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The Civics and Citizenship learning outcomes in the Australian Curriculum involve cross- curricular learning that aims to foster active citizens who are capable of both effectively participating and contributing in a secular, pluralistic society. Such learning outcomes involve understanding and engaging constructively in public discourse on crucial national issues.
The NSW Department of Education and Communities (DEC) defines Civics as:
"an identifiable body of knowledge, skills and understandings relating to the organisation and working of society, including Australia's political and social heritage, democratic processes, government, public administration and judicial system" (p.6 Whereas the people, Civics Education Group, 1994 cited in DEC 2011)
In this context, Citizenship Education refers to:
"educational processes, formal or informal that encourage and inform participation by citizens in community activities and public affairs. Civics education is one critical element which provides a foundation for citizenship" (p.7 Whereas the people, Civics Education Group, 1994 cited in DEC 2011)
The educational outcomes for Civics and Citizenship requires students to gain knowledge of civics, including the principles of democracy and associated local, state and Australian government structures and processes. Students are expected to learn how to take responsible social and civic action, for example:
-Involved, informed and active citizenship
-Australian human rights issues
-The recognition of ethnic and cultural diversity
-The special status of Aboriginal people
-The changing status of women
-Students as both community and global citizens
-Contributions of groups, movements and policies in the development of fairness and social justice issues in Australia
(Source: DEC 2011)
This cross-curriculum content requires achieving teaching and learning goals such as equipping students with the necessary skills for practising active citizenship in their community, allowing students to engage effectively in community decision making and encouraging students to value differences related to gender, ethnicity, disability, age, religion or beliefs. Treating others in society equitably is also a key outcome of this learning.
There are some significant obstacles that prevent achieving the above teaching outcomes which are often overlooked by educators, the education system and broader society as highlighted by Oubani and Oubani (2014). These authors discuss how the omission of the lived experiences of Australian Arab and Muslim identities in the English and History national curriculums, dehumanizes and excludes these minority groups within Australian society. They explain how the lack of understanding on this minority group in the broader Australian society leads to serious consequences such as alienation, marginalisation and race riots, which are increasingly becoming a common picture in the Australian political landscape.
One major consequence for the Civics and Citizenship learning outcomes and broader Australian society of not understanding the minority groups living amongst them- especially groups that are constantly in the political and media limelight where foreign affairs are concerned, is that active citizenship and constructive contributions to national discourse on crucial national topics such as foreign affairs, national security, immigration and even multiculturalism become immediately jeopardized. Ironically, the very issues and topics used to marginalize and alienate Arab and Muslim Australian communities are those which these minority groups can offer great insight and feedback into- that is if we allow them to.
The constant targeting and scapegoating of these two minority groups by both the media and politicians forces these groups to constantly have to defend their personal identities and existence. This wasted energy is energy that could be more effectively channelled, if these groups are given a genuine opportunity to contribute to dynamic national key debates without having their own voices misrepresented or dismissed.
For example, through listening to the voices of Arab and Muslim Australians, we can quickly uncover the following realities:
Australian Muslims are an incredibly diverse group
Even within the second largest group of Muslims in Australia, Lebanese Muslim Australians, there are significant political, religious and cultural differences. The Australian Muslim community is far from homogenous, as often implied by the Media and some politicians. This means treating them as a homogenous group is not only ethically problematic but also incredibly erroneous. A plethora of opinions, attitudes and beliefs often exists in this large community group on various issues.
Muslims are the main terrorist targets of extremist Islamic groups
Most Australians are unaware that Muslims who do not support extremist groups such as ISIS are accused of heresy, which is more punishable by death, according to the ideology of ISIS than that of being a non-believer or infidel. Thus, it is often underreported and misreported by the Australian Media that most Muslims are targeted victims of radical groups such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda etc. and thus fear terrorist attacks, especially when visiting their country of origin more than those living in the West or Europe do. This means asking Australian Muslims to constantly condemn terrorism is as ludicrous as asking a victim of rape to condemn her rapist. Identifying the few groups or individuals that do empathise with such terrorist causes is not as obscure as the media often suggests as the origins of funding terrorist groups ideologies stems from Saudi Arabia's propagated Wahhabism which forms the foundation for the values of almost all Islamic extremist groups. Islamic organisations in Australia including Mosques have often asked for police protection during large scale events as a result of these fears. Ironically, Muslim groups are often victims of radicals from the broader Australian community and Islamic community. Thus, helping Australian society find counterterrorism solutions is valued by most Australian Muslims- however asking every member of this community to accept blame or moral responsibility for every terrorist or criminal event outside of their control is considered a significant, unjust burden. Indeed, the Australian Muslim Community is often approached from the angle of blame and shame- rather than asking them to genuinely offer insight in to areas they can share their constructive input.
Understanding the histories of Muslim Australians means less money is wasted on counterproductive foreign policies
Since the Iraq war of 2003, Australia has leapt into a series of disastrous regime change foreign policies, which rather than reduce terrorism, have exacerbated the problem. For example, the foreign focus on deposing the democratically elected leader Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, has strengthened ISIS, extending its global reach. Even though it is well-known that the weak Syrian opposition directly collaborates with ISIS, Western countries including Australia have continued to try to topple the Syrian secular government in favour of the Islamic state militants. This obviously has repercussions not just in the Middle-East but also back home too. Another country which has also taken this disastrous route with its foreign policies in toppling the Assad government, France, has witnessed increasing local attacks back home from the very militants it has helped empower through its counterproductive foreign policies abroad. Through understanding the lived experiences of Muslim Australians, it immediately becomes apparent that foreign policies in the Middle-East have not just had repercussions for those living and fleeing in the region, but have also affected all regions of the globe, with Islamic countries bearing most of the brunt of the consequences. Unless there is a greater awareness of Australia's counterproductive foreign policies, then we can expect more tax payers' money redirected from areas that actually develop Australia's prosperity such as Health and Education to more overseas wastage that does anything but make Australia more secure in the long term. From an ethical perspective, there are also considerations. The human costs of such policies such as the millions of needless deaths and refugees this inflicts on the Middle-East cannot be overlooked, especially considering Australia's reluctance to accept its share of refugee intake, despite the number of refugees globally doubling since 2005 due to wars based on regime change. This also raises ethical concerns when considering that counterproductive foreign policies also mean that we routinely send young Australian men and women to risk pointlessly dying under the pretence of protecting national security and interests. This is certainly an area that young Australians will be forced to make future decisions in. Whether we provide Australian students with valuable local and global knowledge that allows them to make decisions in Australia's national interests, rather than against them is an area yet to be tackled in the Civics and Citizenship learning component. Indeed, a limited perspective on what the cross-curricular area of Civics and Citizenship actually entails means that it becomes difficult to create active, informed Australian citizens that can constructively contribute towards national discourse on significant national matters.
Appreciating the diversity of Australian Muslims means a more rational approach is taken towards dealing with immigration and national security
Once one comprehends the diversity of the Australian Muslim community, prominent public discussions on immigration and national security can occur more rationally and effectively. Due to prominent political figures in right-wing political parties such as One Nation exploiting these issues to gain greater support and media sensationalism, significant fear and anxiety has been instilled into many sensitive Australians who have limited experiences with diverse members within their own society. These fears are often unsubstantiated and often create conflict between diverse groups in the Australian community. Firstly, not only is immigration from Muslim countries significantly lower and restricted compared to immigration from China, India, the UK and most other countries but the development of more mosques in new suburbs is a reflection of diversity in the Australian Muslim community and practical adjustments in a multicultural society- and not greater Muslim migration as often implied. Sometimes, ethnic and religious differences within Muslim communities are significant enough to warrant more mosques being needed within a given locality. The development of mosques or Islamic centres in new areas is also a healthy sign of a community group spreading out and integrating within a broader multicultural society. This is obviously healthier than having a ghetto effect that forces members in minority groups to form more monocultural and inward looking communities due to a fear of mixing and living amongst diverse others. Thus, the simplistic linking of the development of mosques to less national security is based on unfounded fears. Furthermore, distorted media reporting on terrorist suspects who are often found innocent, means that any real constructive discussion on national security is undermined. The creation of an environment of fear and hysteria can itself be an alienating factor and create an unsafe society for all with more individuals radicalized from all spectrums of Australian society. Approaching national security from a rational perspective that does not criminalize innocent communities is crucial as effective national security requires a collaborative approach in order to succeed.
In conclusion, the cross-curricular learning outcomes of Civics and Citizenship can more effectively be achieved if Australian students are armed with both essential local knowledge (e.g. understanding the lived experiences, values and beliefs of diverse others living amongst them) and global knowledge (e.g. assessing the real impact of counterproductive government foreign policies) that allows them to more constructively engage in national discourse on the most challenging and pressing issues that their generation will face. Ultimately, whether one aims to discuss issues pertaining to any minority group, whether they be women, Indigenous Australians or Australian Muslims, they need to at least have a basic background in knowledge and education on groups which have been historically poorly portrayed and treated in a dehumanizing manner. It is only through genuinely listening to such marginalized voices in society that we can engage with them more effectively in prominent national discourse and reap the benefits that follow as a nation. After all, it makes sense that Australia's investment in multiculturalism is harnessed as an asset rather than turned into a liability through ignorance, discrimination and poor quality education. The onus to achieve this paramount goal has been placed on the shoulders of educators in Australian school systems whether they recognize this immense responsibility or not.
For a unique presentation on this topic, please watch the educational music video above.
1) Department of Education and Communities (DEC), NSW (2011) Cross Curriculum: Civics and Citizenship, link: http://www.curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au/primary/hsie/crosscurriculum/civics/
2) Oubani, D and Oubani, H (2014) 'Ensuring Curricular justice in NSW Education' (2014) The International Education Journal: Comparative Perspectives, Vol.13, No. 1