Learning to 'belong'
: an ethnography of urban Aboriginal schooling

  • Sandra Mary Hudspith

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    This is a study of urban Aboriginal students' failure in mainstream schooling, a failure evident in their generally low academic achievements, high rates of absenteeism, and behavioural difficulties. It is argued that problems arise from social and cultural misunderstandings between Aboriginal students and their teachers. These students' successes or failures are theorised in terms of a Durkheimian sense of 'belonging' or 'community'; the major question to be answered by the research is 'How might the collective representations of urban Aboriginal students and those of their teachers be reconciled?'. The particular interests of the study prescribed an ethnographic investigation of urban Aboriginal homes and of classrooms where teachers and Aboriginal children attempt to work together. The major part of the research was conducted during a year of field-work in five classrooms (three mainstream and two Aboriginal classes) which were situated in two schools in Darwin. Participant observation was supplemented with analysis of audio- and video-recordings, with the study of documentary and archival material, and with interviews with teachers and Aboriginal students and parents.

    A pedagogic model, derived from Bernstein's (1975), Bain's (1979, 1992), and Gibson's (1984) structuralist theories, guided the qualitative analysis. The five pedagogies in this study differentially structured children's experience as 'pupils', as Aborigines, and as members of a small social group. They created different kinds of pedagogic 'communities' ('ascribed', neo-tribal, 'organic') for Aboriginal students, and each tended towards one of three ideal types (respectively traditional-authoritarian, personalised-therapeutic, mediated). The mediated praxis of one teacher created an 'organic' pedagogic community which accommodated the social and cultural interests of Aboriginal students and committed them to the instructional and disciplinary imperatives of the school. Qualitative and quantitative data indicated improvements in the pedagogic outcomes of Aboriginal students in this classroom; it will be argued that these were an effect of an exemplary urban Aboriginal pedagogy.
    Date of Award1996
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorMerridy Malin (Supervisor) & Bill Tyler (Supervisor)

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