Refuse. Resist. Rebuild.
It was with excitement that I received a copy of this book by Clare Land to read. I have read articles by Clare Land before and enjoyed her writing and insight a lot. I was, I will admit, sceptical about what authority a non-Indigenous person may hold to talk about such an important issue- I think it’s okay to mention this. Clare writes in the book about how some of the people who participated in her research also held her with the same scepticism. The mantra ‘never trust a whitefella’ is repeated several times throughout the book and I came to trust that Clare acknowledged the complexities here. Also, the foreword is by Gary Foley, presenting as if to say ‘this is a trusted piece of work here’.
There are many fantastic and insightful ideas in Clare’s book. I couldn’t possibly list them all here- it’s best to read it yourself. While Clare doesn’t talk about supporting Indigenous struggles in early childhood education and care, many of her ideas are transportable and relevant to ECEC and this is what I would like to focus on in this review.
Setting the scene in ECEC:
Currently in ECEC, the Early Years Learning Framework says:
Educators recognise that diversity contributes to the richness of our society and provides a valid evidence base about ways of knowing. For Australia it also includes promoting greater understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being. (Respect for Diversity principle, p13).
Educators continually seek ways to build their professional knowledge and develop learning communities. They become co-learners with children, families and community, and value the continuity and richness of local knowledge shared by community members, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders. (Ongoing Learning and Reflective Practice principle, p13).
Children develop their social and cultural heritage through engagement with Elders and community members. (Identity outcome, example in Children Develop Strong and Knowledgeable Self-Identities dotpoint, p23).
And the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework says:
In particular, the Victorian Framework recognises and respects Aboriginal cultures and the unique place of these in Victoria’s heritage and future. Learning about and valuing the place of first nations people will enhance all Victorian children’s sense of place in our community. (Introduction, p9).
Educators promote cultural awareness in all children, including greater understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being. (Equity and Diversity practice principle, p13).
Children develop their social and cultural heritage through engagement with Elders and community members (same place as EYLF, p21).
In ‘Insider Perspectives on Developing Belonging, Being and Becoming’, some of the EYLF writers explain:
To make the EYLF distinctively Australian, we intended to highlight the cultural and linguistic diversity that has been a feature of Australian society for at least 40,000 years, and the strengths of diverse ways of knowing. We wanted to emphasise the richness that this diversity has brought, and continues to bring, to our society, and explicitly recognise, incorporate and build on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s ways of knowing and being. To us, a ‘fair go’ for all Australian children meant taking seriously the challenges faced by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families and giving serious consideration to the values, knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and understandings essential for all children as citizens of a post–apology Australia. (p6)
The early childhood sector’s hopes that the EYLF would build on Prime Minister Rudd’s formal apology to the Stolen Generation in February 2008 and actively contribute to reconciliation between Indigenous and non–Indigenous Australians were evident throughout the consultation process. (p4)
We envisaged the EYLF an act of reconciliation; one that, through its vision, values and goals for children’s learning, could make a distinctive contribution to the development of a post–apology Australian society. To this end, we sought to emphasise respect for diversity and a commitment to equity as guiding principles for pedagogical practice. (p6)
And I notice on many early childhood forums that people are asking for the best ways to implement ‘Aboriginal ideas’ or being given TAFE and University assignments in which they are expected to make contact with Elders and ask them several questions about the Stolen Generations, the overall health of Aboriginal people and very personal (and invasive?) questions like that- and then students are complaining that they cannot get any Aboriginal organisations or people to talk to them about these matters.
So we have this situation in early childhood education and care where people are using framework documents that expect them to be developing contact with Elders and Aboriginal community members and using their knowledge to inform their curriculum development. Students are expected to learn more about Aboriginal culture and perspectives and are tasked with initiating relationships with Elders and Aboriginal organisations in order to do this.
The problematic demand for knowledge
This sounds good. It sounds important. But it’s problematic and complex- long ago, I wrote the Pirate Piece about ‘connection and disconnections- thoughts on Aboriginal cultures in early childhood services’ and I wrote about how uncomfortable I felt in demanding (because that’s what it was) such personal, intimate knowledge from people and for what purpose I wanted it for. These days, my work is about equity but when I first started trying to find Indigenous knowledges and resources, it was about me “trying to do a good job and fulfill the requirements set to me, thinking this would make me look like a good teacher” (de Belleville, 2014). Yep, I wanted all this knowledge so that it looks like I was doing my job properly, implementing the EYLF and VEYLDF in the way an educator should with the anticipation of getting a ‘good’ result come Assessment and Rating time and then being able to brag that my service got ‘exceeding’, knowing that this could bring improved job opportunities for myself in the future. For the students requesting all this information- is there a purpose for them beyond getting a good result on their assignment? This past attitude makes me uncomfortable and unsettled in remembering how I approached these topics and for what purpose I approached them.
What do Aboriginal people and organisations get from ECEC’s demand for knowledge and information? We are asking incredibly personal and intimate things here. I would like to bravely question whether this is really for the purposes of equitable education or if it’s just because we’ve been told we have to and we will get marked on this later through the federal Assessment and Rating system, with the results publicly accessible online.
Anyway. So I bring all this knowledge, criticisms and complexities to my reading of Clare’s work.
White Privilege in Indigenous/Non-Indigenous Relationships
Clare starts off by identifying that the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can often be ‘paternalistic and patronising’ (p7) and often based in colonial dynamics. If we, in ECEC, are wanting Aboriginal knowledge to use for our own purposes, then this would be a ‘colonial dynamic’. Clare analyses these relationships through understanding how ‘white privilege’ operates- something I am really interested in myself and I think needs a lot more prominence in ECEC theory and knowledge. Clare writes ‘one part of the challenge for white people is to see ourselves/themselves both as individuals of conscience and as members of a group with unearned privileges and a history of colonialism’ (p87).
White privilege is difficult to understand- well, from my perspective as a white person- it certainly was. Clare cites Sullivan, a critic of white privilege, saying that ‘white people tend to act and think as if all spaces- whether geographical, physical, linguistic, economic, spiritual, bodily, or otherwise- are or should be available for them to move in and out of as they wish’ (p218). Considering that statement in regards to wanting information for assignments and to implement the EYLF and VEYLDF makes me feel pretty uncomfortable with my previous (and current, let’s be honest) teaching practices and expectations. While other pirate pieces have eloquently criticised how privilege operates (Brave, 2014; Longstocking, 2015), I think this is something that is largely overlooked in your typical ECEC texts- and especially in EYLF-specific texts.
Clare writes that ‘the imperialistic enthusiasm for ‘getting to know the Other’ [is] one-way sharing that benefits only non-Indigenous people’ (p119)… how does that sit with ECEC’s requirement to receive information and knowledge from Elders and Aboriginal organisations? Now I think that everyone- all educators, all people- need more knowledge and education about Aboriginal histories, cultures and perspectives. But it has to be done in a way that isn’t a colonial demand for answers (we took your land, destroyed your culture and language, but uhhhh, can we have the culture and language back please, we’ve decided it’s important for us to know). I understand relationships or contexts as ‘colonial’ if they are done on the non-Indigenous peoples’ terms, with Indigenous people expected to obediently play a desired part in giving the white person what they want.
Clare writes ‘an engagement with the project of developing self-understanding as a non-Indigenous person will include interrogating one’s social location as a coloniser, albeit a reluctant one. It should involve interrogating the workings of unconscious habits of white privilege’ (p165).
A constant demand for knowledge
Clare refers many times to the research interviews in which Aboriginal participants explained how the ‘constant barrage of questions’ (p123) became overwhelming for the people receiving them. Imagine if you are a student and you have an assignment in which you are expected to contact Elders or Aboriginal organisations for information. You’re one person. But how many people are in your class, doing the same thing? How many people will pass through this course, year after year, doing the same assignment? How many people in other learning institutions are expected to do similar assignments… and that’s just from people studying ECEC courses. Is there a similar assignment in social work or health work or nursing or primary and secondary teaching or, or, or…
Clare writes this: ‘They are also further evidence of the problems with ‘knowing’ and ‘sharing’, and the cumulative effect on Aboriginal people of being asked questions or presented with stereotypes to turn around. In the context of forming working relationships or partnerships between organisations, a huge amount of Aboriginal peoples’ effort is often expended explaining or answering ‘all the questions mainstream organisations have about Aboriginal culture’’ (p125).
The problem with short-term commitments
Another problem, relevant to ECEC and curriculum reforms, is that many of the Aboriginal research participants in Clare’s work noted the short-term nature of non-Indigenous supporters’ commitments- and the impact of re-educating each wave of supporters, knowing that this will have to be repeated again shortly. Clare cites Bob Pease, saying that ‘one of the forms of privilege is the ability to ignore calls for involvement in social justice campaigns’, or to commit but then change one’s mind’ (p167).
This is relevant to ECEC. Our current curriculums, EYLF and (the only state curriculum I know of) VEYLDF currently want educators to be committed to equity for Aboriginal people. But. What if the curriculum is reviewed and this is deemed no longer important and hence is omitted from the curriculum? We are currently watching the primary and secondary curriculums have references to Aboriginal culture and histories being slashed as they are deemed ‘irrelevant’ by the current government (Bita, 2015). So, if the EYLF was reviewed and mentions of Aboriginal culture and perspectives cut… how many educators would still be committed to this work, given that they would no longer be assessed on including this? We can’t depend on curriculum frameworks to sustain our social justice commitments.
So what can we do?
Clare explains that anyone interested in supporting Indigenous struggles must develop a self-understanding of themselves. She lists these questions (p163) to assist with this:
Clare suggests that non-Indigenous supporters of Indigenous struggles need to assist with educating their own non-Indigenous communities (p176)- acknowledging that a major Indigenous struggle is with white racism. This lessens the strain on Aboriginal organisations and Elders. This is something that early childhood educators can definitely do, given the reach into our communities of children, families and other educators. Imagine if early childhood forums were actively engaged in this project of education… it could be pretty impressive.
Clare also suggests that non-Indigenous people should ‘engage in self-education using existing resources and opportunities rather than burdening Aboriginal people individually’ (p178). Those assignments that ask students to contact individual people about the Stolen Generations could just as easily (and more respectfully) ask students to read the ‘Bringing Them Home’ report, watch or read ‘The Rabbit Proof Fence’ and access other literature- both personal and reports- that exists about this.
Clare also identifies that people would like to learn from Aboriginal people (and I understand this, remember my concern that this book was written by a non-Indigenous person?). I am hesitant to access professional development about Indigenous topics if it’s not done by Indigenous people, yet Clare identifies that simply there are not Indigenous people to facilitate this and writes ‘white people need to make it part of their work to explain this and still find ways to keep audiences engaged with the issues. This is a difficulty that perhaps needs to be addressed together. Perhaps Indigenous people will still have to do some educating and non-Indigenous activists will have to do some of the hard work of convincing other non-Indigenous people that their expectation is too challenging’ (p178-9). For myself, I access what I can in a face to face setting. But I also read a lot. I watch clips on Youtube. I follow facebook pages like ‘Black Feminist Ranter’ and ‘Blackfulla Revolution’- education doesn’t necessarily have to be done face to face.
Clare has written an important book. I hope it becomes required reading for university and TAFE courses. I hope you want to go out and read it right now if you haven’t already. Clare’s book shifted my thinking in intense, complex and uncomfortable ways. I am so grateful for this- hence the book review! There is much in this book that is relevant to early childhood education and how early childhood educators ‘do’ Indigenous inclusion within their settings. This part in the closing section of the book really struck me and I think it’s a good note to end on:
‘People with access to multiple privileges have the greatest responsibility to contribute to social justice struggles’ (p264).
© Jane de Belleville, 2015
Anarchy & the EYLF Pirates.
Refuse. Resist. Rebuild.
PS- you could sign this petition protesting changes to primary and secondary curriculum- https://www.change.org/p/federal-minister-for-education-minister-for-aboriginal-affairs-aboriginal-education-minister-reject-federal-education-minister-christopher-pyne-s-racist-religious-changes
References and Links:
Black Feminist Ranter- Celeste Liddle https://www.facebook.com/blackfeministranter
Clare Land (2015) ‘Decolonizing Solidarity: Dilemmas and Directions for Supporters of Indigenous Struggles’. London, Zed Books.
Gary Foley ‘Advice for white Indigenous activists in Australia’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEGsBV9VGTQ
Gary Foley ‘Educate yourself then educate the people’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iw8YVBbQgNg
Glenda Mac Naughton (2005). Doing Foucault in early childhood studies: Applying
poststructural ideas. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Koorie Web http://www.kooriweb.org/
McIntosh, P. (1990). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Independent School, 31-36 http://amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html
Pease, B (2010). Undoing privilege: Unearned advantage in a divided world. Zed Books, London.
Probyn, F. (2004). Playing chicken at the intersection: the white critic of whiteness. Borderlands e-journal, 3(2).
Robbie Thorpe ‘Advice for white Indigenous activists in Australia’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTiJ4mMFrRc
Sullivan, S. (2006). Revealing whiteness: The unconscious habits of racial privilege. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.