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Identity, Culture and Inclusive Education - The minority experience: A comparative education perspective of African Americans in the United States and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia
by Stacey-Ann Wilson and Nicole E. Johnson
*all correspondence should be directed to Dr. Stacey-Ann Wilson
Author Bios Stacey-Ann Wilson, PhD is Senior Research Fellow at the Stronger Smarter Institute at Queensland University of Technology in Australia. Her research interests include the politics of identity, informal economics and political economic development issues. Nicole E. Johnson, PhD is an independent scholar and special educator in Washington, D.C. Her research interests include issues in minority education, urban education, and minority youth with special needs.
Identity Culture and Inclusive Education - the minority experience: A comparative education perspective of African Americans in the United States and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia Stacey-Ann Wilson and Nicole E. Johnson Abstract The lack of education parity between minorities and dominant groups within pluralist industrial societies has been the focus of policy makers, researchers, and practitioners. The U.S. and Australia represent two such societies grappling with these challenges. The U.S. has often served as a model of public education for other industrial nations. However, even with innovative education programs the U.S. continues to lag behind other Western nations and minority students particularly African American students continue to struggle. Meanwhile Australian policy makers for instance continue to consult with U.S. educators, and have experimented with a variety of US authored programs, in whole or in part. Similarly, the Australian education system continues to fail Indigenous students. The purpose of this paper is to compare these two countries at a crossroads with their education policies and approaches to educating minorities. Second, this research will examine the conditions that underlie both countries choices for implementing policies to reduce disparities in education access, performance, outcomes, and teacher quality. The aim of the research is to develop a framework for understanding minority education to better facilitate response to existing disparities.
Introduction The education systems of United States and Australia share many similarities and differences. Perhaps what is most pressing for both are the unique challenges of educating minority populations; specifically, African Americans in the United States and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia. When you look at the education debate about achievement gap and minorities what you find are two distinct lines of reasoning. On the one hand, the conservative argument where white is right, classroom learning is the end all and standardized testing is the only reliable way to objectively assess student learning. On the other hand, the progressive critique where diversity is right, the classroom is only half the story and academic achievement can be assessed in ways other than multiple-choice tests. While we engage in edubabble students continue to “reject an education, which they see as unrelated to their experience” (Guerin, 2008: 103) and their aspirations. In November 2010, Australia and the United States held their inaugural ‘Australia-United States Education Roundtable’. In his opening remarks, the Australian Minister of Education, Peter Garrett, stated: Both of our countries recognise that the future belongs to those nations that best educate their people. We acknowledge that there is room for significant improvement in the way we deliver education and the results students attain. We know that in education we can no longer afford ‘more of the same’. So we have pledged to deliver unprecedented reform to close the achievement and opportunity gaps and ensure our global competitiveness continues. When you look at how our countries are tackling this challenge, you can see there is a remarkable alignment in the reform goals we are pursuing. The alignment in their thinking is little comfort to African American and Indigenous Australian communities who become scapegoats of “reform” experiments. The purpose of this paper is to address some of the challenges both countries face in their education policies as they relate to minority students. We consider the historic and contemporary conditions that have served as a foundation for the policies and how these conditions have impacted minority educational engagement and performance. Finally, we
discuss aspects of the education experience that are lacking for both minority groups but are integral to the academic achievement of these students. Historical Background The United States and Australia both have a history of European settlement and disenfranchisement of indigenous peoples. Ogbu and Simons (1998) describe Australia and the United States as settler societies where the ruling or dominant group is made up of immigrants from other societies. The dominant groups in settler societies hold beliefs such as the opportunity for self-improvement and expectations that people in society should conform and assimilate (Ogbu and Simons 1998). European settlers conquered lands originally occupied by indigenous people, colonized the populations and marginalized the populations economically, culturally and politically. Early citizenship within the United States was open to white, male, property owners (Johnson 2003). Prior to the arrival of Africans in the United States, Native Americans were marginalized on reservations so that distinctions were based on class and intra-European ethnic divisions (Browne-Marshall 2004). However, as Africans were brought to America, the institution of slavery evolved and Africans were relegated to the lowest human status and considered property (Browne-Marshall 2004). Educating slaves was deemed nonsensical and a danger to the institution of slavery (Browne-Marshall 2004). It was a crime for enslaved men and women to learn to read and write (Perry, Steele, and Hilliard 2003). The ideology of white supremacy served as a foundation for all policymaking as it pertained to African Americans. The Dred Scott decision in 1857 supported the view that African Americans had no rights and it initiated a period of subjugation through terror and lynching particularly in the South. Violence was used to intimidate African Americans and dissuade them from political activism. However, African Americans continued to build institutions and organizations to support political activity. These efforts eventually led to the dismantling of several policies (e.g., the grandfather clause, white primary, and literacy tests) that had legally prevented African Americans from participating in the political process as voters. Protest activities increased, which gradually lead to the civil rights campaigns of the 1960s with the goal of achieving equality for all African
Americans. Equality continues to be an elusive goal in the background of social, economic, and education policy. Before European encounter, Indigenous people lived in Australia for more than 50, 000 years (Hiscook, 2008). They are some of the oldest living cultures in the world. It is estimated that 250 different language groups existed, which were severely reduced by the introduction of European diseases and fighting with the colonials. As the British established the colony, Christianizing the natives (as they had done to the enslaved Africans) was considered the only way to civilize them. There was also a belief among colonialists that Aboriginal people would soon become extinct therefore they needed to be cared for during the extinction process. It is no surprise then that segregation laws were enacted to “protect” Aboriginal people by restricting where they could live, work and study; breaking up and dispersing families onto reserves and missions; and removing children from their homes (Pascoe and AIATSIS, 2008: 92-97). In the 1950s and 1960s, segregation gave way to assimilation; and by the 1970s assimilation gave way to a policy of self-determination, which was more symbolism than policy. Even though the Commonwealth granted Indigenous adults the right to vote in 1962, it was not until a national referendum in 1967 that Indigenous people began to be counted in the national census along with other Australians. Before that, they were counted as “flora and fauna.” Gaining legal and political rights for Indigenous Australians, like their African American counterparts is an uphill battle. African Americans and Indigenous Australians have always pursed ways to disrupt the status quo. As these communities fought for their rights, education was the path toward freedom from white supremacist ideology that rendered others as intellectually and culturally inferior. It is against the backdrop of historical oppression and racism that we consider a comparison of African American and Indigenous Australian school performance. Race and Education The legacy of slavery serves as an important framework for understanding the existing challenges of African American students. Once slavery was abolished with the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) this represented an onslaught of change for African Americans. Hundreds of organizations were created by African Americans for education, political involvement, the
improvement of social and moral conditions, enlighten the African American community, and remove obstacles to progress (Browne-Marshall 2004). Elementary and secondary schools as well as trade schools and colleges were created by African Americans and philanthropic whites. However, change was limited as whites felt little motivation to educate African Americans as this represented a change in their social status (Browne-Marshall 2004). The system of white supremacy was firmly in place and few whites wanted this system dismantled as evidenced with the passage of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) which established “separate but equal” public facilities including separate schools for white and African American children. Schools and public facilities set aside for African Americans were often inferior when compared to the facilities and resources of whites. Brown v. Board of Education (1954) marked the beginning of slowly chipping away the years of racial discrimination and racial segregation. Brown v. Board of Education declared that racial segregation within public school education was unconstitutional and it marked the hopeful beginning of equality and equity in education. However, as significant as Brown v. Board of Education was to public education and the liberation of African Americans, several decades later many problems continue to persist for African American students. Racial politics is no less significant for Indigenous Australians. Reports indicate that more than 70 percent of Indigenous people reported having no formal school qualification, compared with 50 percent for non-Indigenous people (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006). There are historical reasons for this. In 1848, the Australian Board of National Education declared that it was “impracticable” to educate Indigenous children (Reconciliaction Network, 2007). From 1883 - 1972, schools could deny Indigenous children access to public education if white parents were bothered by their presence. Indigenous children were sent to separate schools on missions with untrained teachers, and with low or no expectations of success. Furthermore, “Aboriginal children did not have regular mainstream access to primary schooling until the 1950s, and secondary schooling until the 1960s” (Ibid). Access consistent, quality education continues to be elusive for many Indigenous students.
Understanding Minority School Performance: Systemic and Institutional Obstacles Understanding minority school performance requires a consideration of responses to their history of incorporation into society and their treatment by the dominant group (Ogbu 1990). According to Ogbu’s cultural ecological theory (1990), the broad societal and school factors as well as the dynamics within minority communities impact minority school performance. The ecology represents the structural and institutional barriers found in society and culture and refers to how the minority group responds to the dominant group world and those barriers. Minority responses are impacted by how and why a group became a minority as well as community forces. The structural barriers include institutional discrimination, relational discrimination, and symbolic discrimination (Ogbu and Simons 1998). Ogbu (1990) suggests that as involuntary minorities (minorities who did not choose to become members of a society but became so through slavery, conquest, or colonization) the ecology impacts their understanding of their social reality. Involuntary minorities struggle against social, political, and economic barriers erected against them. Their experiences and perceptions of institutionalized oppression influence the ways they respond to the dominant group. In comparison, immigrant minorities who moved voluntarily to another society believe in improved economic well-being, the availability of better opportunities or greater political freedom. Such immigrants may experience initial problems of adjustment in school but their problems are not characterized by persistent adjustment difficulties or low academic performance (Ogbu 1990). Refugees often adopt similar attitudes and behaviours as immigrant minorities. Whereas migrant workers are neither immigrant nor voluntary minorities since they do not plan to settle permanently. Therefore according to Ogbu, these groups simply learn what is necessary to achieve their temporary goals, which may or may not include school. Illegal immigration continues to be a challenge within the United States as states grapple with social and economic consequences of undocumented workers within communities. According to Ogbu (1990) undocumented workers are neither immigrants nor voluntary minorities and are not an easily identifiable population. Therefore, it is difficult to discern what their sociocultural adaptation is and their school experience. However, many undocumented workers are preparing their children to have a future in the United States. The vast majority of
these children are English Language Learners (ELLs) and face the challenge of adapting to an English only school curriculum. ELLs are often at greater risk of being ignored in the classroom or misdiagnosed as special needs since many teachers cannot distinguish characteristics of second-language acquisition from disability related symptoms (McCray and Garcia 2002). Ogbu’s (1998) theory of minority school performance illuminates a critical fallacy within Brown, the assumption that how white Americans were being educated was normative and African Americans could receive educational equality if they were treated the same way (Gay 2004). As involuntary minorities, African Americans were placed in learning environments that did not respect their history or consider their cultural values. As a means to achieve racial integration African American children were “bussed” to predominantly white schools. African American parents gained access to better resourced schools but lost the cultural connections between schools, communities, families, and students (Edwards 1993, Walker 2000). As these students were brought to “white” schools there were no structural or pedagogical changes to accommodate them. Curriculum and instruction failed to incorporate their culture or their history. African American children were present in the classroom but consideration of their culture was absent from the curriculum and they were not accommodated in the instruction they were receiving. Furthermore, discriminatory attitudes and behaviours continued to persist behind closed doors in the classroom. Thus, while Brown focused on ideological and structural changes it could not reach the curriculum and instructional practices necessary for the success of African American students. The case of Brown v. Board of Education initiated an influx of laws against racial discrimination and brought a greater equalization of resources and quality of education in schools. However, today the education statistics for African American students remain stark. African American students are more likely to be enrolled in general and vocational tracks and take fewer academically rigorous courses (Saddler 2005). A persistent “achievement gap” based on standardized test scores continues between African American students and white students. Nearly 61% percent of 4th grade African American youth scored “below basic” scores in reading compared to 26 percent of Whites (Education Trust 2004). Additionally, a re-segregation of African American students has been occurring since 1988. The most recent statistics indicate 72% of African American students attend predominantly minority schools (50-100% minority)
(Frankenberg et al. 2003). The high school drop-out rate for African Americans in many cities often exceeds 50% (Rozie-Battle 2004). The achievement gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is just as grim, even more so for those in remote schools. In 2008, the gap between Indigenous and nonIndigenous Australians in Year 5 reading for instance is nearly 30 percent. “Only 63.4 % of Indigenous Year 5 students were at or above the national minimum standard for reading compared to 92.6% of their non-Indigenous counterparts” (Russell and Wenham, 2010: 5). School data from remote and very remote areas show that only 26.4% of Indigenous students meet the national minimum standard in reading for Year 5 and only 21.4% meet the national minimum for Year 9 writing. In addition, 2006 national data shows that “only 47.4% of Indigenous 20–24 year olds had completed Year 12 or equivalent qualifications, compared to 83.8% for the corresponding non-Indigenous cohort. However the percentage varies by location, from over 55% in major cities to less than 30% in remote areas” (Ibid). The differential achievement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is based on certain historical assumptions as well as distinct differences in the country’s development of urban and remote areas. “Aborigines have been consistently depicted as unchanged and unchanging” (Russell, 2001: 3). This kind of thinking about the “static” Aborigine leads to undemocratic, unequal education policies, which leads to inappropriate and biased engagements in schools. The statistics demonstrate that the education challenges of minority students are a symptom of social realities rooted in years of de facto and de jure segregation, marginalization and integration based on assimilation politics. In addition, the two tier education system of public-private schools (and in the US, semi-private schools by way of charter schools), means that the system has vastly different standards, entrance and eligibility requirements. Government schools must accept all who apply, while non-government schools are selective. Australia has one of the lowest rates of government spending on public education among developed countries, while at the same time having one of the highest levels of public funding to private educational institutions (Walsh and Lemon, 2010). Furthermore, a destabilized economy and many social ills have disproportionately impacted African Americans and Aboriginal communities. Many of these children are victims of their circumstances. Children develop in a multitude of social contexts and interrelated social
structures (Stewart 2007). These contexts are important in explaining individual differences in achieving academic gains, educational attainment, and other goals. Furthermore the social context in which children operate influences their ability to adjust to the expectations of school and becoming successful students. Therefore, the development and implementation of education policy should reflect the realities of economic and social policies impacting minority families and communities. Policies which address poverty, child welfare, and unemployment represent areas that structure the experiences of minority youth outside the classroom but impact their ability to be successful inside the classroom. This is significant because despite an expanding middle class and increase in employment rates, poverty continues to plague both African American and Australian Indigenous communities. Poverty remains the primary reason for the removal of children from the home and often creates insurmountable instability. Drugs and alcohol can easily become the antidote for despair and hopelessness. Unemployment for African Americans is 14.8% while it is 8.5% for Whites (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009). The poverty rate of African Americans is 26% compared to the national rate of 13% and 8% for Whites (Rozie-Battle 2002). Historically, both Indigenous Australian and African American families have had extended family networks and churches as important family support systems. However, with increased mobility due to unstable job markets and a shifting economy these supports are often unavailable, inaccessible or overburdened because there are fewer to draw upon. The decrease in the number of nuclear family units coincides with an increase in extended family units (e.g., care by a grandparent, aunt, cousin, etc.) (Rozie-Battle 2002). Nearly 45% of African American families are headed by women presenting a challenge for single parents (Rozie-Battle 2002). As greater stress is placed on single parents to work multiple jobs taking them away from home, youth often turn to other sources to replace the family structure including gangs and other subgroups that may engage in negative or illegal behaviours with greater social consequences. The numbers of children in the juvenile justice system continues to increase significantly in both the US and Australia. While the numbers of youth involved in delinquency has decreased, African American youth who have engaged in more serious crimes has increased. The percentage of youth who are African American in juvenile detention facilities is 69% while 31% is white (Rozie-Battle 2002). African American children are also significantly overrepresented
among abuse and neglect victims and account for the vast majority of children in foster care. Again, these are statistics echoed in Australia for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. As the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma wrote: Indigenous imprisonment rates in Australia are unacceptably high. Nationally, Indigenous adults are 13 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous people and Indigenous juveniles are 28 times more likely to be placed in juvenile detention than their non-Indigenous counterparts (Calma, 2009: 9). Indigenous imprisonment has increased by 48 percent since 1996 (Graham, 2009). This is significant when you consider that the Indigenous population is only 2% of the Australian population but make up 24% of the national prison population and nearly 50% of the juvenile detention population (Calma, 2009: 31). These statistics demonstrate that many African American and Indigenous Australian youth are caught in a complicated system that fails to provide the support and nurturing to create not only successful students but successful and productive citizens. These systemic problems present significant barriers for minority youth and their ability to thrive in existing education environments. The foundation for effective education policy for minority youth lies in a closer examination of existing social policies and the creation of strategic interventions. A Framework for Education Success As stated previously, Australia and the United States are at a crossroads in their education policy. As both nations are challenged by more diverse school populations there must be a reconsideration of the purpose of schooling and education. According to Kowalski and Reitzug (1993) the purpose of schooling is to transmit and preserve the existing culture, respond to changes in society by adjusting curricula and instruction, and serve as an agent of societal growth or improvement. Saddler (2005) contends that historically these roles have been in conflict specifically as they pertain to the education of African American youth and by extension Indigenous Australians. We consider four areas of the education experience significant in the way they impact upon the success of African Americans and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. These areas include (1) educational access, (2) teacher quality and cross cultural
competence, (3) culturally inclusive curriculum and pedagogy, and (4) measurement of performance and outcomes. Because of space limitations, we will only focus on two of these areas here –inclusive curriculum and cross-cultural competence. Culturally Inclusive Curriculum and Pedagogy As previously mentioned, an oversight of Brown v. Board of Education was its failure to address curriculum and instruction issues (Gay 2004). Beginning in the late 1960s reform advocates who were the first generation of desegregated schools began to demand more inclusive curricula (Kahn 2008, Gay 2004). Little information pertaining African, Native, Latino, and Asian Americans were included and the information was often negative and stereotypical, when it was included. Curriculum continued to focus on the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant experience (Kahn 2008). Swartz (1992) defines the “official school curriculum” in American schools as “Master Scripting”, the dominant culture’s control on determining the content of the official curriculum and the pedagogical practices used to deliver it. For example, master scripting may include omitting Malcolm X from instruction on the Civil Rights Movement (Blanchett, 2006). In Australia, the curriculum and pedagogical bias is similar. Aboriginal history had been excluded or nullified to fit in with the colonial story of European settlement and Indigenous passivity versus invasion and occupation. Education, like other public goods in Australia is based on European values. White discourse results in the silencing of other discourses in education, politics and society at large because it is assumed that whites know what is best for everybody. Because white is considered normal and “Whites see themselves as the cultural centre of society” then everyone else is “expected to conform to the unspoken values of Whiteness, yet this is impossible because it is based on race” (Frideres, 2007: 46). White privilege is embedded in settler societies. Furthermore, “Whites control what others know about their own histories by presenting only parts of a story since Whites determine how and if historical characters and events will be remembered” (Frideres, 2007: 46). This is true in relation to the public discourse, but the “others” have always had their alternative discourse, which is passed down from one generation to the next. So there is always awareness by nonwhites that the publically available historiography of any event is partial and biased.
Our call for a culturally inclusive curriculum should not be confused with an aspiration to policy “colour-blindness”. Claims to colour-blindness do nothing to change the institutionalised inequalities in society (Lindo, 2007). Even more, claiming colour-blindness affects multicultural competence in areas that are most sensitive to the subtleties of bias in education. Take for instance the role of school counsellors. The bulk of school counsellors are likely to be white in the United States and Australia. Education counsellors are responsible for addressing academic, behavioural and mental health issues. It has been argued that a “lack of multicultural competence may contribute to the overrepresentation of children from minorities in special education classes” (Wihak, 2007: 96). Furthermore Wihak points out the “higher rates of school disciplinary actions and suspensions reported for minority youth may reflect lack of understanding of racial/cultural factors in these students’ lives” (Ibid). She continues: Education counsellors who define their identities as independent individuals might make errors such as advising separation and individuation from the family and inappropriate expression of emotions and assertiveness when working with children and families from cultures that tend to define identity in terms of relation to their families and communities, including Aboriginal, Chinese, and African-American (Ibid). As Pollock’s book Colomute (2004) points out, we need to be careful about what’s happening when teachers claim to be colour-blind or that they treat all students the same irrespective of their ethnicity. This “naive egalitarianism” misses the point of multicultural or diversity education because it then denies that differences exist between ethnicities and that inequalities based on ethnicity exists. In addition it denies students the right to identify themselves and undermines how that could affect their educational needs. It denies all students the right to be different or articulate hybrid identities that are important to them. Identities change they are not fixed. People can negotiate their identity positioning, shift and switch between identities; this indicates that colour or rather concepts of racial, ethnic and cultural differentiations and fusions are here for some time and we will have to deal with the consequences of these constructs. What we can aspire to is “colour awareness” and work towards colour-neutral policies and culturally inclusive curriculum.
Teacher Quality and Cross Cultural Competence The achievement gap that exists between African American and white students has been blamed on a multitude of factors. However, teachers bear the responsibility of raising test scores and producing “successful” students. Guerin (2008) highlights: there is ample evidence that factors associated with students’ background and disadvantage play a relatively minor role in education outcomes. Studies have shown that approximately 70 per cent of these outcomes are affected much more by professionally competent, caring teachers (p. 10). Therefore, qualified teachers in the classroom are essential and yet many African American and Indigenous Australian students are not exposed to quality teacher instruction. In the United States teachers must pass a state licensing exam in order to become credentialed. However, in many schools with few resources some teachers either do not have a license or have lapsed in getting their license renewed. Teacher preparation is focused on the transmission of mainstream cultural values and efforts to employ value-free instruction. These mainstream cultural values include an emphasis on reality as experienced through materialistic concepts, visual/written modes of communication, individualism, and time as used for personal gain (Parsons 2003). Such values are in contrast to the values of communalism, oral expression, and expressive individualism, which are predominant in Native American, African American, and Mexican American cultures (Parsons 2003) as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Many preservice teachers lack the experience necessary to deal with the challenges of diverse student populations (Ukpokodu 2003). Pre-service teachers are often unaware of societal injustice and educational inequities and therefore, fail to recognize their role as agents of change. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education in the U.S. has six standards: candidate knowledge, skills, and dispositions, assessment system and unit evaluation, field experiences and clinical practice, diversity, faculty qualifications, performance and development, unit governance and resources (Kahn 2008). While the council emphasizes a need for teachers to be able to meet the needs of diverse student populations the standard is criticized for its lack of emphasis on the inequities of education and failure to consider innovative strategies and changes for the better. The Council focuses on exposure rather than critical competence and reflection of working with diverse populations. Critical competence would be
reflected in the ability to develop meaningful lesson plans that are interdisciplinary and culturally responsive. Critical competence can only be developed through reflective teaching which requires teachers to recognize their own social privilege as well as the intersecting identities that inform their experience and brought to the classroom. However, engaging in the daily process of reflective teaching is often challenging for teachers particularly when their worth as a teacher is gauged by increased standardized test scores. Furthermore, many teachers may find reflective teaching intimidating as it requires teachers to move out of their comfort zone and into unfamiliar territory as they question their own biases and stereotypes. Critical competence and reflection is essential in order to navigate the biases of our social world. What is often overlooked is that our access to information about events and other cultures can work to perpetuate prejudices. It can generate us/them dichotomies that are reflected in schools and teaching. The question of teacher quality and cross-cultural competence while desirable is seen as a challenge to the status quo. Kevin Donnelly (2004) argues that the failure of the Australian school system is due to fads and the move towards political correctness, rather than “real” education. The PC movement is reflected in the move to include gender perspectives (which apparently ignores men and denies or does not readily admit that boys can also be at risk), global perspectives, which are vexing because they promote a more plural understanding of the world and the environment and can be critical of capitalist development; multicultural and Indigenous perspectives, this is particularly troublesome for Eurocentrics because “Instead of recognizing the importance and contribution of Australia’s Anglo/Celtic mainstream culture, the focus is on diversity where all cultural groups appear to be given equal value and weight” (Donnelly, 2004: 139). Similarly, he attacks the PC “revisionist” view of history that interprets Australian history in a negative way so that “instead of celebrating what we have achieved as a nation, students are taught to feel guilty about the sins of the past. Instead of trying to understand past events by placing them in their historical context, revisionist historians take the high moral ground and interpret the past in the light of what is now considered politically correct” (Donnelly, 2004: 133). Of course this assumes that the only narratives that are important in this “historical context” are those of the Europeans and not those of the people encountered. This assumes, in the usual Eurocentric way, that the “others” do not have a version of their own history that is
worthy of being part of the national narrative and which rather than being about political correctness or a moral interpretation based on present ethics, is actually built into the historical context of Indigenous Australians. Donnelly claims that the result of this revisionist history “is that European settlement of Australia is described as an invasion and Australia’s Anglo/Celtic heritage is either marginalised or ignored” (Donnelly, 2004: 134). This is a gross overstatement since the entire Australian political, economic, social and cultural system is built on Anglo/Celtic norms and Judeo/Christian values. He goes on to claim that in sanitizing the historical account “the culture and history of Australia’s Indigenous people are portrayed as heroic and there is little, if any, recognition that Aboriginal culture might be misogynist or dysfunctional. Ignored are the high rates of domestic violence, alcoholism/substance abuse and welfare dependency in many Aboriginal communities” (Ibid). Leaving aside the fact that these are issues also evident in many white Australian communities, it is important to note the way in which he has placed these as characteristics of Indigenous “culture” rather than social issues. It is exactly this type of “white is right” ideology that teachers enter the classroom with and why the education achievement gap is much harder to combat than simply changing a curriculum or testing and assessment processes. The underlying assumptions about Indigenous culture and normalised white privilege affects all of these processes. Many researchers contend that teaching and instruction should be based on culture-based values and corresponding behaviours be implemented in the classroom (Parsons 2003). African American students prefer in-class learning behaviours that express an orientation toward certain cultural themes (Ukpokodu 2003, Parsons 2003). Parsons (2003) argues that “culturalizing instruction” by including an array of cultural values a more inclusive educational context is created. A single set of cultural values is not deemed better than others; rather students are exposed to the learning and curriculum perspectives of different racial and ethnic groups in a world that is more diverse and global-minded. Teachers are at the forefront for changing the education landscape to reflect the realities of diversity in the classroom.
Conclusion The emergence of multicultural education in America sought to racially integrate the curriculum. According to the National Association of Multicultural Education in the United States multicultural education “is a philosophical concept built on the ideals of freedom, justice, equality, equity, and human dignity”. Banks’ (1993) identifies five dimensions of multicultural education: content integration, knowledge construction process, prejudice reduction, an equity pedagogy, and an empowering school culture. Multicultural education has surfaced internationally and morphs into its own depending on the historical, economic, and social conditions of a particular country. It is not enough to simply teach about diversity if it does not inform instructional practice. Teacher education programs across the United States and Australia, in varying degrees, have strived to create programs teaching cultural awareness and sensitivity but the extent to which teacher education programs emphasize pedagogical approaches that are inclusive of student diversity is largely unknown. It is clear to us that the future of African American and Indigenous Australian students demands us to not only interrogate the education system, but also the frameworks used to measure their success within these systems. We have outlined some of the systemic and institutional obstacles both past and present that affect minority school performance and discussed two broad issue areas where we think we need to have more sustained intervention – culturally inclusive curriculum development and pedagogy and quality cross-culturally competent teachers. We have considered the profound significance of existing social disparities and their implications for the success of African American and Indigenous Australian communities. These inequities should be addressed within a comprehensive education policy. As we’ve highlighted, this is not easily done by simply making policy claims if we do not also work on interrogating, changing and reflecting on our behaviours. It is not enough to have culturally competent teachers, if the curriculum of instruction is based on the values of the dominant culture. Likewise, it is not very useful to have a culturally inclusive curriculum if the teacher and the pedagogy only reflect the mainstream. Future research will focus on the importance of minority success, specifically, educational access and how we measure student performance.
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