Educating school students against prejudice
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Educating school students against prejudice

The worldwide surge in antisemitism shows it is critical to educate students from a young age to identify and challenge prejudices.

Photo: Inara Prusakova | Dreamstime.com
Photo: Inara Prusakova | Dreamstime.com

The Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) is currently undertaking a comprehensive review of all subjects in the Australian curriculum.

The world-wide surge in antisemitic incidents in recent years has sadly included horrific incidents of antisemitic bullying of children as young as five at public and private schools in Australia. These events highlight the destructive nexus between racist attitudes and language, and acts of violence, which results in demonstrable physical and psychological harm, sometimes long term, to vulnerable children who are the targets of bullying.

It has never been more important to educate students from a young age to identify, challenge and respond to, biases, stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination, including antisemitism.

The review affords us an opportunity to advocate for the inclusion of education against specific forms of prejudice, including antisemitism, at critical points of the curriculum from Foundation to Year 10.

ECAJ, with invaluable advice and input from Jewish educators in Sydney and Melbourne, has made a comprehensive submission to ACARA as part of the public consultation. In recent months ECAJ has met with the Federal Minister for Education and advocated for the inoculation of students against prejudice and extremism, which needs to start from the earliest years of school and to be reinforced at key points throughout schooling.

Specific elements of the Australian curriculum can and should be aligned with broader government policies to combat specific forms of racism and prejudice in order to promote social cohesion. We have also discussed other tools for dealing with antisemitic and other racist bullying.

It will not be enough to address racism and prejudice in an abstract or generic way. The focus needs to be on teaching children how to identify and counter-act specific forms of hatred and bigotry which are based on attributes protected under current State and Federal laws.

Teaching about the Holocaust remains critical, but it is far from the whole picture. By the time students learn about the Holocaust in Years 9 and 10, prejudiced attitudes picked up at home or via social media, may already be ingrained.

Nor should the focus rest exclusively on the subject of History. Antisemitism and other forms of prejudice are embedded deeply in western language and culture. They manifest themselves in literature, art and the very way some people think about science and other fields of knowledge.

The specific recommendations made by ECAJ therefore traverse the curriculum in both age group and subject matter. They address curriculum items in English, History, Science, Humanities and Social Sciences and Geography.

Importantly, the ECAJ submission does not seek to impose a further load on teachers in an already-crowded draft curriculum. Instead our submission identifies strategic items and suggests alterations and additions to the elaboration of particular items.

As well as aiming to deepen students’ understanding of the nature and history of antisemitism, and the breadth and depth of Jewish history, some of the other outcomes sought in our submission include:

  • In primary school, developing a respectful understanding of difference (race, religion, disability), and de-stigmatising those differences;
  • From Year 7 in high school, addressing specific forms of racism ie anti-Jewish, anti-Indigenous, anti-Islam and antiAsian; and teaching students to self-reflect about their own prejudices; and
  • From Year 10, focusing on the destructive effects of racism both in Australia and in other parts of the world, both historically and in contemporary society.

The ECAJ submission has not been the only one to note the absence of any mention of religion or religious diversity, or the role of religion in our society, in the “general capabilities” section of the curriculum.

We have accordingly recommended that teaching about the formation and articulation of the values, beliefs and practices of various communities and contemporary Australian society, should extend to developing an understanding of the development of ethical monotheism as a break from naturalist and polytheistic religions. Students should learn how ethical monotheistic beliefs and religious practices are deeply embedded into modern Australian life, laws and institutions.

Achieving a national curriculum that meets these objectives would only be a first step. After that, our community will need to do its part to develop teacher training and professional development programs, lesson plans, teaching resources and the like, in the way that many of our institutions have been doing for some years with regard to Holocaust education.

It will need to be a community-wide effort led by educators with the full backing of the communal leadership. ECAJ is confident of our community’s ability to achieve these important objectives.

Peter Wertheim is co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. The ECAJ submission can be accessed at ecaj.org.au.

 

 

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