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What my selective school taught me about Multiculturalism

In a 2015 Sydney Morning Herald article, one academic proclaimed that "my daughter won't go to a selective school even if she gets in. They're 98 per cent Asian, full of kids who rote-learn. I'd hate for her to be [part of] such a tiny minority."

Whether it was a suspicion of the learning styles of 'Asian’ students or an apprehension for what an ethnic majority might offer, it appears she was intrinsically disturbed by selective schools and their subversion of the social hegemony. As if, sending your child to one, would be a deprivation of the traditional high school experience. Or perhaps, she thought it would result in an absence to exercise any sense of critical discernment in the ‘real world’.

In a country overtly driven by its mandate of multiculturalism, it was my selective school that superseded the media, the government and the workplace in making rhetoric a reality.

Our annual Multicultural Fair held Korean fan dances, Indian henna booths and, French stalls with criminally good crêpes. They featured alongside Japanese origami displays and Chinese milk tea stands.

This unapologetic celebration of harmony underpinned the day-to-day dynamic of the school. Different cultures and languages were actively integrated into artworks, assignments and performances to confirm that our distinct identities were not decorative accessories to the wider Australian society.

It was an authentic embrace of multiculturalism. Not as a vehicle for political expediency, not as a matter of tolerance or convenience, but as a model of what it means to be culturally and socially literate.

From the age of 12, I learnt to appreciate these nuances as the norm.

At its core, school is about socialisation. Portraying selective schools as competitive arenas and its students as caricatures of the East is to overlook the significance of everything else it offers.

How fitting then, that being a respectful and open-minded person is not something you can simply ‘rote-learn’.

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