From backboards to blackboards - rebounding from the margins;A critical auto/ethnographic study of the struggle for culturally sensitive educational pathways for Aboriginal girls

Year: 2019

Author: McCarthy, Helen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This research weaves a yarn threading my long-term involvement for nearly forty years as a teacher albeit apprentice, where I have learned from the Warnumamalya, Yolngu, Nyungar and Wongi peoples of Australia, and listened to community members and teachers express dissatisfaction at how education was being taught in their schools.

While the product of my research-the struggle to establish culturally sensitive educational pathways for girls is vital, the focus also relates to the personal processes involved in using ‘story telling’ as an authentic data source to best illuminate the inquiry.

Respecting that it was not my place to write about or for the other, I wrote my story using the interpretive research design Auto/ethnography. Auto/ethnography ensures the writing process and the writing product are deeply personal and political, delivering the necessary multidimensionality to enmesh emerging personal/professional themes. This methodology provided a pathway to venerate my experiences as a white teacher living and learning in black communities, where I came to understand the attendant epistemologies within both cultural interfaces.

At a metropolitan Western Australian Aboriginal secondary school, staff developed an emergent curriculum to re-engage learners, through a sporting program known as the “Girls’ Academy”. Over a three-year period I tracked these Young Outspoken Responsible Girls at School (YORGAS) there occurred observable developments. Students demonstrated their desire to stay on at school by their noted improvement in; attendance, resiliency especially to study commitments, improved general behaviour, personal hygiene, increased retention rates and drastically increased numbers of Year 12 graduates.

From the students’ perspective having the Yorgas Program provided improved resources; a room of their own, a bus, impressive sporting uniforms, extra Aboriginal staff to assist with academic and sporting needs, extra tutors to assist in classroom and with after school homework, excursions such as basketball tours to Sydney and United States of America. Their experiences resulted in an observable changes in attitude as the girls engagement deepened more willingly, they began to set goals, apply themselves to finalising their studies or applying for jobs. Believing in their own abilities they instigated their own liberation incrementally transforming their previous belief in the self-fulfilling prophecy of shame. The Yorgas started a revolution and now they are 2700 strong-young responsible girls at school all over the nation. Wanna hear the yarn?