From book launch to class investigation and Civics discussion

Public radio prompts many ideas for class projects. Here is one on the problems facing the politicians trying to improve the lives of Aboriginal Australians:

Aboriginal self-determination: The Whiteman’s dream  examines the history of Australian attempts at “Bridging the gap”  and encouraging Aboriginal self-determination.  It was launched with speeches from Mal Brough,  former Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, who is a person of Aboriginal background, and Gary Johns, the author.   Mr Brough initiated “the NT  Intervention”, and is seen as a very right-wing thinker, but my interest here is not in is particular political views (although, given his family contacts with remote locality Aboriginal lives,  his speech is worth listening to.)   I want to look at one particular  point raised by speeches at the launch (via ABC RN Counterpoint, in the program aired on 02 May 2011).

According to the speeches, the book reports that the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody  found, in the first 6 weeks, that the statistics for death rates (per year per  thousand, I assume) in custody were not significantly different between Aboriginal and other prisoners.  The Commission continued to investigate the events surrounding Aboriginal deaths in custody, and issued its influential report.

Questions for a class to consider:

  • How can we test the veracity of the  statement that the death rates were the same?
  • From your current knowledge, do you think the causes of deaths in custody are likely to be the same for those of Aboriginal, White Australian, and other ethnic appearances?
  • How could the Government of the time find out what was really happening?
  • What arguments can you think of for and against the Royal Commission continuing the investigation into Aboriginal deaths in particular?
  • What arguments can you think of for and against publicising, at the time of the Royal Commision, the general nature of the rate of deaths in custody?
  • Given the arguments for and against, do you feel that the decisions made were right as far as they went?
  • What else would you have done?

Follow up:

  • How can we find out what statistics are currently available on death rates per ethnic group in and out of custody?
  • What information can we find on historical changes in these rates?
  • Have there been changes in these rates following the Royal Commission?
  • How could a social scientist test whether the death rates over time are affected by Governments’ attempts to change the way Aboriginals are handled in custody, or by other changes in society?

Further follow-up

  • Has this experience changed your ideas on the way Governments work?  If so, what has changed?

I don’t have a class of the age for this, but I’d love to try it someday.  The topic is going to be around for years;  use of the internet to search Government and NGO sites for official statistics, and the class contacting  the Australian Bureau of Statistics to ask for an expert’s advice, are examples of research serious thinkers on controversial matters must do;  and the political problem of choosing how much to make public is  one the voting public must consider if they are to judge politicians’ actions.  All these are things direcly related to the voter’s civic responsibility – and thus well raised in school.


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One Response to “From book launch to class investigation and Civics discussion”

  1. toasty redhead Says:

    I agree 100%

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