they are? Do you hesitate because of stereotypes?

Are you the kind of employer who, given a lucrative government contract for a job in an Aboriginal community, puts a fence around the site and employs not a single Indigenous person, and trains no one?

If you’re someone with skills looking for something fulfilling, have you considered taking them where they are needed?

These are questions we need to be asking if we want better outcomes for Indigenous kids. But we need to ask the same or very similar questions for all disadvantaged kids who are not getting a decent education.

If you’re not on this list, don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll think of something.

You can download the full text of his speech at Reconciliation Australia.

Kevin Rennie

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23 Responses

  1. Mick Dodson can certainly talk.

  2. Kevin as you would be aware the greatest predictor of educational success is the socio-economic background (SES) of the parents. That truth was certainly reinforced by sociologist James S. Coleman in his1966 report Equality of Educational Opportunity.

    Yet we persist with the myth that’s it’s all down to ‘good’ of ‘bad’ schools as though they are sausage machines or clay factories making bricks. Recently National Curriculum Board head Barry McGaw pointed out that Australia is one of only three countries that suppress the results of OECD tests which show that a student’s social background rather than their school is a better indicator of academic performance. McGaw claims:

    “it was already clear that 70 per cent of school performance is dependent on the background of the students.”

    Note that the ban on the disaggregation of that data occurred during the Rodent’s reign.

    While Coleman’s Report resulted in ‘bussing’ which in turn led to a flight by the middle classes from local schools (and the failure of bussing), we cannot hope that children in Aurukun with an appallingly low SES as well as other problems will ever do as well (generally speaking) as children in more advantaged areas. BTW here’s the link to McGaw’s points.

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24929853-2702,00.html

    My basic point is that the problem is extremely complex and Dobson’s approach is but a band-aid no matter how well intentioned it may be.

    People like Pearson were sent away to boarding school. In other words they were separated from an environment which ‘held them back’ and put into an environment where people valued education and understood what ‘valuing’ meant and all that goes with it. It’s easy to say ‘I value education’ but the statement is often meaningless unless one has some understanding of what that involves.

    Boarding school for Aboriginal children? Or another recipe for a ‘stolen generation’?

  3. Interesting and challenging series of points.

    He is saying the education system has failed the indigenous community, and despite the efforts of a few dedicated individuals it looks as if it will continue to fail them.

    Study of indigenous culture is as relevant as the study of any other, from this self respect and community respect can grow.

  4. Here’s my view. I blame racism. These are a few paragraphs I wrote in a university paper. (The sources have been removed).

    Elements of racism are accountable for the low education standards attained by Aboriginal people. Statistically, it could be argued that Aborigines do not consider education to be important. The statistics summarise that their achievements in literacy and numeracy are substantially below average levels, as is their participation rates in compulsory schooling.

    The argument for the racist element, however, is stronger. It is questionable whether the education system is catering for the needs of Aboriginal people. The education system inhibits Aboriginal learning styles with Aboriginal values being replaced with European values. An entirely different set of values is established in schools that are a white way of understanding and doing things. The system also creates alienation of black children from the culture of their parents and assumes European culture is superior. Children are conditioned into accepting the ‘culture’ of the dominant society. The child – caught in a crossfire – can neither effectively relate to Aboriginal society or white society.

    This beaurocratic act of racism filters down into the classroom, where Aboriginal students are ignored personally and intellectually.

    Happy to discuss.

  5. That’s true Nature 5, I sometimes wonder whether we aren’t doing a great disservice to indigenous people by providing labels about “the problem”; it is a complex series of issues. And indigenous people object to being called “a problem” or “disadvantaged”.

    I think many see themselves as dispossessed rather than disadvantaged.

    Marginalised people need role models to show the way, to demonstrate the possibilities. Creating or supporting role models is challenging, and is certainly easier in cities than in remote communities.

    It needs a generational approach.

  6. Tom of Melbourne

    “He is saying the education system has failed the indigenous community,”

    He sure is but can anyone point to an educational system in the developed world that doesn’t fall into that category when it comes to indigenous minorities?

    By its very nature an education system is about the transmitting the ‘common sense’ of the dominant culture. Even radicals like Gramsci argued that if one don’t understand the dominant culture one will always be disadvantaged.

    As for:

    “Study of indigenous culture is as relevant as the study of any other”

    While it can be useful, it can also be limiting. There’s not a lot of demand for Aboriginal languages spoken only in the Tanami. Unless of course that’s where you want them to live for the rest of their lives with no ability to escape.

  7. we also created such a complex society that its almost to hard.
    Look at how many years our own children have to be educated just to keep up.

    Are our expectations to high.

    The problems mentioned extend through our whole society.

  8. N5 – I’d have to disagree with your comment on study of indigenous culture.

    You particularly would acknowledge that there are a variety of educational endeavours that are not vocational. Study of indigenous culture is more useful than an arts degree.

    I see no reason that indigenous people should be more corralled.

    We need to provide opportunities in every form of education. Create a little momentum.

    I’m aware of a couple of programs specifically designed to indigenous people at universities in Victoria. These programs should get far more funding and support.

    They’re probably even more socially beneficial than home insulation!

  9. Dodson said:
    “Indigenous or not, if you are a parent you need to value your kids’ education – get them to school, take an interest in what they’re learning.”

    Essential.

    If the parents haven’t instilled in the children respect for education & repeatedly explained the reasons it’s necessary for their children get an education then it’s much harder for educators to break thru. Taking an interest makes a big difference. Routines are important. Including going through the homework with them. It starts in the HOME.

    It’s valuable to have a ‘home liason officer’ that runs cultural programs & follows through on ensuring students are attending classes.

    N’

  10. Miglo, on February 18th, 2009 at 9:14 pm Said:

    “Statistically, it could be argued that Aborigines do not consider education to be important.”

    Not sure what you mean by that statement. Most Aborigines I have met mouth words to the effect that ‘education is important’ but many (most) don’t have a clue as to to what a good ‘education ‘ is or what efforts they need to make to ensure that their children have some educational success, as defined by the dominat culture.

    As for:

    “The statistics summarise that their achievements in literacy and numeracy are substantially below average levels, as is their participation rates in compulsory schooling. ”

    Absolutely! And on all counts.

    “The education system inhibits Aboriginal learning styles with Aboriginal values being replaced with European values.”

    Sure does. An educational system is supposed to allow children to escape the limitations of their own backgrounds. In the case of Aboriginal communities, there is an urgent need, for example, to explain how disease spreads and why Ted Egan wants to shoot virtually every dog in Aboriginal settlements.

    “An entirely different set of values is established in schools that are a white way of understanding and doing things.”

    Sure is!

    “The system also creates alienation of black children from the culture of their parents and assumes European culture is superior.”

    Sure does! While I make no claims as to the ‘superiority’ of one culture over another, I am simply arguing, like Gramsci, that if you want to be part of the ‘disadvantaged’ for ever and ever, then simply ignore the dominant culture (even thought it might be inferior in your view. BTW I am not sure how you establish how one culture is better than another.)

    I make no such claim. I simply argue that to deny the ‘reality’ (as constructed by the dominant culture) does a dis-service to all Aborigines and their future.

    Happy to discuss.

    Tom of Melbourne,

    “disservice to indigenous people by providing labels about “the problem’

    Yes! Apologies. Aboriginal people shouldn’t be regarded as a problem. Rather reference should be to the problems they face.

  11. Nasking, I’m beginning to take a liking to you.

  12. Tom of Melbourne

    “You particularly would acknowledge that there are a variety of educational endeavours that are not vocational.”

    Yes! A ‘good’ educational system must go beyond creating fodder for the employers or the ‘capitalist system’ more generally. But some regard must be given as to how one will earn a living rather than be confined forever to the ‘dust and flies’. And the misfits, some of whom are Aborigines.

    As for:

    “Study of indigenous culture is more useful than an arts degree.”

    I would have thought that an Arts Degree (properly designed) would ensure a study of an indigenous culture. An Arts Degree without some Sociology or Anthrolopology seems like an oxymoron.

    As for:

    “I see no reason that indigenous people should be more corralled”

    Tom, let me be very clear, I am not arguing against the value of Aboriginal Culture per se, I am saying we need to abandon the romantic view that all being, let’s say, experts in minority culture is sustainable. FGS, have you ever been to an Aboriginal community, They watch the TV, the videos etc. Like most of the rest of Australians they are flooded by American culture.

    Happy to discuss.

  13. N5, I have been to some communities, though not for some time.

    I don’t have a romantic view of the life, far from it. It is depressing and confronting, and I’m not sure that it is the American culture that is flooding them. Some of it is even more offensive.

    I’m not going to pretend to be particularly informed or capable on this subject, but I think it is human nature to migrate to good news and optimistic stories. People respond well to hope and leadership – that’s why I advocate looking for opportunities to create role models that aren’t footballers.

    To create role models the education curriculum has to respond to culture, otherwise it will fail.

    Respect of artistic heritage through higher education is a good starting point, and lots of money should be pumped into this.

  14. “I would have thought that an Arts Degree (properly designed) would ensure a study of an indigenous culture.” (N5).

    Couldn’t agree more Nature 5. Why? Because I have an Arts degree in Aboriginal Affairs Administration.

  15. Young aboriginal people grow up in multi-cultures: traditional; contemporary Australian; Planet Hollywood (TV/DVD); and the global online world. Their own search for an identity is incredibly complex. As Mick Dodson said:

    “They involve lifting expectations of what’s possible, supporting the aspirations of communities rather than imposing solutions that fit a certain ideology, having the courage to be creative and flexible in developing models that work in particular contexts, and being prepared to make and fix mistakes along the way.
    And they universally involve ingredients that some of you might be tempted to think of as merely “symbolic”, like recognising and developing students’ sense of themselves as Aboriginal people.”

  16. Tom of Melbourne

    “It is depressing and confronting,”

    Agree! And I am pretty sure you will also agree that’s an understatement.

    “but I think it is human nature ”

    Maybe, but I am always reluctant to pontificate on what constitutes ‘human nature’, in particular on whether it is biologically/genetically or sociologically determined. But if I am cornered I’ll have a few dollars on the sociological dimension.

    I’ll leave ‘role models’ alone for the moment and respond to:

    “the education curriculum has to respond to culture”

    Yes! One must always begin with what ‘objectively’ exists, but part of the ‘problem’ (ours) is to determine what ‘exists’ in their minds. Not easy. And it’s probably not what the current ‘leaders’ say it is. Culture is fluid. And cultures under extreme pressures, such as Aboriginal Culture, even more so.

    Miglo:

    ” I have an Arts degree in Aboriginal Affairs Administration.”

    Congratulations! For my part, I have no such qualification and therefore I await your response to the points I raised above and to which you said you were ‘happy to respond’.

    Cheers.

  17. “Their own search for an identity is incredibly complex.” (renniek).

    Wonderful comment Kevin, and one that brings to mind the complex construction of Aboriginality. Strangely – and I say this tongue in cheek – Aborigines didn’t know they were Aborigines until Europeans told them they were. Europeans also applied such labels as Aboriginality and Aboriginalism. Nobody it seemed, knew more about the Aborigines than the Europenas.

    The precursor to the term Aboriginalism is Edward Said’s Orientalism, however examples of Aboriginalism can be traced back to 1788 but the term itself is a recent one to describe the way in which non-Indigenous people construct and represent Aboriginality, and the way in which this knowledge constructs Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations. Bain Attwood and John Arnold, whose book Power, Knowledge and Aborigines pursued Aboriginalism as a discourse, examined the way in which Europeans constructed a range of stereotypes about the East (Orientalism) and applied a similar analysis to constructions of knowledge about Aborigines (Aboriginalism).

    Attwood and Arnold wrote that “Aboriginalism has had enormous power to determine who Aborigines are, and consequently, Aborigines have lost control over their own identity.”. However during the 1970s we approached the point when the non-Aboriginal, and invariably Aboriginalist, discourse which developed since 1788 were confronted by an emerging Aboriginal discourse. During the 1970s Aboriginalist discourses underwent a neo-Marxist revolution that challenged non-Indigenous relationships with Aboriginal people. As a result, a new Aboriginalist discourse emerged which represented Indigenous people as victims of colonisation.

    Significant shifts in the Aboriginalist discourse that have been evident as in the last decade as new collaborative relationships between Aborigines and Europeans are being forged. Significantly, it is recognised that all knowledge is interpretive; that cultural studies are not disciplines which reflect or record knowledge, but rather discourses which construct knowledge. The domain of Aboriginal studies has also started to change in conceptual terms. Aborigines are viewed as socially constructed subjects with identities that are relational and dynamic rather than oppositional. This challenges European assumptions implanted in Aboriginalist discourse and the processes that have constructed Aborigines.

    Let us embrace the changing paradigms that challenged the authorities that represented Europe and constructed Aborigines as something that imperialism said they were.

  18. “Congratulations! For my part, I have no such qualification and therefore I await your response to the points I raised above and to which you said you were ‘happy to respond” (N5).

    Nature5, I don’t want to be rude but can this wait until tomorrow evening? Bed now, work tomorrow.

    Migs.

  19. renniek,

    “Young aboriginal people grow up in multi-cultures: traditional; contemporary Australian;”

    Indeed!

    “Their own search for an identity is incredibly complex. ”

    Not sure what it means to ‘search for an identity’ but that’s by and by. I absolutely agree with respect to the complexity dimension. As for:

    “supporting the aspirations of communities”

    Now that’s a ‘problem’ on so many levels. Aboriginal politics (‘power’, ‘influence’, ‘wants’ ‘needs’ and the like is beyond my comprehension) is also incredibaly complex as you and Dobson suggest,

    Personally, I think Dobson might have advanced ‘awareness’ a lot but the ‘solutions’ seem a long way off.

  20. N5 – ‘culture is fluid’.

    This is an important point. Many of us white people seem unwilling to accept that indigenous culture develops – just as European culture has changed since 1788.

    There is a pervasive attitude that for indegenous culture to be genuine, it must be static.

    That’s one of the reasons I place so much importance on the artistic endeavours.

  21. …If you are non-Indigenous parent, find out how many Indigenous kids are at your children’s school and whether your kids learn about their history and culture. (Dodson)

    I thought that’s why so many Australians are sending their kids to private schools, so they don’t come into contact with them.

    White flight leaves system segregated by race

  22. “I thought that’s why so many Australians are sending their kids to private schools, so they don’t come into contact with them.”

    Disgraceful. And our country will reap the whirlwind for it if we don’t get on top of it soon…think the UK & Brixton. And Miami years ago.

    Tho the economic downturn may change this trend. And hopefully a different focus by politicians & that damned corporate media. By gawd they have alot to answer for. As do the families from all racial backgrounds. Mistakes by all.

    Let’s meet in the middle. Before cities & communities erupt in the race riots that only the corporate media & a select few sicko politicians benefit from.

    N’

  23. “The NSW Secondary Principals Council conducted a confidential survey which raises serious concerns about “white flight” undermining the public education system and threatening social cohesion. Some teachers and principals have described it as “de facto apartheid”.”

    So let me get this right, minorities can only succeed if they have the influence of “white folks” but I thought white culture or influence is the problem in the world? If we are all created equal why must the minorities have “white influence” for there to be cohesion? Seems a rather racist sentiment to me? Social cohesion was threatened the minute some geniuses got the bright idea of “importing” their vision of what a society should “look like” without considering the concept that perhaps some didn’t ask to be a part of it.

    “The findings are backed by research from the University of Western Sydney, which has identified evidence of racial conflict in schools in the wake of the Cronulla riots. It also suggests students of Anglo-European descent are avoiding some schools with students of mainly Asian background.”

    Of course, just as most other races/ethnicities congregate with those of their own make up. Imagine that, people wanting the company of those with similar heritage, history, traditions etcetera…What a ground breaking study? Unfortunately, this article doesn’t discuss the self segregation that takes place with every minority group in every Western country. Should we label the Chinese as racist for establishing “China Towns” in many Western cities? Are they not self segregating? European culture more than any other in the world has done more reaching out to other cultures over the past 50 years than all others combined. Our leaders in turn “force” us through social experimentation to live with those we have very little in common with and then wonder why tensions arise at times while segregating themselves in gated communities to watch the experiment unfold? We understand the concept of “irreconcilable differences” as grounds for the abolishment of a marriage but then label it as racism when a group of people come to the same conclusion? Why is it racist to want to be with those you have commonalities with? Multiculturalists have become totalitarian, with their “racist” accusations becoming the idiot’s explanation for multiculturalism’s dismal failure.

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