How far do you go in bringing history home for today’s children?

This morning’s Sydney Morning Herald has raised quite a stir on social media this morning and I just spoke with Fiona Wyllie on ABC’s Statewide Drive program this afternoon about it. I’m not sure my brief conversation will be archived, so I thought I’d capture some thoughts there about it. 

In a Sydney Morning Herald article School’s controversial Stolen Generations lesson draws parents’ ire by Pallavi Singhal, it was revealed that a Catholic Primary School in New South Wales ran a Year 4 class on the Stolen Generations by having children told that there were being removed from their parents due to neglect. The activity which is said to have lasted for most of the school day had some students incredibly stressed. Some however were made aware that it was a role play. The article purports that some parents are upset about the class, with some considering removing their children from the school.

I wonder what my response as a parent would be if my children were in that class. But it also has me thinking about how great it is to see educators being brave enough to make history real for children and a bit high-five to St Justin’s Catholic School in Oran Park.

The activity definitely has a Blue Eyes ring to it. It’s clearly designed to not just stimulate an intellectual or cognitive response in children, but also emotional understanding.

I encourage anyone – schools and educators – to tackle these big issues. Don’t ‘Disney-fy’ our history. I would hope that parents spend time debriefing their children about just how unjust it was that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were (are being) removed and to then consider how that removal can impact on the families for generations afterwards.

How can you support your children through these learning experiences?

  • Learn about the topic yourselves – talk about how the Stolen Generation happened and why.
  • Discuss with children how we can perceive neglect that isn’t really there. Children were removed from their families as a strategy of churches and government (supported by Protectionist and Assimilationist policies) to break up families under the guise of neglect.
  • Discuss the role of Christian churches in the removal of children.
  • Talk to children about inter-generational trauma and how important it is that all children feel safe and secure in the early years.
  • Don’t be afraid to acknowledge that Australia isn’t perfect. Despite what the “love it or leave” crowd think, we can love our country and critique its history at the same time.
  • That children around Australia are still being removed from their families. Explore systemic issues about why this might be happening.

I recommend talking with families about the activity before doing it – though I’m sure everyone knows about it now. I would want to ensure that any Aboriginal families in the school were very well prepared before their children undertook it. If my own child was in the class, I might even consider asking that they not participate. Our children have known about the history of forced child removal since they were very young, and the impact it had on their own family’s history.

I’m looking forward to one day reading about research being done that explores how we can teach traumatic histories with young children. I’m not sure anything is being done here in Australia yet.

Are you looking for more Indigenous education resources? Check these ones out:

Update: I updated the original post to expand on a few important points that it’s important to explore the role of the church in the removal of children. I also added that I’m not sure I would have my own children participate given our relationship with the topic and that our own children have known about the Stolen Generations since they themselves were little.