New ways, old ways: Aboriginal education and belonging



Publication Details

Moore, J. & Birrell, C. (2012). New ways, old ways: Aboriginal education and belonging. In N. Bagnall & E. Cassity (Eds.), Education and Belonging (pp. 111-122). New York: Nova Science Publishers.


'New Ways, Old Ways' explores Aboriginal Education and Belonging through the eyes of an Aboriginal Education researcher, Jane Moore, and non-Aboriginal researcher and educator Dr Carol Birrell. These two women met before the birth of Jane's second child. With his birth and the long hot summer that followed came walks, swims, laughter and conversations about the ways in which we all seek belonging. Their friendship has developed and as so often happens, so too have the ways in which our conversations have been articulated. At first glance, Carol and Jane's stories pursue different perspectives. On deeper reflection their writings explore similar issues. Stories spring from common ground. Both authors explore kinship relations and the role of family in Aboriginal education. Both authors are also committed to working together in order to extend understanding between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. There is a shared commitment to valuing the old stories and old ways of belonging to our country and a new story or a new way of envisioning the future.

Jane's work locates itself firmly within the Western education system and this way challenges her own acquisition of Aboriginal knowledge through conversations with country, clan and other Aboriginal people. Her emphasis is on schools and the way notions of country, land and family can be incorporated into formal education systems. This is particularly vital in Aboriginal education where family; clan and kinship networks are vital methods of transmission. Valuing the old ways provides a framework for Aboriginal children to belong. Indeed, contemporary educators are faced with the ongoing task of accommodating Aboriginal ways of knowing to a system vastly different from, and in many ways incompatible with, these ways. In the new way the idea of accommodating Aboriginal understandings is replaced with a different model, which is not based on an urban Western model but embraces its own Aboriginality and tells its own story, sings its own song.

Carol tells a personal story that involves education being enacted today as it always was: on the land and conducted by Elders through family kinship structures. Yet the old story has a new twist: whitefellas are part of the knowledge transmission. This new story of belonging takes place through sharing a Whale Dreaming Ceremony on the far south coast of NSW, in Yuin country. Rather than Aboriginal cultural notions being adapted into the mainstream Western education system, this is 'whitefella' being incorporated into the Aboriginal education system. What may come of this synthesis?

Both stories reveal that education is a space where a new way of belonging is possible.

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