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Righting the wrongs: teachers must fight ignorance of Aboriginal history with education and break the cycle

As an Aboriginal teacher and education consultant, I am often met with the same statements from teachers about why they are not embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture into their everyday curriculum. Many cling to statements like, “I don’t want to offend” and “I don’t know where to start” like a security blanket.

In all honesty, we are asking a generation of teachers who were effectively denied an education of their own country’s true history to teach the next generation.

I’ve been an educator for 25 years. Whenever I visit a school and I start talking to students, teachers often become very nervous and start answering my questions for them. Then they will come up to me at the end and say “we have done this, I have no idea why they didn’t know”. I ask them how they taught it, and nine times out of 10 they will say, “I read a book for Reconciliation or NAIDOC week”. I then explain that it’s about embedding this knowledge into the curriculum, not doing special dates only. It’s so important.

Many teachers will now say, “But I already do this”. Some of you will, and to them I say keep up the great work. It’s just that more of us need to.

How are we going to break the cycle and ensure our next generation knows this country’s true history?

To me the solution to this problem is easy, but teachers and leadership have to be prepared for some hard work ahead. It’s our responsibility as educators – we became teachers to make a positive change in the world and nourish lifelong learning in our students.

“Where do I start?”

The most important step is to connect with your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and start or continue to develop your relationship with them. You can reach your local Aboriginal community through their corporation, local councils, language centres and cultural centres.

Explore the local history of your Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. Invite a local elder to come and walk the country your school is built on, and share their history of the land with the students. Make it a part of your school’s history books and community knowledge, helping to build on their cultural capabilities. This is a beautiful way to start building a connection to Country and your local people.

Self education is the biggest gift you can give yourself and your students. Take some time to watch films, read books and research papers written by some of the amazing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors. Buy children’s books for your classroom. Contact your local bookstore and library, they will happily help you find the right book or film.

Most importantly, if you have an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child in your classroom, don’t make them stand up in front of the whole class and treat them like an expert, to teach and answer your questions. It is up to you to do the research. You need to be the role model to your students and be honest that you are all learning together.

‘I don’t want to offend’

You know what is offensive for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people? When people don’t try and instead hide behind this statement. Educators, we need your help to share the true history of this country and to share the beauty of our people and culture.

We are storytellers of more than 65,000 years, and we love to share our knowledge with future generations. So please ask us any questions! We want to work together, we want to see your school and community full of pride for the oldest continuing living culture in the world.

Educators have a right to be angry they were not taught well, if they were taught at all, about Aboriginal history and culture throughout their schooling. Now you have a responsibility to right that wrong. As educators it’s time to listen, learn, respect and pass on your knowledge to your students.

If you aren’t an educator and just want to start your own journey of connection, head to local festivals and events and start to join in with your local community. Ask your child’s school what they are doing about embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture.

Remember to connect local and think local. To listen and learn with respect. Be honest with your students. This is a learning path many of us are on together.

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