Private school fees are protection against racism: black leader

Australian - 19th April, 2001
Author: Ebru Yaman * Schools editor

A LEADING Aboriginal academic has described as ``protection money'' the substantial fees she pays to send her daughter to an upmarket Melbourne private school.

Marcia Langton , chair of indigenous studies at Melbourne University, was scathing about the state school system, in which she says racism is rampant.

``Despite advances in Aboriginal education, there remains the problem of inequity in Australian schools,'' Professor Langton told The Australian yesterday.

``I support the public school system. We need a strong and equitable public school system. The problem is we don't have one,'' she said.

She spoke yesterday at the Australian Education Assembly in Melbourne, and did not want the name of her daughter's school published.

``This school is a private-sector institution and I am paying for a standard of education that I want my daughter to have,'' Professor Langton said.

``One that is at least equal to other Australians and one where she is protected from racism. In a sense I am paying protection money ... even though I am not a rich person, and there are many other parents in my situation.''

Professor Langton said she chose one of Melbourne's most elite girls' schools because she believed it was the only way she could ensure her daughter freedom from prejudice.

``I'm getting the service I'm paying for,'' said Professor Langton, who has more than two decades of experience in indigenous affairs and was previously based at the Northern Territory University. ``I want my daughter to have the highest possible standard of education in this country and freedom from racist harassment. I just don't want to have to defend my daughter every day from racism.''

Professor Langton said a private-school education was the best way for an Aboriginal child to escape inequity and prejudice and many of Australia's leading indigenous activists and politicians had attended elite private schools.

``Many Aboriginal leaders went to private schools -- that includes Patrick Dodson, Mick Dodson and Noel Pearson.''

She said part of these people's capacity to be influential originated in the ``very high standard'' of education they received outside the state system.

``Both in terms of learning formal English to a high standard and learning in the formal mainstream Western tradition, the history of ideas,'' she said.

``If you want to be effective in Aboriginal affairs, how can you be effective if you don't have that old-fashioned education?''

If enough Aboriginal children were educated in elite schools, Professor Langton said, there would be a ``generational breakthrough'' that would turn the tide of racism in Australia.

``If you get a critical mass of kids through the private school system and have a generational change, then those kids would be at the top of their fields and could turn the tide on both racism in schools and the resistance in Aboriginal communities in sending kids to schools.''

She said many Chinese and Vietnamese families had made similar choices. ``That's why their kids are doing so well.''