Home' Independence : Independence Vol 31 No 2 Nov 2006 Contents Multiculturalism is not couscous and curry;
it is the stoning of adulterers.
Theodore Dalrymple's cynical caution introduces
one of the five topics selected by the Social Issues
Committee for members to consider in 2006. Paul
Bland is the Principal of Trinity Anglican School in
Cairns -- itself a multi cultural community from its
foundation in the 1870s.
Australia has cherished an ideal of itself as a
multi-cultural society that works. All components
of that society have shared [more or less] in
the last fifty years of national prosperity; where
discernible groups have lagged behind, they are
the targets for considerable Commonwealth
funding to build a more egalitarian society.
Australian schools and communities make much
greater provision for people who are physically
disabled, for example, than most developed
countries. [One can travel through Japanese cities,
for example, and never see a wheel chair or a
Legislation to protect the rights of minorities from
discrimination and vilification has been introduced
at every level and there is a high sensitivity in
the public mind to issues of equity. In the late
1990s, the One Nation Party briefly challenged the
national consensus; it has since been eclipsed and
almost forgotten. Schools have contributed more
than most of our public institutions to the success
of the liberal achievement. All of this makes for
considerable Australian pride in the inclusivity of
the Australian culture.
For that reason, the Cronulla riots in December
2005 came as a shock to most Australians. The
behaviour of the two sides was almost tribal.
Fuelled by rumours spread through mobile
telephone and internet chains, rival gangs
assembled with the express intention of fighting.
The disturbances showed a side of Australia that
was ugly and offensive. Local Sydney young people,
fuelled by alcohol and bravado, turned out for the
television cameras. The Lebanese community in
Sydney -- already under siege from comments made
about high profile criminal acts of sexual violence
-- felt itself threatened and under assault. It
responded in kind. The events were widely reported;
in Japan [where I was visiting schools] the riots
were the lead story in the television news and in all
the quality newspapers.
If truth be told, however, the riots were more
media event than social dislocation. As riots went,
they were pretty tame. No one was badly injured;
few people were arrested; there was limited
property damage and the riots evaporated almost
as soon as they had begun -- once the cricket
season started, one wit has observed. But they
touched a raw nerve in the community -- perhaps
the same raw nerve that had been exercised by
the One Nation eruption ten years ago.
Almost without exception, students in minority
groups report that schools are safer places
for them than shopping centres or city streets.
The ethic of inclusivity is strong, articulated
and enforced. There have been well publicised
instances of gang fights in state schools in Sydney.
In September, the Brisbane Courier Mail ran
several articles on gang warfare in Logan City.
The gangs [supposedly based on the New York
and Los Angeles bodies the Cripps and the
Bloods] were said to menace public transport,
shopping centres -- and schools. By and large, the
schools concerned have managed these instances
with restraint, tact and imagination. But the core
problems remain as a constant challenge for the
leaders of state and independent schools working
with minority groups whether they are Lebanese
students in Lakemba or Vietnamese Chinese in the
Oxley in the western suburbs of Brisbane.
In the case studies and reflections that follow,
independent schools are offered some guidance
in responding to the challenge of inclusivity. The
Social Issues Committee of AHISA would like to
hear from schools with positive and negative
experiences in these areas.
Listen to the Voices
Three students talk about the experience of being
different in an Australian Independent School.
Pavneer, Shouvik and Fiona are students at Trinity
Anglican School (TAS), Cairns. They tell the story
of their journey in their own words.
Pavneer is tall, dark and lanky -- the stereotype
of an Indian fast bowler. He has been a student at
TAS for five years and while his father was born
in the lively Sikh community of North Queensland,
his mother was born and educated in the Punjab.
It's a little easier for me, I suppose. My family is
fairly secular although we still go to Temple every
month. I don't wear a turban and I shave regularly
but I can speak Punjabi and when I have children
of my own, I would want them to learn it too.
Although I've been at Catholic and Anglican schools
almost all my life, I've never felt out of things.
Inclusivity - A Personal View
What You Can Do
Here are five suggestions -- practical
things that schools can do to test their
commitment to inclusivity:
1. Commission an audit of student experiences.
Experience in the United States has shown that the
perception of what is happening in any community is
governed very much by whether you are observing it
from the mainstream or from the minority. A sensitive
external consultant can do this for you but students
themselves can be asked to map the experiences of
other students, making an anecdotal picture of the
lived experience of minority groups in the school.
2. Look at practical issues as well as ethos. Does
the school canteen offer a range of choices for
vegan and vegetarian students? Does it cater for
Moslem and Jewish students? What protocols
does the school have for managing different
cultural standards in outdoor education and
camping programs? All of these issues make a big
difference to the experience of students.
3. Give responsibility for inclusivity to someone
at a level in the school able to advocate for the
needs of these students. If the special needs
of different students are the designated
responsibility of someone in the Leadership Team,
then it is much more likely that these matters
will stay on the radar of school leaders.
4. Use the community. Christian schools with Arab
minorities in Sydney have turned to community
leaders to help the school build resilience and
sensitivity to inclusivity issues. Local imams will
help explain difficult concepts such as Sharia Law
and cultural issues sympathetically.
5. Celebrate and acknowledge difference.
Most schools make a feature of their cultural
difference in the public celebrations they hold.
One school in Logan City in Queensland was
collecting flags from the many different cultural
groups represented in the school. It made for a
great and encouraging display.
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