"That School Gotta Recognize Our
Policy!": The Appropriation of
Educational Policy in an Australian
R. G. Schwab
This chapter is an exploration of the interaction of Aboriginal people and the Western system of education in the remote community of Maningrida in north-central Arnhem Land.1 Fifty years ago, the indigenous people of this region enjoyed relative isolation from the rest of Australia, but increasingly this is no longer the case. While ceremonial forms and traditional social structures remain largely intact, dramatic economic change has swept through the region and modern technologies such as telephones, satellite television, fax machines, computers, airplanes, and four-wheel-drive vehicles have delivered options and pressures never imagined a generation ago. Many of these options present fundamental challenges to the cultural underpinnings of daily life, and the indigenous people in the region are currently attempting to negotiate change and provide the best future for themselves and their children. Much of that negotiation is mediated by various institutions introduced by Europeans, and prominent among these is the community school. As in many Aboriginal communities, the school is perceived as one of the most significant institutions, yet there is continual anxiety over the degree to which education is succeeding or failing in Maningrida.
On a particular school day, one can see school-age children roaming the dusty, red dirt roads of Maningrida while many of their agemates are in classrooms.2 Impassioned discussions among staff, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, regarding how to increase and maintain attendance are end-