Being Australian 28: inclusive multiculturalism Aussie style 15 — from my English/ESL blog 2001-2007

So my reflections continue. Post #30 will attempt to summarise.

Today I draw your attention to my English/ESL blog, originally the Sydney Boys High School English and ESL page, an instrument I used to help students but also to engage with teachers and parents on some of the issues that were our everyday experience of intercultural interaction in just one school where people from over forty language and cultural groups came together in a common project. When asked how many Australians were at SBHS I always said “They are all Australians”, an answer some found evasive, as if I was somehow hiding the fact that one on three students in this school were of Chinese background, very many of them born in China. It was also a school with a very active Islamic Students’ Society and a Jewish Students’ group – not to mention an Interschool Christian Fellowship Group.

It really is best to think of this “multiculturalism” business from the perspective of individuals and families bringing to their lives the customs and values they grew up with. These things are not “add-ons”; rather, they are deep in the psyches and individual identities  of those living the transition.

With that in mind I addressed a meeting of parents in 2000.

There are times when I am quite proud to be an Australian. One of those times was late 1998 when I made friends with a backpacker named Kyohiko Kato from Sendai, Japan. Why was I proud? It was when he said he had come to Australia to develop an open mind: “big heart” is actually what he said. He went on: “When I came out of Sydney Airport and saw so many different sorts of people I knew I had come to the right place.” He was only visiting for one year and I suspect he had an open mind already!

Many people who come here to settle do so because here is different from their country of birth. Others come because their country of birth is no longer a good place to be. Others come to make money, or to give their family a better chance in life. There are all sorts of reasons. My great great-great grandfather came because the English Courts in Ireland told him to.

Whatever the reason, settling is never easy. I have read a letter written about 160 years ago by one of my ancestors. He said, “You know I don’t want to die in this country.” He did of course. A great-grandmother solved the problem by losing her mind and believing her home in Dulwich Hill was actually in the Lakes District of England.

Changing countries is an emotional thing. A Chinese friend was surprised to find that now, when in China, he feels Australian. Chinese people have even congratulated him on how well he speaks Chinese. But in Australia he feels Chinese. Here are your boys now. Here they are in a school and a school system that may be quite similar to, or very different from, what you knew, or what your friends and relations back home know. There is an interesting question: where is home?

Your language and culture aren’t just decorations: they are part of who you are. Australian governments officially recognise that now, and I hope more and more people understand it in practice. Your son’s future in Australia will be even brighter if he can be a complete person — one who knows where he has come from and is proud of it, but who also knows where he is and can move freely…

Meanwhile the Howard government was finding the M-word very problematic. We English/ESL teachers, all of us dealing with the reality of multiculturalism every day of the week, wondered what cloud cuckoo land this Prime Minister lived in. His bottle of white-out was all over the shop. as this analysis I prepared for my colleagues in other schools shows.

Face the Facts 1997 and 2003: analysis by Neil Whitfield

Face the Facts is a publication of the Australian Government’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission. It was first published in 1997 when it still to an extent reflected the consensus arrived at during the Fraser-Hawke-Keating Prime Ministerships, even though even at that time a comparison with the draft policy issued under Keating showed a shift away from diversity to “harmony” under Howard.

My contention is that the 2003 revision represents an even greater shift along a particular ideological path. There was another revision in 2005. While some of this may be explained by changes in the state of the world since 1997, much cannot be.

Here are a few comparisons…

Now it turned out that under the rubric of “harmony” we did pretty much the same as we’d done before, and that the reality didn’t change just because the PM rubbed out the word “multicultural” wherever he could. The people who change the names of government departments on Canberra buildings must enjoy steady work! On the other hand, think of all that wasted stationery!

This was in the 1997 version of Face the Facts but went missing from 2003 onwards:

Multiculturalism is about inclusion and recognition within the principles enshrined above. It recognises the right of all Australians to enjoy their cultural heritage (including language and religion), and the right to equal treatment and opportunities for everyone regardless of their backgrounds. Multiculturalism also aims to ensure maximum use of the skills and talents of all Australians to assist economic efficiency.

I couldn’t help thinking when I saw Jim Belshaw’s graph of declining mention of multiculturalism that usage of the term certainly declined here very much because the Department of Newspeak made sure it would.

On welfare issues with Korean-Australian students arose from a meeting organised by the Korean community. We ESL teachers, the police, and other interested parties were present.

Multiculturalism — Student lives is about: Experiencing cultural change through the eyes of young Australians who have been students of Sydney Boys High. The texts are not corrected, but may be slightly edited. These stories were gathered between 1998 and 2000 as part of my testing of student writing, but parallel stories occur still, over and over again.

I will conclude with more from that 2000 talk.

You want your son to do well. Everyone wants that, but maybe migrants want it even harder. So what do you do? How can you guarantee he will do well?

Well, there are no guarantees.

But there are some good ideas — and I have found some in a very old book that some of you will know. The book is old, but it is studied by soldiers and business students all over the world today. It is Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

Sun Tzu says

The contour of the land is an aid to an army; sizing up opponents to determine victory, assessing dangers and distances, is the proper course of action for military leaders. Those who do battle knowing these will win, those who do battle without knowing these will lose.

Sun Tzu also says:

Therefore generals who know all possible adaptations to take advantage of the ground know how to use military forces. If generals do not know how to adapt advantageously, even if they know the lay of the land they cannot take advantage of it.

Jia Lin comments:

Even if you know the configuration of the land, if your mind is inflexible you will not only fail to take advantage of the ground but may even be harmed by it. It is important for generals to adapt in appropriate ways. These adaptations are made on the spot as appropriate, and cannot be fixed in advance.

I asked a student what I should tell parents tonight. He said: “Don’t say ‘Let your boys have fun and relax.’ They will just laugh at you.” He thought for a moment and then said, “Maybe you could tell them not to set goals their kids just can’t reach.” “Yes. I will tell them that,” I promised.

Well, now I’ve told you.

Don’t be afraid of setting goals. Don’t be afraid of encouraging your boys to work hard. But let us together learn the ground, and let us together — parents, students and teachers — make the right adaptations. Then we can win the battle.