Red Dirt Schools: Connecting Community and Curriculum

Year: 2015

Author: Wooltorton, Sandra, Guenther, John

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

There is much talk about the seemingly intransigent gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal educational outcomes across Australia. From a critical theoretical perspective, a new paradigm is needed to frame the situation. One of these is becoming known as ‘red dirt thinking’: a metaphor intended to create a connection between western and Aboriginal theories of knowledge about education. In a nutshell red dirt thinking aims to use local narratives of aspiration and success. This means rethinking schools using a foundation of local languages, theories of knowledge, worldviews and ways of being. It includes using multi-linguistic spaces for learning and development, “creating a people-based education system; one where everyone belongs in the system, rather than the system insisting that people belong to it” (Bat & Guenther, 2013, p. 131).
In 2015 a study comprising a literature review and qualitative methodologies was implemented in remote communities in the East and West Kimberley regions of Western Australia. The research question was: ‘how can remote schools build upon Aboriginal culture to function as sustainable community-engaged learning centres?’ This paper reports the outcomes of an ethnographic method which was used in two communities to ascertain teachers’ and community members’ hopes and accounts of children’s learning of Aboriginal theories of knowledge, worldviews, language and culture.
The writers assert that for Aboriginal young people’s wellbeing and healthy development into adult-hood, local Aboriginal languages, narratives and beliefs need to be the foundation of their education. In this way Aboriginal cultural healing and cultural strength underpin non-Aboriginal determinations about Aboriginal children’s futures. In short, there is a need to rethink the goals and means of schooling in order to address entrenched problems that are located within the Australian schooling system itself. Red dirt thinking offers this potential.