Sunday, October 01, 2017

a critique of Tyson Yunkaporta's cultural critique of western education

I've written a critique of Tyson Yunkaporta's cultural critique of western education, here. 6425 words.

Different authors have different opinions about what culture is, cultural change and how important culture is. I dismiss strong cultural relativism but argue there are deep reasons why culture is important.
Culture is the brain wiring that occurs in the first 5-7 years of a child's life. We forget how we learned that stuff, it just becomes part of us, part of our identity, more or less impossible to change. So, for example, a rural Aboriginal child will almost certainly grow up believing in the spirit world, whereas an urban white middle class child might well grow up being an atheist or agnostic. That early “brainwashing” can't be avoided in our current society and it's not going to go away any time soon.
Should indigenous culture be integrated into the school curriculum?

Tyson Yunkaporta's 8 indigenous ways are outlined:
  1. Holism: the Aboriginal learner concentrates on the overall picture before going into detail
  2. Visual: a concrete, holistic image serves as an anchor for the learner
  3. Community: for Aboriginal people the motivation for learning is inclusion in the community
  4. Symbols and Images: since learning styles are problematic reframe visual-spatial learning as symbolic learning, using both concrete and abstract imagery (it's not clear to me from Tyson's descriptions what this alleged reframing of problematic learning styles actually means – see later for a critique of learning styles)
  5. Non verbal: Kinesthenic, hands on, silence, imitation
  6. Land links: Aboriginal people have a deep connection to place
  7. Story sharing: Elders teach using stories, the lesson is contained in the narrative
  8. Non linear: the linear perspective of direct questioning, direct instruction is categorised as “western pedagogy”; contrast this with Aboriginal pedagogy where multiple processes occur continuously. But note that in the next paragraph Tyson says there are “excellent western non-linear frameworks available like De Bono's Lateral Thinking ” (p. 13)
Tyson does argue a common ground position, that in selecting the 8 Aboriginal pedagogies he has kept an eye out for “common ground” between Aboriginal and western ways

He sees positive synergies arising from interaction between cultures and rejects those who make negative comments about indigenous learners and their cultures.

My case against

I'll just list the headings of my points in response:
  1. Tyson's 8 processes of Aboriginal learning and reality.
  2. Traditional culture is a warrior culture
  3. There are negative (welfare dependency) as well as positive (open culture) indigenous cultures
  4. The complexity of the cultural interface defies attempts to simplify it. One effect of simplification is to promote a pressure to conform to a cultural stereotype
  5. There doesn't appear to be good evidence that different learning styles make a difference
  6. The cultural solution feeds into the ongoing Political Blame game
  7. The cultural solution is silent on what I believe ought to be the fundamental goals of the education system, the non universals
  8. Philosophy of harmony or philosophy of struggle?
I conclude with some historical context and my current position on the role of culture in the curriculum.


Kapti said...


I just found out Tyson Yunkaporta's thesis, and i'd like to read the critique you wrote about his cultural critique of western education. But unfortunatly, the link send us to a page that no longer exist. Is your article available somewhere else please ?

Thanks for your response.

Bill Kerr said...

Hello Kapti,
Sorry for the delay, my notifications aren't working properly. If you send me email to then I'll send you a copy of my Tyson Yunkaporta critique, probably with a further explanation too, since it's an issue I'm still struggling with.