Beyond Culturalism Essay examples

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Aust. Educ. Res. (2013) 40:91–108
DOI 10.1007/s13384-012-0080-x

Beyond culturalism: addressing issues of Indigenous disadvantage through schooling
Amanda Keddie • Christina Gowlett • Martin Mills
Sue Monk • Peter Renshaw

Received: 20 July 2012 / Accepted: 28 November 2012 / Published online: 7 December 2012
Ó The Australian Association for Research in Education, Inc. 2012

Abstract This paper draws from a study that explored issues of student equity, marginality and diversity in two secondary schools in regional Queensland (Australia). The paper foregrounds interview data gathered from administration, teaching and ancillary staff at one of the schools, ‘Crimson’ High School. The school has a high Indigenous student population and is well recognised within the broader community as catering well to this population. With reference to the school’s concerns about Indigenous disadvantage and the various approaches undertaken to address this disadvantage, the paper articulates the significance of educators being critically aware of how they construct race and use it as an organising principle in their work. This awareness is central to moving beyond the culturalism and racial incommensurability that tend to predominate within Indigenous education—where cultural reductionism homogenises indigeneity within and against a dominant White norm. With reference to a specific approach at the school designed predominantly for Indigenous male students—to foster inter-cultural awareness and respect through sport—we highlight ways in which notions of culturalism and racial incommensurability might be disrupted.

Indigenous education Á Equity Á Marginality Á Diversity Á Culturalism

Creating more equitable societies has been an important mandate of mass education for some time and is reflected in equity policy across the globe. A key concern within western policy discourse relates to raising the schooling participation and achievement of marginalised groups. A familiar theme within such policy is to
A. Keddie (&) Á C. Gowlett Á M. Mills Á S. Monk Á P. Renshaw
School of Education, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia e-mail:



A. Keddie et al.

‘close the gap’ in educational outcomes between disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers. In Western contexts such as Australia, Canada and New
Zealand raising the educational performance of Indigenous students has been a key equity priority—given that indigeneity is the strongest predictor of educational disadvantage. In these contexts, Indigenous students fall well below their nonIndigenous counterparts on every educational performance measure. Of particular concern in Australia, for example, are Indigenous students’ low levels of literacy and numeracy attainment; school attendance and retention rates; and tertiary underrepresentation (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006). Such under-performance is associated with the high levels of economic and social disadvantage that continue to plague Indigenous communities.
There have been many significant initiatives that recognise and seek to redress the multidimensional nature of this disadvantage. Most recently in Australia, for example, there has been strengthened focus on Indigenous cultural awareness with cultural inclusion prioritised in the National Goals for Schooling Framework. The
Framework’s particular focus is Indigenous marginality and the role of education in valuing the histories and cultures of this group (Ministerial Council on Education,
Employment, Training and Youth Affairs 2008). One of the key goals is that schools support all young Australians to become active and informed citizens who
‘understand and acknowledge the value of Indigenous cultures’ (p. 10). Following this, Australia’s recently introduced National Curriculum has Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander histories and cultures as one of the three cross-curricula priorities to support the