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Cross-cultural issues are part of an ESL teacher’s business

12 Jan

There are times when this aspect of ESL teaching and support leads down paths some might see as controversial, but I have found most ESL teachers find themselves travelling together on this. On the old Tripod blog there were a number of entries that arose in my own practice. Most were also published as articles in High Notes, the SBHS newsletter. They were all read by the Principal before publication and addressed ongoing issues in our very multicultural community.

Today I am posting the most recent one, written Monday, 6 February 2006 and thus not in High Notes. There are links there to other entries; these will still work, as when I come to trim that old blog I will leave those entries untouched, or perhaps cross-link them here.

Here is that post:

Schoolchildren cast judgements on Muslims – National – smh.com.au

This is very unhealthy indeed, I would say.

MORE than half of Victorian schoolchildren view Muslims as terrorists, and two out of five agree that Muslims “are unclean”, a survey has revealed. Just over 50 per cent believe Muslims “behave strangely”, while 45 per cent say Australians do not have positive feelings about Muslims.

These are the preliminary findings of the survey, which aims to measure student attitudes towards the Muslim community. The research was conducted in the second half of 2005 and is based on responses from 551 year 10 and 11 students in Victoria…

One of the researchers, Abe Ata, of the Australian Catholic University, said the findings showed a need for educators to develop new ways of promoting multiculturalism among children. “There are very strong signals that there is a chasm between mainstream students and Muslim students,” said Dr Ata, a senior fellow at the university’s Institute for the Advancement of Research. “Educationalists and policymakers in education should take proactive steps to help create more racial harmony in the classroom and outside it.”

Waleed Aly, a member of the Islamic Council of Victoria, said the results were troubling. “What it demonstrates is that Muslims are being viewed in a way that is really subhuman,” he said. “The only way you can combat this kind of prejudice is on a personal level. It’s much harder to hate people when you know someone in that social group.”

Phong Nguyen, the chairman of the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, described the survey’s findings as “a wake-up call”. “We cannot assume that our children who grow up in a multicultural setting will automatically be accepting of each other,” he said. “Adults need to do things to make sure that our impressionable young children have a growing, mature understanding of the world and other people.” Learning about other faiths and cultures was just as important to a child’s education as studying subjects such as maths or physics, Mr Nguyen said.

The Victorian Government’s draft new education laws explicitly permits the teaching of comparative religion in public schools, and enshrines values of “openness and tolerance”. However, according to the Australian Education Union, while some schools discussed issues involving Muslims within the curriculum, others are more hesitant to do so.

“Sometimes schools do shy away from such controversial issues because of the sensitivities,” said the union’s branch president, Mary Bluett. “There’s always the thought that you might fall foul of politicians or parents.”

But Andrew Blair, the president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, said schools had a social responsibility to discuss such sensitive issues with students. “Just because it’s tough, you shouldn’t turn your back on it,” he said, adding that the task of helping young people learn about other cultures lay not only with schools, but also with parents. “The lack of understanding and generosity out of these (survey) results is incredibly disappointing,” Mr Blair said.

The survey results are not merely unfortunate; they reveal one element in a situation that actually makes our world a more dangerous place: the persistence of ignorance and prejudice. So of course I support the various statements in the article above, particularly the one I have highlighted.

You will know if you are a regular on my sites that I have been worrying away at this for years. For example, on my Lines from a Floating Life blog (now archived on WordPress), see Deadly Identities – Amin Maalouf (brilliant book that) and Tabsir: Insight on Islam and the Middle East. That’s just two from November 2005! See my category there on Islam and also the search for “Islam” on Lines from a Floating Life.

All of us have to come to terms with living in a pluralist world — because we do and at the moment do not have any other planet to live on.

  • See also my entry for 5 February 2006.
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