Tim Stollznow, your letter to the editor does not reflect …

Comment on Yirara College chairman responds to reports, questions by Saskia.

Tim Stollznow, your letter to the editor does not reflect on any of the concerns raised by a series of articles in the Alice Springs News Online other than to presume that “some staff leave feeling extremely frustrated and disappointed”. I presume that there were extensive exit interviews granted to those who left. If the only insight is that “this is not a new development”, perhaps not much was learnt.
In none of the News articles does anyone raise any concern about the infrastructure or levels of current staff commitment to the education of indigenous students at Yirara. My understanding is that there are those with some experience of Yirara who were concerned that student behavioural issues were a serious impediment to the success of any program.
This should not be surprising. The problem of teaching indigenous students does not start at Yirara. It starts on communities. It starts with families.
We are working on a poorly understood cultural interface. Instead of accessing the work of linguists, anthropologists and the experience of those who have lived on remote communities for extensive periods of time – we ignore them.
Why? Because it’s too hard? Because we would be exposed to conflicting views? Because there may be revelations about indigenous cultures that conflict with the “caring / sharing / peaceful / hard-done by / can do no wrong” etc image we know so well? Let’s try to find and ask the core questions. Let’s accept that the cultural differences impact profoundly on our teaching practice. Let’s learn how to work with the difference so that our students, who are just as smart as any other students, can move beyond the current stalemate.
Our students are exposed to adult behaviours.
Our students are largely unsupervised on the community.
Our students are autonomous individuals with high levels of independence and few, if any, boundaries.
Our students are sovereign within their own cultural domain and when they come to school they must learn to act as a member of groups – to participate as a whole school, a whole class or in smaller groups, to follow discussion on new and foreign topics and to follow directions in a foreign language, to sit still, to  work independently on tasks, to resist distraction or distracting, to resist teasing, to control the impulse to fight when teased, to leave another’s work alone, to control the need to steal classroom resources, to share resources impartially, to accept that the tutor cannot do your work for you and then have you claim it as your own, to learn mainstream cultural mores and manners, to learn to defer gratification and to do it all in English – a foreign language.
What is world’s best practice in foreign language acquisition? Which country has the highest success in creating opportunities for minority groups to learn the language of the dominant culture?
Why are we persisting in pretending that English is known and understood at a higher level than it actually is? Why aren’t we creating assessment procedures to test this?
Why do we think mandating use of main stream programs across all schools is going to solve the problem?
How much English is actually heard and understood in the classroom?
Mr. Stollznow, if your response is all you feel is necessary then no amount of money, nor modelling, nor service delivery, nor gifting is going to “close the gap”.

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