Another revision of the Australian curriculum, and more politicians balk at the word ‘invasion’.
The Conservative political outcry follows the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority’s recent proposal that the experience of First Nations peoples of British colonization be recognized and taught as an invasion.
Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge responded to the proposal by saying:
“Honor[ing] our indigenous history … should not come at the expense of our western heritage.
Meanwhile, Senator Pauline Hanson believes the proposed changes will result in:
“… Australian children …[being] publicly humiliated for being “white” oppressors.
Tudge and Hanson are not alone; the Coalition supported Hanson’s call to “reject critical race theory from a national agenda” (not that it ever existed). Tudge, Hanson and the Coalition are not the first either.
In 1996, then Prime Minister John Howard denounced Victoria’s first curriculum as “teaching children that we have a racist and fanatic past.”
Reviewing the Australian curriculum in 2013, Dr Kevin Donnelly and Professor Kenneth Wiltshire said the curriculum was lopsided, emphasizing indigenous culture and knowledge while ‘neglecting[ing]â¦ Western knowledge, history, tradition, heritage and Judeo-Christian beliefs â.
The inclusion of “invasion” is often what triggers such conservative outcry. But is âinvasionâ really the word that counts?
Read more: The “border wars”: debunking the myth of Australia’s peaceful settlement
While the “invasion” inevitably causes a political and media whirlwind, “reconciliation” generally receives less attention. Since the 1990s, reconciliation has increasingly come to the fore as a reason to teach Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
The Adelaide, Melbourne and Alice Springs (Mparntwe) education declarations, which have governed national enrollment goals over the past decades, all commit to what young Australians “have”[ing] the knowledge, skills and understanding necessary to contribute to and benefit from reconciliation â.
Mparntwe’s declaration also gives reconciliation a major reason for the cross-cutting priority of âAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and culturesâ.
Australian Professional Standards for Teachers require teachers to âpromote reconciliationâ by engaging with the histories, cultures and languages ââof Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
But what does reconciliation mean? Does our education system really promote reconciliation? And what would our program look like if it did?
âReconciliationâ is itself a controversial term. It is a Western idea, and therefore neither neutral nor benign for First Nations peoples. Reconciliation involves an initial period of peace that never existed in Australia, making âconciliationâ a more appropriate term.
Reconciliation Australia’s 2021 theme, ‘More than a Word: Reconciliation takes action’, reflects a central issue – reconciliation can all too easily become a sentimental symbol, put forward one week a year, rather than action ongoing and rights-based for justice.
Reconciliation Australia bases its vision for reconciliation on five interrelated dimensions:
- Historical acceptance
- Race relations
- Equality and equity
- Institutional integrity
If our education system is truly committed to reconciliation, we must actively support the recognition of our past. It is only through truth, justice and healing that we can work to build positive two-way relationships, overcome racism, and recognize and defend the unique rights and cultures of Indigenous and Island peoples. of the Torres Strait, including in the Australian Constitution.
Our past and present policies, programs and textbooks indicate that when it comes to reconciliation, Australian education still has a long way to go.
Not a new teaching concept
The teaching of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures in Australian schools is nothing new.
In the early mid-1800s, children learned about First Peoples such as:
“… a race of savages who are among the lowest and most degraded to be found in the world.”
In the 1870s, as education became compulsory, the school’s readers included stories of Australian exploration. The Aborigines were frequently present in these stories, usually as savage antagonists, but sometimes as (unreliable) servants, or even rescuers of brave British explorers.
Of course, native food was “by no means nutritious” for these white heroes. From the Federation to the late 1960s, school newspapers and readers continued to portray First Nations peoples as primitive prehumans, savage enemies, and infantilized servants. During this time, First Nations cultures were mixed with European folk tales in a romantic and appealing backdrop for white Australian identity.
These stories are obviously racist. These are also the stories that have dominated the education of most Australian politicians and other powerful people. Even after the phasing out of readers in the late 1960s, the textbooks continued to teach the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, rather than exploring First Nations perspectives.
Read more: Australia’s history is complex and confronting, and must be known and owned, now
The language became more polished, but still maintained white superiority. WEH Stanner argued in his famous 1968 Boyer Lectures that the public mindset and prejudices towards indigenous peoples could be transformed within a generation, if schools used real knowledge rather than folklore.
Stanner’s argument has been largely ignored. Twenty years later, the Hughes Report’s call for major curriculum reform to “provide information for a concerted attack on racism” was still needed. Our current curriculum controversies are part of the continuing response.
Over the past three decades, Victoria has implemented five different programs, the latest of which is a version of the Australian program. These programs, along with related policies and manuals, have been developed under careful political and media scrutiny. Education has both echoed and rebounded against the swinging pendulum of political agendas. For example, let’s take a look at this contested word, “invasion”:
The 1995 Curriculum and Standards Framework (CSF) does not mention the word âinvasionâ. He specifies, however, that:
âThe views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals and groups on important issues must be sought and considered. The impact of social and institutionalized racism and violence, now and in the past, is explored and students explore ways to achieve social justice.
In 2000, the revision of the Curriculum and Standards Framework II (CSFII) set the following direction for the history curriculum for year 9/10:
“Examine[ing] the impact of the European occupation of Australia, including the prospect of this occupation as an invasion. “
Five years later, the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS) selected invasion as the 9/10 year learning goal, but reframed it as a “representation of [European] regulation “.
By 2013, the invasion had disappeared from the Australian Curriculum in Victoria (AusVELS). The corresponding section of the study program asked students to investigate:
âThe expansion of colonization, including the effects of contact (intentional and unintentional) between European settlers in Australia and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. “
Rather than being a learning objective, this topic was a detail of an elective course for one of three possible in-depth studies.
The current Victorian curriculum, implemented in 2017, moves further away from the conflict, asking students to investigate:
âIntended and unintended causes and effects of contact and the spread of colonization by European powers, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. “
As the current review indicates:
âThe First Peoples of Australia experienced colonization as an invasion and dispossession of land, sea and sky.
The term âsettlementâ implies that Australia was previously uninhabited. The emphasis on categorizing causes and effects as intentional or unforeseen draws attention to invaders rather than First Nations perspectives.
Currently, these study programs perpetuate racism by failing to respect and ignore the rights and unique experiences of First Nations peoples.
Accepting and understanding our past as an invasion creates a shared meaning for First Nations and non-Indigenous teachers and students. The “invasion” matters, but only if it is part of a larger and deeper ideological shift.
Our education system is explicitly committed to promoting reconciliation. When our political leaders balk at words like âinvasion,â they reveal this commitment as a symbolic sentiment, devoid of any implicit integrity or support.
The continued politicization of the curriculum is also helping to make teaching reconciliation difficult terrain for teachers to navigate their classrooms.
Reviews of Australia’s curriculum, led by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Advisory Group, call on us to follow through on our commitment to reconciliation, to use respectful and culturally appropriate language. and strengthen relationships.
Accepting and celebrating these reforms is a modest step towards making reconciliation more than a word. The panicked and ill-informed response from the Senate to instead ban critical race theory from the program is a giant step in the opposite direction.
Danielle published an article in a peer-reviewed journal, âEducation for reconciliation? Understanding and Recognizing the History of First Nations Content Education in Victoria, Australia âin press with History of Education, and scheduled for release later this month.