Research from Murdoch University’s School of Education suggests educators can learn from America as mandatory teaching of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures rolls out under the Australian Curriculum.
“While I was in Montana, I saw a great deal of enthusiasm and hard work on the part of educators, and a great many resources that one could only dream about, but I also saw teacher education students who just didn’t get it,” Dr Aveling said.
“Aboriginal studies can be mightily unsettling to White sensibilities because it holds up a mirror to the darker side of our past. Unless teachers are properly prepared, they are not likely to have the necessary skills to discuss racism in anything other than a perfunctory way.”
While unsettling, Dr Aveling said a truthful reading of Australia’s colonial past was vital for the nation to truly move forward, and that in the long-term, learning about Aboriginal culture would benefit all students.
“Aboriginal culture hasn’t died out. Through the new Curriculum, White Australians can discover its richness as well as open their eyes to history from a new perspective. To heal, you need to understand and empathise,” Dr Aveling said.
“It will also allow Aboriginal students to see their lives reflected in the world of schools for the first time. Government thinking has long been grounded in deficit thinking – the belief we need to ‘fix’ Aboriginal students and their communities – but if you want to engage students, they need to see their cultures reflected in what is being taught.
“The inclusion of Aboriginal studies in the Australian Curriculum is satisfying after 37 years of fighting for it, but we need to proceed ahead in the right way, which means providing teachers with the right training.”
Dr Aveling added that since 2006 Murdoch University’s School of Education has mandated all initial education teacher students do a unit called Education for Social Justice, making it a ‘quiet leader’ in this area.