Stereotypes in Education

From Reference 27

One further stereotype, which is perhaps the most significant of all and the logical basis of most of those already mentioned, is the belief that Aborigines are inferior in mental capacity to whites. This is not only put forward by lay members of the community, but often by schoolteachers who have some appreciation of the techniques used in intelligence testing; in fact, the results of these tests are often used to back the stereotypes with the prestige of 'science'. It is often argued that Aborigines cannot take in education past the stage of bare literacy, and that it is futile trying to educate them further; that they lack the ability to be more than unskilled workers.

Nearly all mixed-blood children score very low in the various intelligence tests administered throughout their school careers. However, the cross-cultural validity of such tests is questionable, and there is an undeniable cultural difference between the white and mixed-blood groups. Some of these differences are quite apparent ; education has not the place in the home life of the average Aboriginal family that it has in that of most white families. Many parents who are illiterate or all but illiterate comprehend what goes on in school only in the vaguest terms.

Equally, the benefits which are generally accepted in the white community as being the result of education are appreciated by the exceptional individual only. When asked what benefits they expected their children to derive from learning most agreed that there were benefits, but were quite unable to name them, or to express ambitions for their children in terms of them. Some few flatly denied that there was any benefit to be derived from schooling. Education is hardly ever regarded as a means of achieving economic or social goals; it is taken for granted that the children of to-day will grow up to become manual workers, as are their fathers and grandfathers. Little incentive or encouragement is offered in the home which might prompt the children to greater effort at school. The school and the rest of the child's life are different and discrete worlds, and are seldom complementary as in the white community. In the town of D, well paid unskilled employment is available at the slaughteryards for boys, but as is the case with all other parts of the north coast, there is no employment, let alone well paid employment, for girls. As a result the boys leave the high school as soon as they are old enough and go to work, but the girls stay at school, many taking the Intermediate Certificate and some the Leaving Certificate. The girls register average or better than average scores in intelligence tests, whereas the boys invariably score very much below average. The girls have a stake in education: it is the only activity open to them; for the boys it is merely incidental. That this is expressed in difference in scores is the only possible conclusion.

In the past, the mixed-bloods have been the least educated section of the community. On X station most people over sixty years of age are illiterate, and quite a number of the younger people, even those in their early and middle twenties are either illiterate or barely literate. On the whole, the white community in this area is very much better educated than are the Aborigines, though relatively few have attended school beyond the minimum age required by law. This difference in the educational level of the two communities is steadily diminishing as the Aboriginal schools of to-day are in every way comparable with white schools in standards of teaching and equipment. Very few indeed of the coming generation will be illiterate, and most will have a basic education nearly identical with that received by white children in the same district. Generally the poor education of the Aborigines is taken for granted by the white community, and is not the subject of a separate stereotype.