Young people, “radicalization” and schooling October 26, 2015Posted by Editor21C in Community Engagement, Directions in Education, Education Policy and Politics, Engaging Learning Environments, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
Tags: curriculum, democracy and education, education and transformation, indigenous education, national curriculum, teacher researchers
from Carol Reid
The recent events in Parramatta and subsequent ‘threats’ on social media located at two south-western Sydney high schools has brought to the fore the role of schooling in developing and countering threats to social cohesion. This is not the first time that the relationship between schools and terrorism and crime have been raised and it is not just in this part of Sydney, which is home to the most diverse number of first and second generation immigrants in Sydney. For those of us who have worked in and with schools around these matters for a number of decades there is little surprise. Before discussing what might be done it is critical that we comprehend what hasn’t been done, or rather what has been erased.
In the culture wars over school curricula Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire argued that critical approaches in high schools were ideologically driven and took the place of what really ‘ought’ to be in the curriculum. Donnelly was the ‘non-ideological’ choice of government for interrupting what was seen as left-wing tendencies among teachers and reforming ‘tainted’ curricula. This article does not want to waste space recounting the debates as arguments can be found elsewhere, but it is important to outline what this has meant for schools and young people.
The attack on critical thinking skills (including critiques of government policy and our history) by conservative educationalists leads to schools becoming places where ‘touchy subjects’ can’t be raised. They are taboo in schools. This means that they find space in subterranean places. This happens in schools in part because that is where young people gather. Schools are therefore important sites for airing and challenging views, no matter how extreme. It is not surprising that fellow students of the Arthur Phillip High School student involved in the Parramatta shooting had not heard him mention anything untoward, nor is it surprising that he also silenced discussions of religion or appeared disinterested. This concealed two things – his own complicity with unspeakable texts, but more importantly the related silencing of different views of the world by conservative forces surrounding schooling.
If we are not blind we can take this opportunity to reconsider what schooling is and how marginalising some forms of critique only serves to deepen disaffection but more critically drives some young people to commit acts of terror. The new Turnbull government is beginning to soften the tone but often points to factors such as mental health issues, isolated young people or poor family relations as factors that leads to anti-social behaviour at school or by young people of school age. But this begs the question given all the mental health opportunities provided for young people. Assistance for this kind of anomie is off the radar. It cannot be spoken.
In the rest of this short article I would like to outline what might be done and in doing so stand in solidarity with commentators such as Yassar Morsi who said:
It maybe counterintuitive but the answer lays in less authority – a space for young Muslims to politically dissent in their own language, rather than more policing of their dissent. Less parenting, more growth and a space to criticise the west and Australia, without an Islamophobic or generational backlash and without the hysterical fear and suffocation that surrounds everything they do and say.
Indeed, the first response to the Parramatta shooting by the NSW State Government is to monitor more closely ‘prayer’ groups in schools and while not clearly stated, this appears to be only Muslim prayer groups. Dr Anne Aly – who works with Muslim youth and adults who are already radicalized – similarly argues for dialogue. But what can schools do? In the remainder of this article I provide an approach that builds on young people’s capacities to know, and to trust them to articulate this knowing and emerge with new understandings that enrich them, their peers and their teachers.
In late 2006 I was invited by Larissa Treskin, then the NSW Department of Education Liverpool Education Director of Schools, to consider a project working with public high schools in Liverpool on racism post-Cronulla riots. Apparently there were still simmering issues bundled up with everyday competitiveness by school boys about girls and turf; the usual spatial dynamics that have been around for a long time. Six high schools were approached and I invited two of my colleagues (Drs Les Vozzo and Debra Costley) to work with me on the project, which was funded by a competitive ‘Living in Harmony’ grant for 2007, managed by the then Department of Immigration and Citizenship (now the Department of Immigration and Border Protection) with a contribution by my university, now Western Sydney University (WSU).
The project began with selecting the age groups to be involved. Year 9 and 10 students (14 to 16 year olds) formed two groups. The first (47 in total) spent a full day at WSU where we discussed the media representation of young people involved in two riots – Macquarie Fields and Cronulla. We were careful to approach the issue as one where the construction of young people was at the heart of the matter and thus to evoke a sense of ‘needing to understand’ different perspectives from and about their own peers. The objective was to explore and document through youth voices the causes of youth tensions in a context of rapid social change. We provided them with workshops on how to interview, carry out focus groups and ethical research practice. We argued that the main concern was to understand racism – whether it was indeed an issue, thoughts about the Cronulla riot and whether another might occur.
At the end of the day’s workshop we all co-constructed five questions (eight teachers included) that would be covered in their research. The students then left and with their teachers developed plans to interview a group of students and teachers at another school after a pilot focus group at their own school and an interview practice with a teacher or two volunteers. They also interviewed community members such as parents and local business owners. Staff workshops were also held.
A second group of students worked with a theatre group led by Kaz Therese on a creative representation of the issues, and also findings from the first group’s investigations. The youth theatre group decided to use a narrative approach so that the students involved could use theatrical forms to narrate stories of migration, indigeneity and everyday teenage concerns, along with a song they developed around the rejection of racism. The production was called ‘Pieces of Harmony’ because the students felt that while harmony was a fair enough aim it was a little naïve, but that in the act of aiming for harmony a rapprochement could be attained in pieces of harmony. The performance was held at the Liverpool Catholic Club and was attended by community, parents and dignitaries with a DVD produced.
What happened to those doing the research? The students were slightly apprehensive; pleased they had got the questions agreed on before leaving the workshop, but feeling intimidated about talking to parents due to cultural mores about respect and obedience among many second generation students. So, we had a mock focus group to prepare them. Students interviewed 301 other students in total across the six schools. Initially they were concerned about going to other schools but the evaluation of the project revealed that collaboration with other schools was the aspect they enjoyed most.
Furthermore, when they were asked about what they had learned, the greatest number of comments related to how doing the research had shifted their thinking about issues of cultural difference, race and harmony. A number had held negative constructions of students from other schools based purely on ethnicity or reputation rather than knowledge of their perspectives. Other interesting results here include the relatively poor perception of parental support for young people. Students were also surprised by some of the attitudes of teachers. The young people involved in the research requested another full day workshop to discuss their findings and asked why there were no more opportunities for this kind of learning. The young people who were involved in the research found some startling facts about others, themselves and their teachers.
Some key community attitudes about young people and the project that emerged from the focus groups led by students were:
- They felt there was a lot of diversity in their communities;
- Dominance of a certain culture made others feel inferior to that group;
- Kept referring back to just ‘youth’ rather than racism – i.e. not their problem in other words;
- Families had different values and morals;
- Indigenous parents particularly enjoyed the performances where students told their stories.
From the students’ perspective:
- The project produced an overall shift in attitude towards students from other schools and cultures developed through an exploration of local and global issues;
- They concluded that older students had more fixed views influenced by the media;
- Younger students were less decided. Still testing out the possible ideas available;
- Concluded that Year 7 and 8 is a good place to start as they haven’t formed opinions or stereotyped people.
The students found that teachers:
- Held the basic idea that more diversity produces racism and that this is an area that needs some substantial work done with teachers;
- Lifestyles did not include much mixing with diversity;
- Were worried about Bebo – site of racist narratives.
To conclude, the outcomes of the project were that people were now more conscious that racism takes many forms and that it is not just young people but community, parents and teachers who are implicated in multiple ways. While this project was related to racism, it is the model of youth engagement in understanding the issues from their perspective and in their words that is central. Working in multimodal forms also makes different forms of expressing these understandings and perspectives available. The project also developed critical thinking capacities and provided knowledge about ethical research practices.
More could be done to make schools safe places for student discussion of current issues. While it may seem counter-intuitive from a conservative perspective – that ‘touchy subjects’ ought to be repressed because they are dangerous – not dealing with valid concerns that young people have, whether radicalization or other matters, means that it is hard to make schools relevant in the totality of their lives. Educationalists must be explaining and debating. It is fertile space for further research and community engagement.
Listen with both ears. Deadly Aboriginal educators yarning up essentials for future success. October 19, 2015Posted by sethuws in Education Policy and Politics, Social Justice and Equity through Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
Tags: aboriginal education, education and training, indigenous education, teacher education
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from Shirley Gilbert
October 1st 2015 marked the close of a key meeting of the minds and the knowledge holders at the “Our Mob Teach” conference. Hosted and run by the More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiative (MATSITI), this day marks the end of a four year undertaking to change the way we think about Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and the preparation of teachers for the future who will work with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
This meeting of the minds saw representatives from a range of key government stakeholders, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers at all stages of their careers (current students, early and mid-career teachers, Deputy-Principals and Principals), as well as those of us working in the spaces of higher education and Initial Teacher Education (ITE) training. Part of the conference agenda for the two days was to make key recommendations back to government about how we create greater opportunities to produce more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers given MATSITI’s role in this space. This occurred under the leadership of BHP, as we in Aboriginal Education know them (Professor Peter Buckskin, Emeritus Professor Paul Hughes and the deadly Dr Kaye Price). BHP have led this space for more than three decades. Part of the operational focus of the two days was to hear about what our communities and people supporting us in the education space see as key yarns we need to turn into actions for the future.
Sharing the raw realities was part of the conference. During day one of the meeting Mr. David Templeman’s presentation from ACDE stated that their own research found that today that universities are often viewed as being culturally unsafe spaces for many of our mobs and that many Aboriginal students leave their studies at critical points in their programs.
Knowing this, how important is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student success for our mobs, when we know the key to our success is to have more Aboriginal teachers? When communities walk out of these institutions and do not return to their studies, this affects our capacity to grow as communities. How can institutions reduce these walking points? If we are moving to close the gap in ITE and increase the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait lslander teachers, how and what do tertiary sectors need to change, operationally and relationally, about the way they engage with our communities?
As the key providers and administrators of educational training and ITE programs, how can we make universities the safe spaces that Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander future teachers want to interact with? Our communities want more, our young learners need more, our schools need Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers as part of their staff, but all these spaces need to be safe. We know that generally these students rely of the ‘one’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Academic staff member to make their spaces safe – and often these academics are casually employed.
Pivotal to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students achieving success throughout their schooling is the effective preparation of preservice teachers (Buckskin 2015, Sarra 2014, Harrison 2011). Much of the conference heard the voices of future Aboriginal Teachers – many of them just about to embark into the profession – and what has resonated is how many of these young people spoke about cultural safety in their university experiences and the experiences that they have had during their practicums.
The need to develop deep understandings of how to meet the educational needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learners is demanded by both policy makers and Aboriginal community (NSW AECG 2004, AITSL, ACARA, MATSITI and Ma Rhea 2012). The newly introduced accountability frameworks (AITSL, ACARA) provide some guidance for universities to prepare graduate teachers for the profession.
The Australian Council of Deans of Education (ACDE) will now feed back to the Deans about how they might ensure their institutions improve their own spaces. We need these spaces to harness the challenge to become culturally responsive institutions which are strengths based, not deficit focused. These challenges to universities are not new, and the review undertaken by Behrendt (2012) focused on the specific barriers preventing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from achieving their full potential in higher education.
Key to the review discussions was the point that attitudinal changes were required in institutions, as well as the development and implementation of cultural competency training for all sectors involved with Aboriginal education and the teaching of Aboriginal content.
In one of the forums I spoke about the necessity for quality teaching which included the preparation of initial teacher graduates which understood our community’s needs, saying:
Our local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities expect our local schools to be able to work with their children in effective and positive ways to achieve standards in education which are equal to all other students. They expect high quality culturally responsive teaching and learning which maintains cultural and community links that is seen as relevant and engaging.
At Western Sydney University the Masters of Teaching (Secondary) program will see the first group of forty preservice teachers to have experienced a unit (subject) titled Aboriginal and Culturally Responsive Pedagogies. I developed this unit in response to the new teacher graduate requirements – AITSL standards 1.4 and 2.4. The standards are designed to give graduates the capacity to “demonstrate broad knowledge and understanding of the impact of culture, cultural identity and linguistic background on the education of students from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds” (1.4), and “demonstrate broad knowledge of, understanding of and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and languages” (2.4).
Much of the two days of discussions at the conference linked into the issues it raises for ITE providers. Many mainstream educational providers of ITE programs in Schools of education have very limited engagement with these requirement and many of the new career Aboriginal teachers had been challenged by the mis-information these units had tried to impart to them about Aboriginal histories and cultures.
Many more spoke about the challenges for them in their spaces not seeing an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander academic in their courses. As the Academic coordinator, lecturer, tutor and initially the developer of a new unit at my university, other universities might also take up these challenges which are impeding their own successes creating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduate teachers. I am hoping that our graduates at this university, after undertaking a well-structured and culturally focused unit in a preservice teacher program, will be better equipped and able to work effectively with Aboriginal parents and caregivers to provide the required respectful partnerships which are absent of past histories and prejudices.
However, what makes a successful effective and inclusive institution? Can universities invest in the space which values community expectations about what is required? Universities Australia and all key stakeholders nationally will be soon be presented with MATSITI recommendations. How stakeholders listen to (and not just read) the document and then action these recommendations in their own spaces will be critical. Can we, as ITE providers, develop these educational spaces which not only deliver educational and professional success but also meet the specific needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers? Some of this success could result from strategic employment in the institutions to make them more culturally safe.
So what is important?
To succeed we need to raise awareness about:
• How institutions can and will produce a well-trained culturally responsive teachers workforce.
• Developing a critical mass of full time Aboriginal academics in Initial Teacher Education teacher programs.
• Developing and monitoring Aboriginal core units in institutions which challenge worldviews about teaching and that are relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders future teachers.
• Developing Aboriginal teacher pathways which provide opportunities so that current teachers can return to higher degree studies and academic pathways.
• Developing and understanding the resilience factors ITE graduates develop despite the ‘white fragility’ factors in institutional settings.
Recommendations and actions that move higher education outcomes which can reduce the levels of racism towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students can become effective teachers for their communities will be presented in a MATSITI report soon to all sectors.
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) http://www.acara.edu.au/default.asp
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) http://www.aitsl.edu.au/about-us
Behrendt, L. Larkin, S. Griew, R and Kelly, P.(2012) Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People Final Report https://docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/heaccessandoutcomesforaboriginalandtorresstraitislanderfinalreport.pdf
Ma Rhea, Z., Anderson, P.J., Atkinson, B., 2012, Improving Teaching in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education: National Professional Standards for Teachers Standards Focus Areas 1.4 and 2.4, Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, Melbourne Victoria Australia, pp. 1-77.
NSW Department of Education and Training and NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group Inc, August (NSW DET & NSW AECG), 2004. The Report of the Review of Aboriginal Education Yanigurra Muya: Ganggurrinyma Yaarri Guurulaw Yirringin.gurray Freeing the Spirit: Dreaming an Equal Future.
Shirley Gilbert is a Gunditjmara academic working in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Kingswood campus in the Master of Teaching (Secondary). She is currently undertaking a Doctor of Education (EdD) focussed on Aboriginal Education issues and the profession of initial teacher training.