Gary Johns walks a well-trodden path when
blaming and shaming Aboriginal parenting for the failure of the education system to
construct learning at school in ways that engage and meet the needs of
Indigenous children and their communities.
Johns seems to be recalling the populist
(and long discredited) notion of cultural deprivation and parental
irresponsibility utilised over several past decades to explain away the failure
of working class children and children living in poverty to achieve at school
at the same level as their middle class counterparts.
More recent scholarship suggests a more
useful way of looking at schools and why they fail particular groups of
children, is to redirect the focus away from the student as individual to a
focus on the institution. This means that education systems need to seriously
reconsider the ways in which individual schools and the system as a whole
construct power relationships that subordinate particular groups through
education and other social processes and the role of schooling in the
reproduction of social inequalities.
In opposition to Jones who advocates locking out Indigenous cultures
from schooling, respected national and
international curriculum scholars
emphasise calling on the cultural knowledge of children to enhance academic
learning. (Comber, B et al, 2001, Social-economically
disadvantaged students and the development of literacies in schools: a
longitudinal study; Moll, L 1992 Perspectives in Literacy Research, in
Literacy in Community and Classrooms; a sociological approach; Dyson, AH
1997, Writing superheros, contemporary childhood, popular culture and
classroom literacy). For instance, Barbara Comber explored how it
is that when teachers focus on the deficits of students and families, seeing
home lives only as a problem, this leads to a limited curriculum with
restricted choices. She emphasises the “recognition factor”: making the knowledge and skills children bring to
school count and ensuring that they know it counts.
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As long as schools continue to symbolise the control and “power-over”
that has been a critical factor in the relationships between Indigenous peoples
and Western service providers, resistance to schooling will remain at the heart
of Aboriginal student/school relationships.
A clear example of “power-over” associated with schooling is the low
priority given to Indigenous languages.
In remote communities where many if not most children speak their
Indigenous language at home, in the community and to each other, Australian
English is imposed as the language of learning.
This creates a disconnectedness between school and community, constructs
impediments to knowledge and academic skill acquisition, and locks out any
knowledge the children bring to school.
Learning in own language does not exclude learning Australian English as
a second language, nor does it make learning English more difficult. Children all around the world are schooled in
their own language and yet speak other languages, especially English, fluently
before they leave primary school.
Locking Indigenous languages out of schools is not about the best ways
to become proficient in Australian English.
It is about cultural superiority.
There are schools in urban areas with significant Aboriginal students and schools in remote Aboriginal communities that are
engaging and retaining students,
primarily through building bridges that connect school and home. Schools need to seek out others with
successful curriculum practices and build on those if Aboriginal students are
to straddle two worlds and design their own futures by being successful in