Powerpoint - Australian Curriculum Studies Association

Aboriginal languages reclamation:
countering the neo-colonial onslaught
Kevin Lowe
NSW Board of Studies
Aboriginal Education
Research 2011
Darwin 8-9
August 2011
Yarning: an Aboriginal languages parable
Aboriginal identity
Our Australian languages confirm peoples’ place, their culture
and their nation. ......, it is important that everybody learns our
languages, so that there is a greater appreciation of who we
really are and what holds us together. (Language teacher, 2004)
.. it’s all about the connection, not whether it is stronger or
weaker, .... the whole point of that connection is that its going to
put me on a path that empowers me. It makes me feel a stronger
identity to whom I am as a person and this is connecting me to
something beyond where I am now....... If you can't connect then
you are not going to identify. (Language teacher, 2007)
Indigenous culture and mainstream Education
[Culture] – provides an implicit and explicit context
within which people operate and make sense of the
world. It influences how people and communities
process learning, solve problems, interpret the world
and structure the teaching of the next generation. (Banks,
Banks & McGee (1989)
If cultural affiliation provides a central context to student’s learning, then
it is essential for curriculum and pedagogic practices to both link, reflect
and be explicitly acknowledged .
Dominant colonial cultures are essentialist, pervasive and normalising
of dominant histories, experiences, institutions, knowledge and ways of
Challenging colonial cultural dominance
“…When I come here and I was shocked because I saw this living
part of my culture being called an artefact by my own
countrymen who basically don’t have the critical faculties to be
able to stand within their own ethnic standpoint and say “hey,
this [English] language is killing me, all these words in this foreign
language that I’m using is killing me, they’re placing me as a
stone age person who’s culture’s finished and who’s going to
be wiped out”. (Aboriginal consultant, 2007)
Language and schools
It’s bringing back our history, our language, our culture. It’s
reviving that and we’re passing it on to our younger
generation because we knew it was going to be lost. ...[my
brother and] I have been working on it for the last ten years
(Community elder and teacher)
..Well if you are teaching language in a school, you have to work in
with a schoolteacher to a timetable in that curriculum, that's the way
schools function, that's their formula. But that formula isn't going to
bring out that experience that I'm talking about in a child because it
loses the main idea of what I'm saying to you because school has
it's place but it isn't the place ...(language mentor and teacher).
Murray Butcher - Wilcannia
Language and cultural
Bilingual schools support and enhance all that we Indigenous people have fought for
over time to preserve our independent cultures and identities. Our cultures and our
languages are our human rights, protected under international treaties. Tom Calma
Language work is by its nature, is at the vanguard of opposition to dominant political, social and economic
Insistence of English first policies elevates English above all other languages.
The power - institutions and concepts of position, place and authority
it problemitizes culture and linguistic difference by degrees of resistance, deficit
current policies constant internal tensions of position, relationship of state to Aboriginal people - self
determination, treaty, terra nullius, human rights, collaboration VS intervention, land rights /native title
seeks to suborn Indigenous agency to this task - policies that undermine embeds a monolingual/cultural
Contemporary environment of
language reclamation
‘reclaiming language’ - questions about the language and meaning
embedded tension of being described as dysfunctional, being in
linguistic moribundity, a victim of community disinterest - Aboriginal
community’s disinterest in part the cause of its ‘decay’
impact of the relationship between Aboriginal communities and
language experts - recognising Indigenous agency with need for
linguistic. Collaborative
The rebirthing of authentic Indigenous voices onto the landscape is
central to their identity agency and self determination
Situating language reclamation
genuine engagement with language reclamation requires a new world
view for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples - the spinal
cord to diverse environments, purposes and outcomes. These
pedagogic practiced (Bernstein)
curriculum (Apple, McCarthy, Ladson-Billings)
relationships (Epstein)
Dianne McNaboe - Dubbo
effective language education requires critical and responsive pedagogy:
acknowledges the nature of disadvantage
systemic as well as deficit thinking about student capacities, aspirations
hegemonic practices, structures and policies - esp those that problematise Aboriginal knowledge
understands the highly contested nature & place schools within economic, social, cultural & political
A Critical Indigenous model focuses on
privileges Indigenous epistemologies and ontology
centres community languages and cultures within
is culturally responsive
based on student: success, cultural connectedness, critical consciousness
Dominant status groups and social classes use their power to
maintain and create structural conditions to protect their interests.
Accordingly, schools are fashioned to guarantee the success of
students from privileged groups through a curriculum that privileges
cultures, aspirations, needs, interests and knowledges, and teaching
The primary structure of school control centres on mandated
curriculum and its localised delivery - its privileged content, knowledge
and assessment, and its delivery. [De Graff 2000]
current curriculum programs typically:
fails to link dominant culture with destructive notions of race and to
acknowledge systematic racism
perpetuates underachievement by situating school curriculum and
teaching practices within the broader socio-political & social justice
are underpinned by policies of epistemological assimilation - fails to
critically investigate notions of invasion, systemic disadvantage or
legitimacy of Aboriginal experience or knowledge
fail to acknowledge that curriculum is deeply embedded with pedagogic
practices that fail to acknowledge Indigenous difference
Language and Culturally responsive
Culturally responsive education
Students need to feel valued so
that they are able to develop
positive self esteem.
 Teachers must demonstrate
that they care for students as
cultural human beings.
 Teachers who demonstrate
they value cultural experiences of
students will have greater
success in building successful
Learning through culture
It is essential that cultural experiences
connect cultural experiences to both the
content and practices in the classroom.
Providing access to high quality
language programs taught by
community language teachers is
acknowledged as a highly effective
knowledge ownership and the need to
develop trusting, deep, personal
relationships between teachers and
Cultural responsiveness and transformed
Through: critically evaluating
curriculum and teaching
practices to ensure relevance,
engagement and cultural
Cultural knowledge must be
central to the program by being
Educational partnerships - aspirational connection between schools, teachers
and parents/communities have been shown to:
improve student engagement and achievement
sustain social cohesion
effect change in teacher understanding of community aspirations
develop two-way capacity building project for schools and parents
Problematic history - tokenistic / ephemeral to school business. Few programs
built on genuine engagement in the teaching and learning space.
It is argued that schools have played a central role in perpetuating
educational disadvantage and systemic racism has had the effect of
minimising community engagement.
Languages programs and
genuine Post-colonial discourse
Genuine and purposeful collaboration between
empowered parents and culturally aware teachers
provides a powerful platform to fundamentally move
schools towards sustainable partnerships.
Concluding thoughts ..
There are impediments - some of these are deeply structural and go to the heart
of colonising discourse.
To implement effective and sustainable programs, there needs to be
respect from schools that centres Aboriginal cultural knowledge within a
responsive and quality educational framework. It must effect -
curriculum development and implementation, teaching practices and school
motivated leadership
Developing trusting, reciprocal relationships
genuine engagement

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