Rushbrook, P. (2012), "Introduction to the history of education review special issue: centre and periphery in histories of education", History of Education Review, Vol. 41 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/her.2012.57841baa.001Download as .RIS
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Introduction to the history of education review special issue: centre and periphery in histories of education
Article Type: Guest editorial From: History of Education Review, Volume 41, Issue 2.
The “Centre and Periphery” theme, though well used in one form or another (e.g. the 2006 Canadian History of Education Association's biennial conference theme “The Education Past: From Margin to Centre”), nevertheless provides a useful framework for critical engagement with a range of historical issues in diverse settings. This Special Issue of History of Education Review draws from papers presented at the 2010 Australian and New Zealand History of Education Society Conference, convened from 6 to 9 December at the historic Riverine Club in the New South Wales regional city of Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, and auspiced by Charles Sturt University. Conference organisers Dr Peter Rushbrook and Dr Ashley Freeman refined the centre and periphery binary to suggest papers addressing issues that might include: Indigenous and non-Indigenous; rural and metropolitan; pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial; northern and southern; eastern and western; metropole and empire; gender regimes and divides; class structures; ages and life stages; central management and teachers; as well as across spaces, temporalities and geographies. Keynote speakers Professor Jeannie Herbert (Foundation Chair of Indigenous Studies, Charles Sturt University) and Professor Wayne Urban (Paul W. Bryant Professor, College of Education, University of Alabama), ably explored many of these ideas and set the scene for an engaging and productive week, in spite of the threats and inconveniences caused by record flooding of the adjacent Murrumbidgee River and a series of spectacular wind-driven thunder storms.
An innovative feature of the conference was an Indigenous Histories of Education Symposium facilitated by Indigenous scholar and researcher Ms Cheree Dean. The symposium provided an opportunity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and researchers to explore the conference theme with a focus on Indigenous education histories and contemporary Indigenous history teaching practices.
The journal features six conference and symposium peer-reviewed papers. The first three papers examine selected issues within the area of Indigenous education histories and practice. The final three papers similarly take up the conference theme but within the areas of New Zealand Colombo Plan scholars, early twentieth century disaffection within the Melbourne Public Library and influences shaping the emergence of an Australian national schools curriculum. All six papers offer invaluable insights into and elaborations of the centre-periphery theme.
Jeannie Herbert's paper “‘Ceaselessly circling the centre’: historical contextualisation of indigenous education within Australia”, is an elaboration of her compelling keynote address to the Indigenous Histories of Education Symposium. As an Australian Aboriginal educator she argues that the construction over time of Australian school curriculum has contributed to the manner in which Indigenous peoples have been marginalised within wider Australian society. Moreover, she continues, a lack of access to formal education has led many Indigenous Australians actively to reclaim the knowledge and skills required to reposition Indigenous issues at the centre of Australian curriculum construction. The paper explores these tensions through the central idea of promoting an empowering Indigenous ‘voice’ and its agential power to challenge and change a dominant education paradigm premised on cultural and colonial privilege.
Mary O’Dowd's fascinating paper “Engaging non-indigenous students in indigenous history and ‘un-history’: an approach for non-indigenous teachers and a politics for the 21st century”, mirrors and further theorises aspects of Herbert's paper. Working from a position labelled by Stanner as the “Great Australian Silence”, she explores some the reasons why a proportion of contemporarily and historically located non-Indigenous students exhibit(ed) hostility to the teaching of Indigenous histories within teacher education and school curriculum programmes. O’Dowd bases her arguments and conclusions on a review of government reports, the ongoing “History Wars” debate and the dominance of Anglo-cultural historical assumptions of Australian identity informed through received historical accounts and Australian art and literature. She offers the contentious conclusion that current understandings of Australian non-Indigenous identity make it impossible to incorporate Indigenous “un-history” without a radical rethink of what it means to be an Australian.
Rachel Standfield's paper “The Parramatta Mori Seminary and the education of indigenous peoples in early colonial New South Wales”, offers an account of one of the first institutional examples of Anglo-colonial Australia's educational relegation of Aboriginal people to the periphery of interest in Pacific-based indigenous peoples. Her adroit exploration of emerging early nineteenth century discourses of “civilisation”, colonialism, empire and race and their effects on Indigenous educations through privileging New Zealand Maori and marginalising Australian Indigenous peoples is an ironic example of the fickleness and wrong-headedness of attempts to construct ideas of education through racial-cultural assumptions. The paper focuses on the work of the Reverend Samuel Marsden and his acolytes at the Parramatta Maori Seminary where Maori students were introduced to British life in the hope that they would return to New Zealand to spread the obvious advantages of British civilisation, and in the bargain lower the risk of Maori incursions against the new settlers. Similar “experiments” with Aboriginal children, Marsden opined, produced the conclusion of their incapacity to be “civilised”. Any further formal attempts to educate Aboriginal peoples reinforced this stereotype, contributing to the contemporary centre and periphery assumptions interrogated in the first two papers.
Jenny Collins’ paper “Perspectives from the periphery? Colombo Plan scholars in New Zealand universities, 1951-1975” offers a re-reading of the assumed flow of “centre-periphery” cultural relationships. She moves beyond the argument that Eurocentric cultural power universally and inevitably imposes itself on the colonial periphery, altering irrevocably local cultural practices, more often than not detrimentally. Instead, she explores the idea that positive cultural exchanges may be made between colonial nations at the margins of the divide, leading to mutual though often-unintended benefits. Collins unpacks her arguments through research on the 1950-1975 Colombo Plan, a Commonwealth-inspired higher education scholarship programme offering South East Asian students the opportunity to study in New Zealand and other economically advantaged Commonwealth countries with the aim of raising living standards and thwarting the spread of communism. The programme produced a diaspora of Asian students to all sectors of the imperial globe. Those who arrived in New Zealand brought with them a range of different cultural practices and profoundly contributed to re-shaping the relationship between national policy makers and educators and their South East Asian neighbours. A re-invented New Zealand could then move confidently into the future as a geographically bonded Asian-Pacific partner and no longer considered self-consciously a remote imperial outpost. In a range of ways then, Collins suggests the Colombo Plan contributed to a New Zealand re-imagining from the periphery to a “new” centre.
Mary Carroll and Sue Reynold's paper “‘Disaffection in the library’: shaping a living centre of learning”, begins with the premise that within the field of history of education libraries remain at the periphery of debates over education and educational reform. The authors claim, however, that in early twentieth-century Victoria the idea of the library assumed a central place in educational debate. A rancorous battle between key officers within the Melbourne Public Library received a public airing over the role of the library in pubic education, focusing on the ostensibly bland issue of introducing a “modern engineering marvel”: the Dewey Decimal Classification system. Throughout the brief but heated flurry questions were raised about the library as a measure of public interest in education, including the means by which Victorians could access its materials. The outcomes of the debate, it is demonstrated, helped shape the future place of the library in Australian social consciousness.
The final paper in the Special Issue is Reinhard Kuehnel's “The centre is dead, long live the centre! Reflections on centre and periphery in Australian senior history curricula”. Kuehnel makes use of Foucault and Ball's reading of discourse to describe and analyse contemporary iterations of the Australian national curriculum's approach to the study of what they define as the “major” civilisations of Europe, Africa, America and Australia. He argues that the privileging of these topics at the centre of twenty-first century curriculum-making is based firmly on the hegemony of previous history education teaching practice and curriculum making. Grist for his theoretical mill is drawn from latter twentieth century examples of senior history curriculum in Western Australia and New South Wales. Kuehnel suggests from his analysis that contemporary history curriculum construction auspiced by state and federal education authorities and written by experienced curriculum writers is not autonomous; rather it is shaped by a distinctly North American “centre” informed by past hegemonic practices. The resulting national senior history course, then, has relegated the study of non-“major” civilisations to the periphery, as always.
It is hoped that the six papers presented contribute further to the usefulness of the “centre and periphery” heuristic in history of education research. The use of binary conceptual constructs, though contested as a product of modernist rather than post-modernist or post-structural thinking, may be argued to retain value and freshness when tested against and through the presentation of well-researched empirical evidence, argument and narrative.
Peter RushbrookGuest Editor is based in the Research Division at the Institute for Adult Learning, Singapore. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org