Aboriginal children should be prevented from learning about Indigenous culture at school because it hampers their mainstream education. As Rove might say, “What the?”

This particular idea has been floated by Gary Johns, a former minister in the Keating government and now the president of the Bennelong Society, a conservative think-tank on Indigenous issues. The Age reported that Dr Johns said it was up to parents to teach culture. “For too long we have been in a dual world which says perhaps we can assist Aborigines to learn their own culture as well as our culture,” he said.

The idea was enthusiastically embraced by the Education Minister, Julie Bishop, who according to The Age said she will consider using the report to frame policy and that Dr Johns had raised “a very interesting point”.

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“I think what he’s saying is that Western schools shouldn’t try to inculcate Aboriginal culture into students, that that’s a role for parents and elders, and I think that’s a very sensible suggestion,” she said.

Actually it’s hard to imagine a more offensive suggestion, or a more puerile debate. To see how racist Johns’ suggestion is you only need to turn it on its head and ask yourself this question: what would you do if your child was told that white Australian culture should be taught at home and not in school? That Shakespeare was essentially a family matter? That the history of Western civilisation should be taught in the car somewhere between the shopping and the soccer?

The idea can only be seriously considered by someone who believes Indigenous culture has little intrinsic merit. Johns’ argument that the school system is not the appropriate place for passing on indigenous culture is the expression of a deep sense of cultural superiority.

Learning about your culture ­ – whatever it may be – builds immense pride and self-esteem. That builds a community, and communities build harmony. Now why on earth would Julie Bishop want to tear that down? There’s not even an election in the wind.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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