The politics of differentiated schooling: Tensions in the recognition of, and solidarity with Indigenous students

Year: 2016

Author: Mills, Martin, Renshaw, Peter, Keddie, Amanda, Monk, Sue

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper explores the politics of differentiated schooling (Mills Keddie Renshaw & Monk, 2017) with a focus on how Indigenous cultures are valued within two predominantly white middle-class schools in a regional city in Queensland. Our analysis draws upon Fraser’s (2009) framework of social justice (redistribution, recognition and representation), in particular, the concept of cultural recognition. We also incorporate Lynch’s (2012) critique of Fraser’s framework as failing to account for matters of care and relationality in pursuing justice. We contend that attention to affective relations and solidarity work is necessary to pursue cultural recognition and social justice in schools. We analyse three different emotionally charged tensions within the two schools related to issue of Indigeneity (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders). The first two tensions occurred in one school where the new principal was considered by many teachers to be damaging its academic reputation by recognising Indigenous cultures and engaging with the local Indigenous community. Teachers murmured that the school might become a ‘Black school’ and this would undermine the school’s academic standards. The second tension was raised by the school’s Indigenous officer regarding the lack of a flag pole to fly both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags. The Indigenous worker had lobbied the previous principal without success but the current principal installed an additional pole and this act of recognition revealed on-going staff resistance. The third tension is drawn from the second school which recognised and valued Indigenous perspectives and cultures. Developing pride in Indigeneity was a political act by the school to counter racism within the broader community. One aspect of this focus was the school’s football team, largely made up of Indigenous players (see Keddie et al. 2013). However, the school had recently enrolled Maori students from New Zealand who were beginning to displace Indigenous players from the team which had led to tensions between the Indigenous boys and the Maori boys. This raised new complexities regarding race/ethnicity for the school to address in constructing inclusive ‘caring’ school culture. Our analysis highlights the significance of a group identity politics in solidarity work but also the dangers of homogenising marginalised ethnic/racial groups. In each instance we address the emotional dimension of these tensions from the perspective of affective equality. These questions of social justice, race/ethnicity and emotions have purchase beyond Australia and are relevant to educators in European and other locations as well as Australia (Gillborn, 2008).