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Useful And Fantastic: Multiculturalism And Segregation

"Children can have pride in their Australian culture and pride in their origins too,'' declares Val Yule whose extended family includes nine races and 21 nationalities.

We have many different nationalities, and much marrying across the boundaries. Some extended families are like mine, now having nine races and 21 nationalities under their umbrellas. But others live to themselves, and live in segregated areas.

We have many languages, yes, but most people know only English. We have restaurants for every ethnic cuisine, and our take-aways are rarely British meat-and-three-veg, but is that all there is to everyone being multicultural?

In our schools and educational systems we have become increasingly segregated. This is serious. In the late 20th century, it was common to have twenty-one nationalities in one class in public education and inner-urban catholic schools. Now it is rarer, and the public education sector is becoming smaller.

The private schools emphasise the differences between us the rich and the poor, as well as the different religions and nationalities. The Turks and Greek who came in the 1950s to the Catholic schools with their parents protesting, "We all worship the same God," but really wanting the discipline they saw missing in the public schools, now have their own schools. The Catholic schools themselves are no longer catholic, in the primary meaning of the word as "including a wide variety of things; all-embracing" and reverting exclusively to the original meaning for the schools "of the Roman Catholic faith".

We have many more varieties of religion running different schools than we have ever had about twenty-five sects and denominations among the different religions we now hold. What is serious, some of these are hard-liners, preaching exclusivity of salvation to their pupils, and even telling them of doom to those not of their faith. And what is serious too, the government spends taxpayers' money on upholding these schools.

Segregated schools can probably not be prevented - indeed, the trend is to multiply them, and some governments fund this trend. However, schooling itself must not be segregated. All young people - and adults - must have open access to how other people live and what other people think.

The schools must know each other and their curricula. They can share school exchanges and open days. Small groups of pupils and teachers can have day exchanges with other types of schools and visits to other forms of religious services. Children should visit every variety of religious establishment. I organized exchanges like this in the 1970s, as a multi-school psychologist, and they were most successful and popular but it needs someone outside the schools to organize them.

Public examinations in religious knowledge are run by the State as part of the final year schools certificate. But instead of allowing public examinations in one's own religion and ethnic culture, the studies examinable must be about other religions and cultures, Every student who participates in such exams must study a religion or religions that are not that of their school. To gain credit for knowing one's own school's religion is aiding ignorant segregation. Students must have knowledge of what other people think..

At present foreign languages exams may be taken by those who must learn them in competition with those who know them through their family, who have experience of a language from infancy. Australia needs these naturally bilingual with their extra familiarity with a foreign language, and can set examinations for them but we also need new learners, who start from scratch, born into Australian-speaking families, and there can be set two different categories of examinations for them.

All students need to take cultural studies of the world today and how it came to be. They must also know about the laws and their history of this country, knowledge of the origins of the benefits of the society they live in, and the constant challenges to reduce its disadvantages; knowledge of history as the struggle for peace and fairness against disorder, destruction and greed.

Students must also have knowledge of their own countries of origin and that of their schoolmates. Much that is most worth while in the cultures of the newcomers is lost as the children fail to inherit it, and born Australians do not know of it.

Children can have pride in their Australian culture and pride in their origins too. The melting pot achieves a lowest common denominator, when parents are unable to pass on their cultural lore and wisdom, and even schools' sharing of cultures can be restricted to dress, food and, in religious education, descriptions of each other's exotic rites and dress without their rationales. Much in our education system at present is less important than these two strands of culture, Australian and the families that have come here, that are woven into our present tapestry.

We can see the bases of conflict in other countries to avoid them ourselves. In Ireland and in the Middle East the conflicts have been in the name of religion. The leaders argue about theology and religious practices., aiming to reach unity of a religion or to emphasise their own singularity. However, the basic difference between their adherents is not discussed.That is, people on the whole believe what their family believes, and their arguments are really only to support what they have been taught. In discussing religion they forget this, but it would be a great advance in thinking and towards a truly multicultural society if we constantly recollected it. It would make very clear the bases of religious conflicts if those who held the religion of their families were labelled accordingly, and converts differently. So someone would be called family-Catholic, family-Muslim, family-Buddhist, family-Agnostic, family-Atheist, including those who converted on marriage. Children at school would be called family-(whatever). Those who joined a religious group through their own thinking would be called convert-Protestant convert-Catholic, convert-Humanist, convert-Muslim, and so on. And it is basic to religious freedom that a person should be free to change their religion without penalty or ostracism.


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