On Tuesday, the ABC aired the second part of a three-part program titled: ‘The School That Tried to End Racism’ (TSTTTER), which explores how primary-aged children at Casula Public School are being taught to recognise and stand up to racism.
The three-week TSTTTER programme involved students engaging in several teacher-led classroom activities and courageous conversations: including stereotyping as an antecedent to racism; cardboard cut-out friends; the stolen generation; understanding the complexity of an Australian identity; media misrepresentation in Australia; and racial jokes as a form of casual racism.
Another important part of the bold pilot program is asking what things Australia needs to change in order to have a more inclusive society.
Dr Fiona White is a professor of social psychology at the University of Sydney. She said understanding privilege and how it feeds into our attitudes and behaviours plays a key part in this goal.
“This exercise is interesting because the important thing for an inclusive society is that people who do have privilege learn that they might be able to share that privilege with others who don’t have it, and that’s how racism and exclusion can be reduced,” she said.
A 2021 review of the curriculum found that Australia’s education system is outdated when it comes to teaching people about the impact of colonisation on first nations people. However, the release of a proposed draft prompted concerns that it went too far.
Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge said he was worried that teaching children about the darker side of Australia’s history might have far-reaching consequences.
One issue that Minister Tudge has with the proposed history curriculum is that it implies ANZAC Day is a “contested” day and asks students to debate the difference between commemorating and celebrating it.
"It wants people to instead of just accepting these for the things which they are, such as ANZAC Day, to really challenge them,” he said.
“This country is a magnet for millions of people who want to come. Now, why is that? It's not because we're this horrible, terrible, racist, sexist country. It's because we're one of the greatest egalitarian, free countries in the world.”
However, Dr Anna Clarke, associate professor of history at the University of Technology Sydney, said understanding Australia’s history, warts and all, is key to bridging important gaps in understanding how our nation became what it is today.
“It’s really important for students to understand that a lot of history that we know and that we’re taught is often incomplete, and a lot of those incomplete stories are impacted from racism,” Dr Clarke said.
“It’s great if the students can think about some of the voices that might be missing from our sense of Australia’s past, but also that they might be able to contribute to adding back in those voices that have been forgotten.”
Dr White said that the most important challenge in making meaningful change in young peoples’ attitudes and behaviour toward race and prejudice moving forward will be sustaining programs like TSTTTER
“We were really pleased with the outcomes of TSTTTER programme and hopefully the findings will provide a starting point for a conversation surrounding the development of a national anti-racism curriculum,” she told The Educator.
However, Dr White said the success of the TSTTTER will need to be sustained by continued “booster programmes” in future schooling years, supported by positive messaging from parents, family, the media and the government.
“Only within this longitudinal framework can we be confident that shifts in attitudes and behaviour regarding race can be achieved in the long-term.”
Dr Clarke said she wants students to learn that Australia’s history is much richer and diverse than what they might think.
“I want students to become critical thinkers and question their history teachers the same way they might question some of the stories they’re told about Australia’s history.”
'The School That Tried To End Racism' can be seen Tuesdays at 8.30pm on ABC TV and ABC iview.