Charles Darwin University
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Anti-racism curriculum prompts shift in thinking

By Patrick Nelson

Dr Heaton … Implemented an anti-racism curriculum for middle schools Dr Heaton … Implemented an anti-racism curriculum for middle schools

A middle school English teacher says he has been encouraged by the “positive results” stemming from an anti-racism curriculum he developed during his doctoral studies at Charles Darwin University.

Dr Adam Heaton said he recorded a shift in the attitudes of students during the two-year study, which involved students in two Year 8 classes at a private school in South Australia.

“The data showed that students had held unfavourable perspectives about Aboriginal people at the start of the research, but developed new perspectives and feelings, including expressions of allophilia (a positive attitude for a group that is not one's own) by the end of the study,” Dr Heaton said.

“It was an exciting learning journey that gave students an opportunity to question any stereotypes and opinions they may hold as they got into the shoes of an Indigenous person.”

Dr Heaton said the program, developed in consultation with Aboriginal educators and elders, prompted students to learn about Indigenous culture, reflect on key historical and contemporary events and analyse media texts.

“We not only studied the European arrival in the 1700s, the forcible removal of children from families and the apology speech by Kevin Rudd, but also looked at the accomplishments of Aboriginal people and the ongoing discrimination often experienced,” Dr Heaton said.

“Students produced reflective, critical and creative narratives and expositions in response to these and other materials.

“One of the main outcomes was that students learnt that Aboriginal people are quite brilliant and pretty incredible, just like other people.”

Dr Heaton said he was not surprised to encounter hostility from colleagues, administrators and parents opposed to an anti-racism program of learning.

“From my own observations of Australian society, it is evident that there is a lot of fear and prejudice towards Aboriginal people. For many, including some teachers and some schools, it’s an issue they’d prefer to avoid.

“It is critical, however, for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal practitioners to work together towards a more harmonious and just future for all Australians.

“The middle school curriculum provides an avenue for countering racist views towards Aboriginal people, and for prompting students to learn that it’s not OK to judge others.”

Dr Heaton formally graduated with his PhD in Darwin on 17 October.

His thesis “I stopped to think” – Aboriginal anti-racism pedagogy in middle schools is available online.