8. Get students to question established assumptions and 'facts'

The Approaches here deal with the fact that non-Indigenous Australian students often arrive in class with a set of starting assumptions, some of which are stereotypical in relation to Indigenous peoples and issues. (Indigenous students will, of course, have some assumptions of their own.)

Strategies for dealing with the emotional fallout when students express controversial attitudes are discussed in 5. However, in addition to having a toolkit of on-the-spot strategies for coping with the unexpected, teachers need to spend time on careful curriculum planning. In this way, as the exemplars below demonstrate, students will be led to do the questioning themselves.

8.1 'I try to challenge students to see beyond the mythology. They often come with kitchen table prejudices in their heads. When they are confronted with material, documents showing that the world is otherwise, along with notions of race, colonisation, power relations - things usually start to shift. There are some remarkable transformations - I had a student this year … she was very open about her family background and their views of Aboriginal people, but her views have shifted remarkably.' (La Trobe)

8.2 'First you try to give them the facts - they're incontrovertible - then you get them to reason, then you get them to question their own assumptions and values…. So a lot of things happen.' (Melbourne)

8.3 'We do stuff on Captain Cook - we do the Hawaiian stuff on him being seen as the god Lono, and then we look at how he figures in Indigenous stories. So the same material can be used to meet the needs of different groups.' (Newcastle)

8.4 'I always have some kind of reflexive task, for example, a letter from a primitive artifact to a museum curator, challenging the curator on why the artifact is being called "primitive". Sometimes the students have to put together their own museum collection, and classify objects as to whether they are "primitive" or not - and then justify that decision to the group.' (Macquarie)

8.5 'One of the problems with racism is that people have become used to the status quo, to cauterising the pain. We want to move them from being comfortable with thinking that: "That's just how it is". We have [published on what we call] "Provocative Pedagogy". It is not Jane Elliot although my Aboriginal friends think that stuff is great - "Yeah, now you know what it feels like!" I think that's not a sustainable pedagogy.' (Monash)

8.6 'I'm always giving them facts, but [also] always pushing them to make distinctions. You could call what I do "de-romanticising" - let's look at Aboriginal people as people who are people, who make choices, so that we don't just see them as the antidote for our own Western materialism.' (Melbourne)


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