Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Charting the "False Maps" of Australian Aboriginal Education: Rethinking Education Policy from a General Semantics Perspective

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Charting the "False Maps" of Australian Aboriginal Education: Rethinking Education Policy from a General Semantics Perspective

Article excerpt

In 1770 British Captain James Cook's expedition landed in Australia. This event, and Australia's subsequent settlement as a British penal colony, signaled an end to long-established traditional ways of life--and ways of knowing--for Australia's Aboriginal peoples. British convicts, along with new immigrants settling in Australia as a result of persecution or poverty, "became the oppressors of the indigenous peoples who already occupied the land." (Young, 2001, p.20) The colonizers quickly developed the belief that Aboriginals were "the most wretched, primitive and miserable race on earth, with few if any redeeming qualities," and in desperate need of civilization. (Welch, 1988, p.203) This perceived savageness of the Aboriginal peoples further legitimatized colonial violence, exploitation, and abuse of the indigenous Australians. From the 19th century, Australia's governing policies developed from an ideological notion to the conviction that the white majority was inherently superior to the non-white minority. Accordingly, the government established laws and policies that reinforced the colonizers' belief "that civilization was something which could be taught, by force if necessary". (Biskup, 1968, p.448) This began a long history of discrimination that damaged and oppressed the Australian Aborigines, which in many ways persists to this day.

While postcolonial theory can help reveal divisions between colonizers and colonized, it offers little in the way of an actionable strategy that will improve cross-cultural communication and understanding. In this article, I analyze the Australian education system from a postcolonial perspective and illustrate how general semantics principles can illuminate alternative considerations and possibilities for Australian Aboriginal education.

A Brief History of Australian Aboriginal Education through a Postcolonial Lens

Traditional Aboriginal education dates back 30,000 to 40,000 years. Knowledge acquisition focused on an epistemology rooted in "harmony in interpersonal relationships [along with] learning through observation ... [and] was achieved through the telling of stories, the singing of songs, the modeling of skills, and the instilling of increased levels of responsibility." (Reynolds, 2002, p.18) Aboriginal education centered on "the living culture ... and functioned without such artifacts as school buildings and school texts." (Welch, 1988, p.207) With the colonization of Australia, the Eurocentric British settlers forced Aboriginals to adapt to British culture through systematic assimilationist practices. The British established an education system centered on the deliberate removal of Aboriginal culture and the substitution of Western history, stories, and ideology. In the course of this education, Aborigines lost their rights to self-determination and were taught to believe in their inherent inferiority.

Postcolonial discourse seeks to elucidate the circumstances surrounding the western, or "Occidental," domination and exploitation of the east, or "Orient." (Said, 1978, p.3) The European colonization of non-European countries and the subsequent effects created a sense of "us" versus "them," with "us" as superior and civilized and "them" as uncivilized and backward. (Said, 1978, p.7) The British colonizers viewed their actions as benefiting indigenous Australians because a "civilized" people could discern what was in the best interest of the Aborigines "better than they could possibly know themselves." (Said, 1978, p.35) This mind-set helped to establish a dichotomous society of haves and have-nots. One group enjoyed wealth and privilege, while the other became a subjugated, exploited, and marginalized people who had little, if any, autonomy, opportunity, education, or human rights.

By the nineteenth and through the mid-twentieth century, the Australian government issued educational policies that legitimatized an assimilationist curriculum and required numerous Aboriginal children to attend segregated state boarding schools where they would unlearn their native culture. …

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