Early Childhood Unlearning racism in early childhood

  • By Shannon Bourke
  • This article was published more than 3 years ago.
  • 14 Sep 2020

As an early childhood teacher, mother and proud Yanyuwa, Garawa and Larrakia woman, I am passionate about authentic early childhood experiences for all children and enhancing outcomes for Aboriginal people.

I have worked with children for the past 11 years, half that time in Aboriginal communities. I’m currently doing a post-graduate law degree at La Trobe University while working full time in the classroom. 

Recently, my son brought home an inquiry project based on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. The project presented questions for the students to research. These questions were problematic – posed in the past tense, implying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are a homogenous one, rather than the diverse and contemporary cultures that exists today. 

Every text presented to a child shapes their view – and now a class of Grade 4s suddenly have a lot of unlearning to do. 

What does it mean for an Aboriginal child when they have to sit through watching their peers presenting on a pre-colonial version of Aboriginal cultures, something that does not reflect their own families or themselves, causing questions about their own identity? What does it mean for my son when his peers turn to him and ask, “Are we not allowed to take photos of you?”

I know teachers can do better for our kids. We all need to make a commitment to educate ourselves, read more, ask questions and respond to community member’s offers of assistance.

When I contacted the principal, her response was that the resource was compliant with the Victorian curriculum. When I looked more deeply at the curriculum and compared it to the Australian curriculum, I could see that Victoria’s is quieter about presenting a more diverse, evolving image of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

I would like to see the Victorian curriculum be more explicit in honouring and privileging local and Victorian mob’s knowledges. I view the Australian curriculum’s guiding principles as more culturally appropriate, with their emphasis on Country, Culture and Identity, and I hope to see that embedded in our state curriculum.

I know teachers can do better for our kids. We all need to make a commitment to educate ourselves, read more, ask questions and respond to community member’s offers of assistance. Here’s some ideas:

Research information about the land your school is on – share those stories and voices in your classroom.

Read Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe. Reach out to Indigenous community members and attend local events throughout the year.

Think about the topics you’re teaching and how to ensure Aboriginal voices are included.

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