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Inside Teaching : August 2010
www.atra.edu.au | firstname.lastname@example.org INDIGENOUS INSIGHT 13 few and most are in their infancy. We have no way of knowing yet, whether they’ll work. Meanwhile, what happens to the great majority of Indigenous Australians? Has their position at the bottom of the nation’s socioeconomic ladder changed? Not according to the statistics. We educators want to ‘make a difference,’ but do we really comprehend the enormity of the task? What is being done to ensure that we have the skills, the knowledge and understanding to rise to the challenge of addressing the utter neglect of the past two centuries, the persistent exclusion of Indigenous students from our learning environments and, consequently, from the fruits of education? The truth is that, for the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people, regardless of where they live, some things have never changed and they have no expectations that they will. I’m not suggesting they resist change; indeed, they long for it. What oppressed people would not? The reality, though, is that Indigenous Australians understand that ‘closing the gap,’ in our education system or anywhere, is just talk unless it includes an honest recognition of our colonial history, rather than a denial of it or – the more popular current form – the pretence that two centuries of oppression ‘wasn’t so bad.’ As my own research reveals, the attitude betrayed by this last view typifes the racism that runs deep in Australia. My research also demonstrates that across all levels of education delivery, in all types of settings, racism is alive and well. So is the future bleak? Well, no. A steady stream of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples is standing up to speak out about what has been, and in many places still is, going on. Timana Tahu, for example, walked out of the New South Wales rugby league training camp in June, foregoing his opportunity to represent the Blues in the state-of-origin team, because he’d had enough of racist comments by assistant coach Andrew Johns. ‘To sacrifce my NSW origin jumper and to give up the chance of bringing the trophy back to NSW is obviously something I gave a lot of thought to,’ Tahu said, ‘but I felt I had to make a statement that this sort of behaviour in any environment is unacceptable and, as a senior player, I had to show that.’ Johns later stood down, after admitting he made another racial comment, this time about Queensland state-of-origin player Greg Inglis. ‘I should have thought more (about) what I was saying about a player whom I have always admired and respected and I hope to speak with Greg (Inglis) soon to explain what happened,’ Johns said in a statement. ‘I only hope that by stepping aside I can show others how seriously I am taking this issue and hopefully others may learn from it as well.’ The fact that Indigenous Australians are taking on their own oppression, that others are also seriously taking it on and that still others are hopefully learning from it as well is a good thing. If it’s happening in rugby league, it’s fair to assume it’s happening in education as well, but there’s more we need to do in education if we’re to deliver on our promise of education for all Australians. Every person who engages with students in a learning environment ‘makes a difference.’ What you do in your classroom? Do you demonstrate that you do want to make a difference? How do you deal with comments that imply inferiority is somehow connected to the colour of a person’s skin? How do you deal with a racist joke that some kid heard from his dad? It’s a bit like swearing being permitted because it’s the way people talk these days. Do you permit such lack of respect to be shown to you in your learning environment? Building respect is the critical frst step in closing the gap. Without that, nothing will change. ■ Professor Jeannie Herbert holds the Chair of Indigenous Studies at Charles Sturt University, New South Wales.