“Living in a multicultural society takes time. It is a long educational process” – Jeresa Hren
This week’s reading by Marsh titled ‘Multicultural and Global Studies’ was a huge eye opener to me. It made me think about a lot that has gone on in my history of schooling, both as a student, and now as a teacher. When I was a student, I thought I was receiving a multicultural education, based solely on the fact that I had Indigenous friends, and associated with people that were different to those I saw in the mainstream media my parents relied so much on for my socialisation. It was not until high school that I realised this was not the whole picture, and then not until university that I realised it was a skewed figment of the truth, that perhaps some things were kept from us “for our own good”, confirming the works of Campbell, as cited by Marsh.
While many consider Albury Wodonga to be a highly multicultural municipality, I disagree. This has been made clear to me ever since I was a young boy. Growing up, my mother would take me and my siblings to Melbourne and Sydney regularly to get away from Albury for a while, and to visit family and friends. On these visits, she would let us explore the cities for ourselves and have us meet her back at an identified location at a specific time. For the first few attempts, no one ever strayed too far from sight of a family member, but as the trips became more often, and the surrounds and people more familiar, we felt more comfortable venturing out on our own. These opportunities were so beneficial in opening my eyes to the world outside Albury Wodonga, but still in my own backyard, Australia. Just recently I was in Melbourne Central Food Court, at the Melbourne Train Station sitting opposite ten or so schoolboys, aged no more than 16 years. These boys were all of Asian heritage, yet all seemingly swearing loudly and proudly in a clear ‘Aussie slang’. I could not help but think, are we doing these students a disservice? This was the first time I felt as though Australia could be a part of Asia, instead, as our mainstream media would have us believe as American. What would these students’ parents think of their socialisation knowing full well many Asian cultures see white foreigners as foreign devils?
These boys were wearing their St Kevin’s College school uniforms with pride, listening to their African-American rap on their Chinese made iPods, sitting in central Melbourne. The huge merging of cultures is a result of globalisation. Love it or hate it, globalisation is a fact of life, and for many, it’s all they have ever known. The breaking down of barriers to allow the free exchange of ideas, beliefs, customs and people has undoubtedly brought us all closer together in a global community, but has it necessarily made us more multicultural? I think not.
The problem we face as teachers of these children is the fact they need to work out who they are before they start working out who others are. While we may all have a piece of paper which states our belonging to Australia, many do not feel like they belong at all. No matter of barbeques or beer will confirm your Australianity. Our classrooms need to reflect the world outside the window. While my classroom as a student did not reflect the World, they certainly reflected my community of country NSW. Despite studying Chinese Mandarin for some 5 years, those skills have not yet come in handy, nor have the studies of both Asian and Aboriginal Studies. The real learning comes from experiences. By providing students with the chance to explore their own meanings of multiculturalism, and giving them the opportunities to share their own stories, the entire class is better off. By learning from our peers, multiculturalism can firstly acknowledged, accepted and celebrated – a goal for all teachers. It is how we respond to the diversity of our classrooms that will determine how good we are as teachers of the 21st Century, not the marks we achieve, but the cultural harmony we initiate.