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Category: Interviews »

Subject: Sociology »

Bernard Korbman, as a teacher, describes the realities of a multicultural school and its communities

Bernard Korbman and Mara Moustafine.



Date Added:

07 April 2009


source not available


mov (Quicktime);

File size:

12 MB






The last school I taught at was at Canterbury Girls Secondary College, it was so Anglo that people from other backgrounds were not acknowledged and in fact there were three or four teachers on staff who were Jewish who kept it very, very quiet and one of them came up to me one day and said, “Bernard, be very careful, there’s a lot of anti-Semitism here.” And it’s almost like a Jackie Mason joke - and she said, “And you’re too Jewish.” And I said, “Well, you know, this isn’t a Jewish beard, I grew my beard because I was ugly and then I became a hippy but I’ve kept my beard. But it’s not a Jewish beard, but you know, so, what can I do to make it a hippy beard or a bikie beard? Or you know? And now, maybe it’s a philosopher’s beard.”


Anyway, but strangely enough, about three months after she told me it was too Jewish, her niece died and she came to me for advice and should she take off the time for religious holidays? Should she take the week off for mourning, as we traditionally do? All these sorts of things. And after a while what these people didn’t realise, again, is that my first year there, I got Happy New Year cards when it – when it was Rosh Hashanah, because I was obviously Jewish and the kids knew that. And after that, whenever they had a Jewish theme in the class whether it was in home economics and they were studying what is Kosher food, or something somewhere else, I’d be the guest speaker and then people started to embrace other – their other – other people started to embrace their nationalities and in fact, we formed a blues band, three – two other teachers and I, at the school and we were called, “Ethnic Blues.” Because one was a – one was a Lebanese and the other one was a Greek and there’s me, the French Jew.


...I went there in 1989 and stayed there until 2000. And it wasn’t really until about the mid ‘90s that the school really started to appreciate their ethnic background, or students of ethnic background.


The policy is there, was there. But it’s not so much – the difficulty is not so much what the policy is, and it’s not even in the curriculum, it’s in the ambience of the school – after my first year I said to the principal, “I want a transfer.” And she said, “Why?” And I said, “I don’t like the ethos of this school.” And I’m very up front. She got very upset. And I said to her, “You pay lip service to policies of multiculturalism. And she asked me, “How?” And I said, “Look, yes, you teach a foreign language and you’ll put on different films and yes, you’re very democratic.” And she was, you know, you had parent organisations etcetera.


“But you don’t have any representation from any of the major ethnic groups that come to this school except for Australians.” And then – and so it was and rightly so. “But when we advertised meetings and that, they’re the only ones who come.” And I said, “Yeah, have you gone to their homes to invite them? Have you gone to explain to the different communities that unlike where they come from where the school is in total charge of their children, we in Australia have a culture where parents are part of the system? Have you written home – letters in different languages? Do you bring interpreters in when you have parent meetings?” And I said, “That’s what the multicultural policy is about. Not just what’s in the curriculum, but making the schools accessible to all of your community and you don’t do that and therefore I don’t like the ethos here.”


And to her credit, we had started off very badly in the year but at the beginning of the year I was appointed there, but the end of the year actually we were on excellent terms and that’s when things started to break down and I was given permission to go and implement all of those types of programs to come into the school.


End transcript