Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Rabbits, whales and indigenous people

Our curriculum says that the students are to "discuss literature by and about indigenous peoples in the English-speaking world." As I have said earlier, we put focus on the Aborines and the Maori last year when we did the "hole in the wall"-project. So far this year, we have also focused on these two groups of people, but in a different way. I have realised that the students have limited knowledge about indigenous people in general, and just a few of them have heard about how these peoples have been treated by the Europeans and their present governments. To me it was important to rise the students' awareness of the "stolen generation" in Australia, and to make them understand that this is something that happened in our recent history, not way back in time. As our point of departure, we read a factual text about the Aborigines which tells about the history of the people, their meeting with the Europeans and so on. On the BBC pages we found an article called "The Anguish of the Stolen Generation", which tells the story of the stolen generation first hand. Although the language of the text was a challenge to some of my students, the text still worked well to illustrate what has actually been going on in Australia. We also spent time watching Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's apology to the Aborigines, and finally, we saw the film Rabbit Proof Fence with our students.

Our next stop was with the Maori of New Zealand. Again we read a factual text about the people which we found online, and then we turned to the novel and the film Whale Rider. We have, in other words, watched two long film about indigenous people in this part of the world. Is that too much? Has my focus been wrong? Should more time have been spent on other indigenous people, on other parts of the curriculum? I am not sure. What I know is that very few of my students would have seen these film on their own, and I believe it is one of my tasks as a teacher to present to the students other films than just Hollywood-movies.

One final point about how I have worked with this topic: our curriculum says that the students should "discuss social conditions and values in various cultures in a number of English-speaking countries." I found some facts about the social conditions of the Maori on Wikipedia which I presented to my students, and I also gave them some questions to discuss. I split the class into groups of five, and asked all of the groups to discuss these questions for 15 minutes. The students did great! Many of them were also quite active in the class discussion afterwards, and some of those who had never said a word before suddenly presented good arguments and were very talkative.

Almost five weeks' work on the Maori and the Aborigines will end this week with the students writing papers on the topic. I will come back to the essay topics and some comments on how the students did later.

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