Eventos Académicos, 39 ISCHE. Educación y emancipación

Tamaño de fuente: 
“The migrant presence” and the migrant parent in post war Australia
Helen Proctor, Heather Weaver

Última modificación: 2017-07-17


This paper responds to the question suggested by the Migration and Education SWG’s Call for Papers, “How should historians approach and interpret the work of a previous generation of social scientists working on migration, race and education?” by addressing the following: Who were the experts and authorities in the emerging field of migrant studies in education in the 1970s and 1980s in Australia? In what terms did they represent non-English speaking background families? What direct and implied advice was offered to migrant parents about managing their children’s schooling? What kinds of national imaginaries underpinned and suffused this work?

The paper begins with the work of Jean Martin, one of the founders of Australian sociology in the 1960s and 1970s, and a key public intellectual working on the experiences of post-war non-British migrants (Beilharz et al. 2015; Macintyre 2010). Her best-known book, The Migrant Presence (1978), included an extended, historically-informed account of education. Among other things, Martin was pioneering in her analysis of the successive frameworks for policy and practice in the schooling of migrant children: assimilation, compensation/deficit and multiculturalism. We approach Martin’s book both as sociology—that is, on its own terms—and as history—as a record of its times. We examine it together with a selection of less synoptic research, analysis and reportage published in the late 1970s and early 1980s about migrant families with children who were at school.

The relations between migrant families and the schools in which their children were enrolled was of intense interest to university-based social scientists and to other professionals who researched and wrote for government and other public institutions that comprised the national infrastructure of the late welfarist state. At the risk of oversimplifying the character of this work, the tendency (although not Martin’s) was to treat the schooling of migrant children as a category of disadvantage, the origins of which apparently lay with the culture and ethnicity of their families. Often this line of argument was strategic, offering empirical grounds for the recommending of government funding of English teaching resources and other community programs. One way or another, however, the cultures, dispositions and potential actions of migrant parents became a key element in the process of defining migrant education. In this paper, we are particularly interested in work that offered direct or implied advice to migrant parents about negotiating Australian schools, and in the entry of community based “ethnic” organisations into this field.

In the late 1970s Jean Martin’s work was innovative in the (respectful) attention she paid to migrant perspectives. The final part of the paper considers the limits of examining “migrant education”, as Martin and others mostly did, as a project within national boundaries, an Australian project. In doing so we raise questions about the early theoretical development of Australian multiculturalism and we also try to locate Martin’s work and the work of her academic, institutional and bureaucratic contemporaries in international intellectual and policy discourses.