I have long made it clear on this blog that I support moves that will collect and make accessible the history of specific Aboriginal groups to those groups and other Australians. As part of this, I have also expressed regret about the decline in indigenous languages, especially in New England, the area I know best.
In recent days I have listened to radio reports on the moves in the Northern Territory to apparently abolish teaching in indigenous languages. Living far from the NT, I did not have the direct knowledge to make judgements, although the reports concerned me.
Now Bob Gosford has a very thoughtful piece on the move. It appears that my instinctive concerns were justified.
A few additional comments just to extend this post.
There is, I think, a degree of confusion about the use of and teaching of indigenous languages in school. Central to this is what I think of as the either/or problem. Either we teach mainly in English or the students will not learn the dominant English language.
I don't see it quite in these terms. To illustrate, let me take the discussion completely outside the usual frame.
Many Australians send their children to foreign language primary schools so that they can have exposure to another language. Many other Australians insist on their children learning the parent's language, often paying large fees so that this will happen. Our Chinese Australians come to mind.
Why, then, are we disturbed if indigenous Australians want the same thing? I do not see a problem so long as the kids learn to speak English as well.
Just as I was updating this post, Bob Gosford came in with a response to the original post I quote:
Jim, thanks for the link and the kind words - this issue has been around for a long time - and concerted attempts to undermine bilingual education seem to move in ten-yearly cycles - there have previous moves on bilingual education in 1988, 1998 and again this year.
For anyone wanting to brush up on what has been happening and what is planned I cannot do better than suggesting a look at this Facebook group page - Supporters of Bilingual Education in the Northern Territory (You may need to join Facebook to access this) and also the Google Group - Friends of Bilingual Leaning at: http://groups.google.com/group/foblmail?hl=en
There is a lot of weird noise around this issue - odd statements by Ministers opposing bilingual and equally odd, but encouraging and thoughtful, statements by the conservative leader of the NT Opposition, Terry Mills.
Now as a traditional Country Party person I am not as surprised as Bob at Terry Mill's comments. I could give lots of previous examples. I was equally struck, however, at the logic of Mr Mill's approach.