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Professor Marcia Langton
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“I don’t want my daughter brainwashed by a nonsensical myth”

Professor Marcia Langton, Narrm, Wurundjeri country. Tiffany Garvie. Source: Ngarrngga. © The University of Melbourne 2023.

Marcia Langton on why she’s fighting for honesty, inclusion and accountability in Australian curriculum

One of the enormous issues in the education disparity, that is, the huge gap in educational outcomes for Indigenous people in Australia, is non-attendance at school. We need to ask ourselves why is non-attendance at school such a problem? Why do Indigenous parents not insist that their children go to school?

Well, the first answer, the obvious answer, the universal answer is the injustice that they feel not only about what they learnt in school - which they know is, in relation to their own people, a lie. But secondly, the way they were treated with racist contempt in schools.

Now I myself have had this experience, not only in my own time at school back in the 50s and early 60s in Queensland, but also in relation to my children.

In the 1990s my daughter came home from school and said, “Mum, I was told by my teacher today that Captain Cook discovered Australia. That can’t possibly be right. What do I say to her?”

And so I pulled out the journals of Captain Cook, or Lieutenant James Cook to be accurate, and put a yellow sticker next to every encounter with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People that he had.

Of course, it became a document thick with a swathe of yellow stickers on it. I took it in to her teacher and said, “Let me show you a few pages of Lieutenant James Cook’s journal where he encountered Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People so that my daughter can be taught the truth, and that is that he met Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People when he came to our shores, and I don’t want my daughter to go out into the world brainwashed into a nonsensical myth that your Captain Cook discovered Australia.”

The teacher was furious that an Aboriginal woman had the temerity to speak back to her, but that’s the kind of nonsense that we Indigenous parents want to put an end to.

So what I did for my own children was re-educate them at home, and most Aboriginal parents do. But if a child feels so alienated from the school because of the racist practices in the school, it’s cruel to send a child back into a racist circumstance to be persecuted day after day by people who are so ignorant.

I think that complex of problems explains the low school attendance, so therefore, we urgently require reform in schools so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students feel welcome.

There are some great examples where people have overcome this problem by not only Indigenising the local curriculum but also establishing pedagogical practices and school environments, or cultures if you like, so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students not only feel welcome but feel that the school is serving the purpose of educating them.

Not as an inferior race, but as citizens of Australia who are deserving of an education just as all other Australians are.

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