Thursday, September 13, 2007

90. Two Sides to the "Rabbit Proof Fence" -- Or: Every Child's Right to be Educated/Indoctrinated

In the last post, I quoted with approval Peter's characterization of me as "an ethnomusicologist who is interested in all forms of musical heritage; he does not seem to accord more cultural equity to so-called 'traditional' forms of music than hybrid or modern forms." If we understand the word "equity" as "equality" or "justice" then, indeed, I have no problem with the above -- and I'm assuming that's how Peter meant it. All forms of music, including hybrid or modern forms do indeed deserve a hearing. A great many such hybrids, including many examples from the realm of "popular" music, are, for me at least, quite exciting, meaningful and important by any standard. But even those that may not, by my standard or yours, have much significance, may nevertheless have meaning for some group or other and are therefore worthy of our attention and respect.

However! From the viewpoint of "equity" as investment, as a great spiritual treasure stored up for all of us by countless generations of ancestors, creating and painstakingly passing down, from generation to generation, the accumulated art, wisdom and spiritual power of the species, all types of music can not be regarded as of equal value, because it is only among the most traditional peoples that we find the most faithful custodians of this treasure. Here is where the special significance of indigenous music, dance, art, ritual, etc. comes in and this is why it is so important that each such tradition be both protected and encouraged to develop, in its own way, according to its own standards, norms and stylistic constraints.

The real difficulty comes next, however, when we ask ourselves how to go about protecting and encouraging these peoples and their traditions in the face of so many of the pressures brought about by globalization, "development," "modernization," the media onslaught highlighted by Lomax, etc. In other words, what can be done to instill in the younger generation a sense of the importance, both to them and the world at learge, of the traditions they see disintegrating around them? Peter Jones has stated that "Indigenous peoples’ issues are perhaps some of the most complex issues in the human rights arena today." Among the most complex of all these complex issues are the issues centering on indigenous youth.

What role does the dominant society play in the education (or, more cynically, indoctrination) of indigenous children? What role ought it to play? There is a long, painful and sometimes truly disturbing history here. The film Rabbit-Proof Fence tells the heartbreaking story of Australian children of mixed parentage, part aboriginal, part "white," torn from their aborigine mothers to live and be "educated" in "modern" schools, where, thanks to their "white" ancestry, they can be given the dubious advantage of a western-style, "enlightened" education. A larger part of this truly horrendous story, prompted by the best of intentions, can be read in the report, Bringing Them Home, from the Reconciliation and Social Justice Library.

On the opposite side of this "rabbit proof fence," we have the very disturbing and very real stories of childhood labor and even enslavement, with the complicity of "traditions" that too often give parents no choice but to, in effect, sell their children into a life of endless toil and exploitation. Not only children, but women also can be victimized by traditions that operate for the benefit of one group at the expense of all others. "Tradition" in and for itself is clearly no more of an answer than exploitive "modernization." For this reason many have become convinced that "human rights" should include the right of all children to spend their chilhood being educated rather than put to work -- or worse.

But what is education if not a hidden (and sometimes not so hidden) form of indoctrination -- into the mindset, value system and, yes, tradition, of the educators? I recall being horrified some years ago, while sitting beside my ex-wife at her church, at the sight of a choir made up of young African orphans, singing their hearts out for love of a "Jesus" who had clearly won their hearts by way of their stomaches. The missionary group that may well have saved them from all sorts of very real evils, from starvation to soldiering, was extremely proud of what it had done with these young minds and souls. I felt seriously indignant, however, at the idea that anyone, no matter what the reason, would stoop so low as to exploit the plight of these poor victims by taking the opportunity to indoctrinate them with their own creed -- and in effect turn them into brainwashed disciples.

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