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The conditions impacting on Indigenous students’ education

This essay will discuss the impacts of Australian history, whiteness, race and racism on

Indigenous students’ education. As educators, it is important that we understand the

intersections of these issues and how they can yield unequal education between non-

Indigenous and Indigenous students in Australian schools. This essay will also link the

above themes to the Australian Institute for Teaching and School leaders (AITSL)

standards.

Racial ideas within Australia originate from a combination of monogenesis, polygenesis

and social Darwinist views. These views, during the colonisation of Australia (which is

also an ongoing process), created the social construct of race (Ulalka Tur 2016,p.13).

Where, as a result the Indigenous race was deemed to be inferior (Beresford 2012 cited

in Beresford & Partington 2012, p.86). Indigenous Australians were controlled by the

dominant race by being told where the could live, go to school, go to church, if they

could get married and so on (Wilson-Miller 2013 cited in Bodkin 2013). For Indigenous

Australians, who are heavily focused on family and community, the forceful removal of

Indigenous children was devastating. Not only did it tare apart families, it disconnected

family and community from education. Therefore, it is not uncommon for Indigenous

families to have negative connotations towards education based on their experiences

and their ancestors’ experiences in education (Beresford 2012 cited in Beresford &

Partington 2012, p.86). The common belief in Australian history was that Indigenous

Australians were the ‘doomed race’, which had the mental ability of a child no older than

a year four. Therefore, it was believed that schooling for Indigenous students was

pointless and a waste of time (Beresford 2012, p.86). Teachers would often get fed up

with Indigenous students’ ‘walk-about’ ways and held the belief that Indigenous

students would never do well in schooling (O’Brien & Gale 2007, p.103). This ignorance

of Indigenous culture only creates racism. Where unfortunately, there is a large number
of Indigenous kids who say they are not going to go to school or go for that job and so on

because they are experiencing racism. Indigenous students can internalise this racism

and begin to entertain ideas that every non-Indigenous person is better than them and

expect to be treated unequal by non-Indigenous Australians (Riley 2013 cited in Bodkin

2013). As educators, it is our role to de-construct and transform these ideologies and

play our part in the de-colonisation of Australia (Ulalka Tur 2016, p.21). This can be

done by following a simple framework for educating students about social justice issues

experienced among the Indigenous community. This framework requires students to

firstly name the social injustice, secondly explain the struggle for justice, thirdly create a

strategy to tackle this injustice and lastly evaluate their outcome (Brougham 1994,

pp.34-38). By applying this framework we are able to help both Indigenous and non-

Indigenous students understand the impacts of Australian history and therefore help

eliminate the ignorance which fuels racism. This creates an understanding of Indigenous

Australians and promotes reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous

Australians (AITSL standard 2.4). As ongoing professional learners we must also apply

this to our own understanding of Indigenous Australians.

Racists acts, ideas and structures often put the Indigenous Australian at a disadvantage.

What goes unnoticed, by white Australians, is that this disadvantage puts them in a

privileged position. The problem with these privileges is that nobody should have them

and not everybody has them (Tannoch-Bland 1998, p.36). A major aspect of white

privilege is stereotypes. Stereotypes that non-Indigenous Australians hold of Indigenous

Australians often have a negative connotation, whereas stereotypes for white

Australians are often positive. Not only can these stereotypes lead Indigenous students

to believe their future is already written, they also encourage non-Indigenous students

to believe that they are the superior race. These negative stereotypes can cause a divide

and lack of trust between Indigenous families and education. Rasta’s counter story

voices an Indigenous experience in schooling. Rasta won’t go near his son’s school
because he doesn’t want teachers to think that his son is just a ‘dumb black’ like his

father (McDonald 2003 cited in Schulz 2016, pp.28-30). For educators, stories like this

can make it hard to reach the AITSL standard 3.7, to engage parents and carers in the

education process. As parent engagement is important, we must ensure that we clearly

demonstrate that we are willing to understand Indigenous cultures and help Indigenous

children in every way possible. In Rasta’s case, having one teacher reach out to him

allowed to help bridge this gap (McDonald 2003 cited in Schulz 2016, pp.28-30).

The discourse of whiteness constructs what we see as ‘the norm’ in Australia and

encourages fear of anything which strays away from what is normal, therefore creating

these privileges (Schulz 2016, p.38). However, white Australians are taught not to

recognise their privileges and are untrained in seeing themselves as an oppressor or

unfairly advantaged (McIntosh 1990, p.31). This lack knowledge of white privilege and

of the Indigenous culture can often make the Indigenous student feel alienated and

disconnected to their culture and society. As educators we must focus on the silences

and denials surrounding privilege and use this to expose and unpack white privilege in

daily lives. By doing so, children at a very young age will be able to understand the

racism that is fundamental to Australian society, embedded in our history and in our

everyday life. This understanding will empower a generation to identify and challenge

racism (Tannoch-Bland 1998, p.33). By doing so, we are able to meet the AITSL

standard 2.4. As educators, we have power in what resources we select and use for our

students (AITSL standard 3.4). Therefore we can balance this representation by

consciously choosing a balance of positive and negative representation of both

Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures. Also as educators, we must attack the common

misconception that the Indigenous culture is dead (Rigney 2016). As, by dismissing

Indigenous culture in Australia, we are taking away the Indigenous students’ right to

know their identity (Rosas & Ulaka Tur 2016). By educating ourselves about the
Indigenous culture we are also able to know our students’ culture (AITSL standard 1.3)

and therefore develop strategies for teaching Indigenous students (AITSL standard 1.4).

As educators, it is our role to understand the historic context of race, racism and

whiteness in Australia and be able to analyse how these issues can affect our Indigenous

students of today. By consciously understanding and critically analysing Australian

history and Indigenous cultures, we are able to meet the AITSL standards. However

more importantly, we are able to play our role in de-colonisation.

References
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Ulalka Tur, S 2016, ‘Race and the Nation’, lecture notes distributed in the topic
EDUC2420 Teaching Indigenous Australian Students, Flinders University, Bedford Park,
1 August.