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'If students can't learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they learn' (Ignacio Estrada, via Tomlinson)

Gender, Literature and the Australian History Curriculum by Dr David Rhodes 2011 HTAA National Conference

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 3, 2011

How does ‘difference’ manifest itself in the history curriculum?

This session, (which I thought was going to be about the omission of women from history), was actually about people who are same-sex attracted.  It turned out to be very interesting, even though there wasn’t much about literature.

Rhodes began by showing a continuum clarifying the difference between

  • sex (biological)
  • gender identity (how I feel on the inside)
  • gender expression (what I show to the world) and
  • sexual orientation.

Presumption of heterosexuality is automatic in schools, schools are highly gendered places and transmitters of social values. 

Should it be like this?  The Melbourne Declaration (2008) asserts equity in education in all systems that is free from discrimination of any kind including gender and sexual orientation.  An inclusive classroom wouldn’t make school so problematic for adolescents who are same-sex attracted.

The AC is guided by this Melbourne Declaration. A national curriculum that is inclusive ought to enable the 10% of students who are same-sex-attracted to know about people like themselves who have thrived and achieved great things in the past.

From its earliest times the colonial government was keen to stamp out homosexuality: only murder and sodomy was punishable by death. (The sentences was to be handed over to the New Zealand natives to be eaten!)

The ‘love that dare not speak its name’ (a term coined by Oscar Wilde’s lover, Lord Douglas) was talked about, mainly in terms of stamping it out.  Rhodes showed extensive research that shows the extent of discrimination, e.g.

  • in 2000 26% of those  surveyed had suffered discrimination during their education, e.g. non directed homophobic comments, to
  • serious physical assaults over a number of years. Disturbingly this often happened with the knowledge of teachers.

GLSEN 2009 (US) National School Climate Survey showed that

  • 75% of LGBT teens hear slurs such as faggot or dyke frequently or often at school
  • 9 of 10 report hearing anti-LGBT language frequently or often
  • Homophobic remarks such as ‘that’s so gay’ are most commonly heard.

In Australia WTi3 research shows that

  • 61% reported verbal abuse because of homophobia
  • 18% reported physical abuse
  • 80% said school was the most likely place for it to occur
  • 69% reported other forms of homophobia including exclusion and rumours.
  • 10% reported that there was no sexuality education
  • 40% said there were no social or structural support features fro sexual difference
  • Only 19% reported a school supportive of their sexuality
  • Over 1/3 reported the school as homophobic
  • The internet was the most important source of information about homophobia and discrimination, gay and lesbian relationships and gay and lesbian safe sex.

Schools have an obligation to teach about homophobia, but within the secondary curriculum homosexuals do not exist.

‘They are ‘nonpersons’ in the finest Stalinist sense. They have fought no battles, held no offices, explored nowhere, written no literature, built nothing, invented nothing and solved no equations’. (Unks, 1995, p5)

The message is that they have done nothing of consequence, and the new curriculum offers an opportunity to redress this. Using a positive psychology framework, Rhodes’ school has a Y7-12 program called Love Bites which aims to build positive relationships, adapted from NSW for the NT. 

Research shows that a whole-school approach is essential. One teacher challenging ‘that’s so gay’ achieves nothing; a whole school approach can have an effect. Anti-homophobia is part of their no bullying approach. 

Such a program needs to

  • Be age appropriate
  • Offer consistent messages
  • Be incorporated into an inclusive multicultural curriculum
  • Identify GLBT historical figures/issues
  • Offer literature as a resource for students.

For example, no study of Nazi Germany could be complete without reference to the number of homosexual people who were murdered by the Nazis, (Estimated to be 100,000, equal to the population of Darwin).  It should be mentioned.

Literature: there is a great Gay canon available which can be used as a resource. Often a heterosexual background is mentioned (i.e. wife, family of author) but there is a silence about the home life of homosexuals. 

Rhodes showed some interesting resources from the US but they would need to be adapted for Australian schools. is a photography campaign that has been set up to fight homophobia.  There are gay role models featured on the site.

It’s important not to focus on the negative, which is mostly society’s negative responses: there has been homophobia in history, e.g. the Holocaust, but there should also be a focus on their achievements, the books written, the armies led etc.

It’s important to be alert to this issue: there have been recent examples of a return to previous attitudes around the world, not just for same sex attracted people but also for women and other aspects of social justice.


This session made me think that it’s interesting that other areas of discrimination are specifically addressed in our latest curriculum, e.g. against women, Aboriginals, awareness of Asia, but not this one. I wonder if that’s the influence of the religious right??

2 Responses to “Gender, Literature and the Australian History Curriculum by Dr David Rhodes 2011 HTAA National Conference”

  1. Maria said

    Hi Lisa, I was interested to find this reference in my search but I can’t find any links to the author online. Would you have a copy of the paper you could send me? Or David’s contact? I’m looking for contributors to the Assoc of Women Educators journal Redress Thanks, Maria

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