Friday, January 23, 2009

"Clean, Clad and Courteous" - Jim Fletcher's History of Aboriginal Education in New South Wales

This post links to my earlier post today, Culture, Groups and Public Policy - 1.

For my work travel movements I have moved away from Byzantium to Jim Fletcher's history of Aboriginal education in NSW. I have read the book before. This time I am reading it with a different purpose. I want to understand certain things that will help me in my writing.

The book was published in 1989. I know of no more recent work, although there may be. I simply don't know.

The thing that I find really tragic about the story is not racism is such. Rather, it is the way in which generations of Aboriginal children were disadvantaged by well-meant decisions based in part on evidence from previous approaches.

The white parents who withdrew their children from public schools until Aboriginal children were excluded are, to my mind, clearly racist. Their views could not be affected by evidence. The outcome was a rapid decline in the number of Aboriginal children attending school.

We are not talking modern times here, rather the 1870s, 1880s and 189os. This was the point at which Aboriginal parents in NSW recognised that their children must have access to education to compete in the European world. I am not saying that this did not happen earlier in individual cases, simply that this was the time where it became a mass desire.

Had this movement succeeded we would not be having today's conversations, at least not in NSW. We would be dealing with generations of educated Aboriginal people.

The Act establishing universal public education in NSW was colour blind. Ministers and officials held the line aginst white parents who opposed inclusion of Aboriginal children in public schools.

This changed in part because of political pressure associated with white parent complaints, more because of deeply held views as to what was best for the Aborigines.

I will deal in more detail with these issues later. For the moment, I simply note that that the people involved were not bad people. Their views were simply wrong, a white person's perspective.

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