Representing trauma in the curriculum: coming to terms with the substance and significance of the Stolen Generations in the classroom

Year: 2016

Author: Harrison, Neil

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Stories from the Stolen Generations in Australia have formed an integral part of the curriculum in Australian schools for many years. It is a requirement of the Australian Curriculum that teachers in both primary and secondary schools include this ‘difficult knowledge’ in their programs. The approach taken is not complicated. The teaching usually focuses on history (as it was then) and the enactment of government policy, rather than on what allows human carers and foster parents to commit such hideous acts upon children. Comments such as ‘we did the Stolen Generations at school’ highlight the dilemmas of teaching the unrepresentable. This was brought into focus when a colleague spoke with a group of students enrolled in a teacher education program.When Ivan spoke to these students about his own experiences of being taken, it was an overwhelming experience for all of us, a highly emotional and even traumatic experience leading some students to remark: ‘we did the stolen generations at school but it was nothing like that!’ Following the lecture and workshops, students spoke about themselves as much as about Ivan’s experiences. There was what Judith Butler calls a ‘shared precariousness’. This paper explores the nature of ‘shared precariousness’ in the context of teaching about trauma and violence in teacher education programs in Australia.The research draws on a psychoanalytic framework to suggest that through the process of listening, we rarely listen to what makes a story told by another person unique, rather we quickly assimilate those stories to what we already know (Fink 2007). Sharon Todd (2003) would suggest that the students at Ivan’s lecture are simply eliding differences into sameness. This transformative study focuses on how pre-service teachers move beyond the self to interact with Ivan’s experience.The genius of Ivan’s pedagogy is the story itself – as emotion rather than as meaning. He is not passing-on knowledge. He is not asking students to understand, or to feel guilt. As we hear Ivan’s story, an interrelation alters the ecology of learning where students feel less separated from Ivan. There is a vulnerability in Ivan’s life, and we all witness that clearly. We also witness an unrepresentable demonstration of reconciliation in Ivan’s life, a reconciliation with himself, and that is a point of admiration for students and myself. But the learning arrives, albeit fleetingly, when students recognise in Ivan’s story, their own vulnerability.