Response to Pearson Quarterly

Having just read the Pearson Quarterly I regret that he hasn’t had the time to take us up on our offer to visit one of our stronger smarter schools across the country. There is so much we could help him understand. I found his analysis of my work a little misguided and somewhat naïve. Whilst he tries, he clearly struggles to get the fundamental importance of how schools must develop and embrace a positive Aboriginal identity in a schools context, and surprisingly he offers virtually nothing on developing and embracing Aboriginal leadership in education. Perhaps this is symptomatic of a legal mind too much in dialogue with consultants, compared to an educator in dialogue with a national network of educators.


Ultimately this doesn’t matter when we consider his demands. Noel wants Aboriginal children to retain and sustain a sense of pride in their cultural identity. He wants them to be stronger. He demands a no excuses policy that is determined to deliver academic excellence for our children. He wants them to be smarter.


There is always room in our ranks for others to join in our demand for a stronger smarter future for Indigenous Australian children. He is welcome on my team any day.


2 Responses

  1. Well said… Well done.. Keep on going with the Strong & Smart stuff…

    Cheers Bro..

  2. Hi Chris,

    What follows is an excerpt from a review of Pearson’s essay that Assoc Professor Gracelyn Smallwood and I are working on. You might find it of interest.

    best regards


    The critique of the Strong and Smart movement.
    Here Pearson’s analysis does at least have a descriptive basis. The Indigenous educator Dr. Chris Sarra does exist and he has had and continues to have an enormous impact on indigenous education throughout Australia. Pearson’s first move is to say that there is “much common ground” between his views and Sarra’s on Aboriginal education (p.94). He also welcomes Sarra to the No Excuses fold. However the emphasis in Sarra’s work is entirely different from that of Pearson’s. Pearson uses the slogan of No Excuses to avoid explanation for the state of Indigenous Australia. Sarra however explicitly attacks the low expectations that have for so long dominated Indigenous education (Sarra). Sarra then targets primarily white teachers while Pearson consistently targets Aborigines and demands “welfare reform” (p.84) i.e. cuts in welfare.
    Pearson next moves from these sympathetic remarks to an explicit attack on Sarra. Firstly he claims that Sarra makes “race the basis of pride and self-esteem” and seeks to promote “Aboriginal racial pride” (p. 85). Pearson regards this as especially problematic in public education. He worries where this will all end. He then gives voice to a nightmare world and wonders aloud:
    While the public promotion of Aboriginal racial pride might seem on its surface unexceptionable, indeed laudable, consider whether the public promotion of English or Andlo-Saxon, Greek, Arabic or Japanese racial pride would be well advised – even in an all-Anglo school, in the case of Anglo-Saxon pride (p. 85).
    Pearson also seems to think that Sarra’s methodology is simply a matter of promoting pride. It thus can sow the illusion that pride is sufficient, whereas for Pearson what matters is “effort and achievement” (p. 86).
    There are several things to be said here. Firstly Sarra has not used the term race. His work would suggest that he believes there is only one race and that is the human race. He does of course acknowledge explicitly that this core humanity is subject to complex mediations (Sarra,) Secondly Pearson typically refuses to acknowledge that the Australian public school system has been the site of the denigration, often explicit, of the Aboriginal people. Why should it not become the site where these wrongs are addressed? Besides what is the problem with Greek, Arabic and Japanese pride being supported in a multicultural society? Certainly Australia’s Muslims could do with some explicit sympathy.
    What though of Anglo-Saxon pride? Here Pearson’s naivety almost beggars comprehension. Anglo-Saxon pride has been promoted for over two hundred years in Australian schools. Just because it talks of being “fair dinkum” doesn’t disguise its origins or trajectory. Has Pearson never heard of the “discovery of Australia” by the gallant white explorers? Has he never heard of the citizen test that his good friend Prime Minister John Howard promoted with the central characters of Don Bradman and the Anzac legend of Simpson and his donkey? Has he never wondered where the idea for a “White Australia” came from?
    However does Sarra’s methodology run the risk of promotion illusions among Aboriginal children as Pearson clearly suggests (p.86)? Again the problem seems to be that Pearson is not very well informed about that which he is criticising. Sarra has never argued that pride or self-esteem is sufficient. He has repeatedly emphasised that Aboriginal children need to become smart to be able to mix it in academic terms with the best.
    There is another aspect of Sarra’s pedagogy which Pearson overlooks. He fails to factor in the effect on the white teachers who commit themselves to the strong and smart philosophy and in so doing turn their back on the heritage of low expectations. Pearson professes a strong interest in dialectics (p. 74), yet his analysis of Sarra’s work is curiously non-dialectical. Maybe he should look up the Third Thesis on Feuerbach.
    As well Pearson needs to visit some of the strong and smart schools, to see that his criticisms of Sarra’s approach are quite baseless. Here again as with Freire’s pedagogy Pearson does not “get it”. But he does get “Ziggy” and his drills and that must be our comfort.

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