Vive les Différences?

  • Post author:
  • Post category:Insights

Ms Susan Garson, Director of International Studies

From the outside, schools may seem to promote sameness and structure for students. The wearing of uniforms, the regimentation of the timetable, structured curricula and the promulgation of particular worldviews; all contribute to a homogeneous culture. Despite the comfortable uniformities of school life, our School challenges the homogeneous, reproduction model of education and instead provides girls with a myriad of opportunities to come into contact with, study, value, take positions on and take actions relating to issues of cultural importance. Schools should be driven by an active diversity agenda.

A secondary education helps develop individuals and enable them to take their place in and contribute to wider society during and after their school lives. Not only does it prepare them for the working world, but it also creates opportunities for them to actively participate in a social and historical one. Girls at this School learn many languages and experience not only the mechanics of learning the language and communicating effectively in it, but also have an underpinning expectation that languages are taught from positions of empathy, acceptance and understanding of the ‘other’. Good language learners are willing and accurate guessers who constantly look for patterns and analyse their own speech and the speech and behaviour of native-speakers. Learning a language goes beyond vocabulary, grammar and small role-plays, it prepares young people for positive social engagement with diverse social groups. In education and action, ‘gnosis’ and ‘praxis’, to borrow from Greek, can become one and the same.


Language study assists girls to form an appreciation for other cultures and traditions, and on the flipside gives them the ability to contrast this with that of their own, building a deeper understanding of their background. It broadens their outlook and gives them the skills to be global citizens, contributing to a multicultural view of the world that values the participation of Indigenous and minority groups.

The inherent diversity of our languages program is enhanced when we welcome overseas students into our school community. Girls Grammar families have recently hosted twenty-one students from the Werner-Heisenberg Gymnasium in Neuwied, Germany. It is a distinct advantage to be engaged with a different language and worldview when its owner is sitting next to you in class or being billeted in your home. Hosting a student is a tremendous opportunity for us to share our language, culture, traditions and Australian way of life with someone from a different background. The diversity exchange runs two ways, and when the girls take part in study tours, they are immersed in it. The complexity of peoples’ lived realities, their stories in their countries, in their schools and in their homes on the other side of the world, can ‘inspire reflection and action’ (Suzuki & Mayorga, 2014, p. 19). The academic pursuit of learning a language becomes a cyclical process of ‘learnings and social interventions’ that can benefit them as individuals and can then influence their community (p. 16).

What are the benefits of having a diverse society where people hold different beliefs and ideas? There are many: open-mindedness, dynamism, an interesting and challenging environment in which to live, and the development of a well-rounded, ‘educated’ individual. But some are reluctant to assert opinions and, as a result, approach debates about diversity in a generalist fashion, tolerating and agreeing with all positions for the sake of maintaining ‘political correctness’. This well-meaning reticence can actually be a barrier to exploring issues in greater depth. As Hillary Clinton asserted in a memorable commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania, ‘what we have to do … is to find a way to celebrate our diversity and debate our differences without fracturing our communities’ (cited in The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 1993). In this way, diversity is not an impotent stasis in which no single viewpoint or position prevails, rather it is a fertile ground in which diverse views compete. Some prevail, others don’t.


It may seem paradoxical, but diversity, like charity, begins at home. This week, the School held its inaugural Diversity Day. This day represents a start to uncovering different viewpoints at home and in our local community. It seeks to raise awareness in our school community about the broader societal challenges facing Australians of indigenous and multicultural backgrounds. On Diversity Day, Wednesday 7 May 2014, a forum was held in the School’s Gehrmann Theatre featuring a Q&A style panel discussion about issues from Indigenous perspectives. Uncle Albert Holt, an Indigenous elder in our community, was the senior member of the panel. He was joined by an Indigenous mother and her Girls Grammar daughter, another student with Indigenous heritage, and two non-Indigenous students who have an interest in community issues. The panel members discussed racism, equal opportunity, the teaching of Indigenous languages and cultural practices in schools, reconciliation, and differing historical perspectives of invasion versus settlement before an audience of students and teachers. On the same day, two parents from multicultural backgrounds also spoke to a smaller group about their personal stories of migration, education, identity and tradition.

Another School Service initiative is the Uralla Club, established this year by two passionate students seeking to raise awareness and interest in Indigenous issues in the community. This club exemplifies girls being actively involved in the broader community and they have already celebrated Closing the Gap Day by painting a large mural covered with handprints. Many girls were surprised by the disparity in literacy and numeracy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, which was a key message featured on posters around the School. The Uralla Club was instrumental in the organisation of Diversity Day through the creation of awareness-raising posters and the brainstorming of important key questions for the forum. Uralla Club members are discovering that they can set ‘goals to move students from awareness to action for social justice’ (Burrell Storms, 2014, p. 44). According to Burrell Storms (2014, p. 45), vignettes or personal stories in video or photographic form, ‘can be an effective teaching strategy to incorporate students’ lived experiences with social oppression and increase their personal awareness, empathy, confidence, and knowledge about tools for social action needed to recognize and respond to [it]’. In Semester 2 this year, the participants in the Uralla Club will employ such methods to solidify and communicate their personal positions on diverse issues such as multiculturalism, justice, reconciliation and identity in Australian society.

Girls’ involvement in initiatives like these can be a transformative force in marrying individual scholarship with collective thinking and debate of a range of societal issues. A passion for diversity implies a disregard for complacency, and the friction between different views and positions is what powers subsequent action to move society forward. In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1939, p.420), ‘he who is different from me does not impoverish me — he enriches me. Our unity is constituted in something higher than ourselves — in Man … for no man seeks to hear his own echo, or find his reflection in the glass’.


Burrell Storms, S. (2014). Using Social Justice Vignettes to Prepare Students for Social Action and Engagement. Multicultural Perspectives, 16(1), 43-49.

de Saint-Exupéry, A. (1939). Airman’s Odyssey. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock.

Suzuki, D., Mayorga, E. (2014). Scholar-Activism: A Twice Told Tale. Multicultural Perspectives. 16(1): 16-20.

The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. (1993). Remarks by the First Lady at the Univeristy of Pennsylvania Commencement May 17, 1993 [Media release]. Retrieved from

 Published 9 May 2014