Topic 2: Values, culture and identity

Print Topic Identity

This topic is designed to assist you to examine your own values, culture, and identity.

You will  question the assumptions underpinning your perceptions of cultural identity, and reflect on how this may impact on your pedagogical choices and student learning.

Get StartedExplore the concepts, activities and assessment tasks below or use the Get Started button to work through the content in the suggested sequence.


Values are the principles or standards by which we live. We can use the idea of values and/or morals to discuss and decide whether something is right or wrong, good or bad.
In the Australian Curriculum, capability encompasses knowledge, skills, behaviours and dispositions. One of seven general capabilities in the Australian Curriculum is Ethical Understanding. By examining our own values and the values of others, understanding ethical concepts and issues, and reasoning in personal decision-making and actions, we can achieve ethical understanding.

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a long and proud history that includes rich cultural and spiritual traditions.
Far from being associated with notions of primitivism or terra nullius, Indigenous societies were and still are sophisticated cultures. The imposition of European cultures and values on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies, the dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lands and places, and the imposition of alien modes of governance began a cycle of social, physical and spiritual destruction that continues to this day for many people. From having Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander values oppressed and rights disregarded a loss of identity and a learned helplessness have arisen, along with inter-generational trauma, poverty, poor health, and substance abuse.

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Identity refers to a sense of attachment, or connecting to and finding comfort in particular individual and collective characteristics.
Identity characteristics are both assumed by and ascribed to individuals and groups, but at times self-identification (assumed identity) is at odds with the dominant views (ascribed or given to) of that person or group. Assumed identity makes for a sense of belonging with those perceived to share characteristics and for the 'othering' of those seen as not belonging. Identity is a multi-faceted collection of personal characteristics that will change and reform over time because of altered conditions associated with existence, age stages, significant events, education and experience.
The greatest gift any Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander parent can give to their child is the gift of identity (Huggins 2001, p. 44).
This has been largely due to the resilience, family and community orientation—the cultural values—of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies. Other factors, such as connection to land, language, humour and identity, have also influenced the continuity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures that have persisted to the present and will continue to provide future generations with strength, dignity and purpose. In general, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples distinguish themselves from other Australians and are linked together by a sense of belonging to a locality and to an extended family, wherever they are. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have non-Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander spouses and, particularly in urban Australia, live in situations where they are embedded in non-Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander society. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in urban and rural areas have developed a culture of their own through family, community and organisational structures. These structures give psychological and physical support and provide a sense of security.

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References Huggins, J 2001, 'The gift of identity', ATSIC News, February, p.44. Retrieved 23 August 2016, < indigenous_read002_0708.pdf>

Indigenous knowledges

The best way to begin our understanding of Indigenous knowledge is by considering its source, namely indigenous peoples and their societies — comprising over 370 million people spread across at least 70 different countries.
This diversity of societies presents us with problems if we want to avoid generalising and simplifying the knowledge systems that characterise them. It is easy to take the concept of knowledge for granted. Yet what counts for knowledge, and by whom, is not only value-laden but also highly contested and needs consideration given the role knowledge plays in schooling. is possible that you have managed to live without having to operate outside of knowledge systems that are familiar to you, or shift the paradigm through which you view the world in order to make sense of things. (Dunn 2013)

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Dunn, M 2013 'Knowledge framework: indigenous knowledge systems',, viewed 23 August 2016, <>

Readings: Topic 2

Leane, J 2010, 'Aboriginal representation: Conflict or dialogue in the academy', The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, vol. 39, pp. 32–39. Price, K & Hughes, P (eds) 2009, Stepping up: What works in pre-service teacher education, National Curriculum Services and the Australian Curriculum Services Association, viewed 23 August 2016, <>. Nakata, M 2007, 'The Cultural Interface', The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, vol. 36.

Question your values

Activity: Consider a situation in which your values were questioned
This could have been, for example, a personal experience whereby there was a disagreement (overt or covert) or perhaps when you were in a cultural group that was unfamiliar to you. How did this challenge your own values? How does this help you to unpack the ‘taken for granted’ assumptions you might carry into your teaching?
Read A Narrative on Whiteness and Multicultural Education and consider:
  • What are the things that you value most in life?
  • What nurtures you?
  • Who are the people for whom you care?
  • Who cares for you?
  • What makes life worth living?
Transfer your ideas from this exercise on to a piece of A4 paper. You may use coloured pens, textas, paints … use words, or poems …  or anything at all that expresses the way you feel about those people and things that matter to you!

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Gorski, P, Hamline University & EdChange 2000, 'A Narrative on Whiteness and Multicultural Education', EdChange, viewed 23 August 2016, <>.

Describe your culture

Activity: How would you describe your own culture and cultural background?
Culture represents the ways of living that are built up by groups and transmitted from one generation to another. Sometimes it is difficult to reflect on our own culture and cultural norms because they are invisible to us. For example, most people (who share my cultural background) would know not to bring a bottle of champagne along to a funeral. But how do we know this?
One way to think about your culture is to think about how you spend your ‘Friday nights, your Saturdays and Sundays’.[1] What does it tell you about you and your culture? Compare your answer with your peers. Share our PrideGo to Reconciliation Australia’s Share Our Pride website to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and perspectives. Also, see the Cultural Competence for Staff resources on Reconciliation Australia’s Narragunnawali: Reconciliation in Schools and Early Learning online platform. You may also like to visit the Resources section of the Share Our Pride website to read about the First Australians and Our Culture.

Culture and educational practice

The following resources will help you to consider ideas of culture and educational practice, so that you can discuss tensions in a respectful way. Read 'A Conversation about Building Awareness' Read 'Should you treat Indigenous students as individuals or as part of a culturally defined group?' Additional resource relating to the Canadian context, 'Aboriginal Identity and the classroom'

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[1] Suggested by Michael Colbung, University of Adelaide

Values and education policy

Activity: Review the ethical values that underpin schooling in Australia
Shared values such as respect and a ‘fair go’ are part of Australia’s common democratic way of life, which also includes equality, freedom and the rule of law. These values reflect our commitment to a multicultural and environmentally sustainable society where all are entitled to justice. (MCEETYA 2005).
In 2005 MCEETYA published the National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools, outlining the ethical values that underpin schooling in Australia.

Read these values and discuss the following questions for each one listed in the Values Education framework:

  • Do you agree with each of values? If not, why not? If so, why?
  • Can you think of any (important) values that are missing from the list and should be added?
  • Using the list and/or your own list of values, do you think some of the values are more important than the others? Explain your reasons.
  • Can you think of a situation or circumstance when adopting one of the values would mean contravening other values? How would you decide which value is more important and why?
  • Do you think Australia is a fair and just nation? Why/Why not?
  • Have all Australians always enjoyed the rights and privileges of Australian citizenship? Explain your answer.
  • Do you think all Australians are treated fairly in today’s society? Explain your reasons and give examples if you can.
The Melbourne Declaration on the Educational Goals for Young Australians (MCEETYA 2008, p. 9) states that active and informed citizens:
  • act with moral and ethical integrity
  • appreciate Australia’s social, cultural, linguistic and religious diversity, and have an understanding of Australia’s system of government, history and culture
  • understand and acknowledge the value of Indigenous cultures and possess the knowledge, skills and understanding to contribute to, and benefit from reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians
  • are committed to national values of democracy, equity and justice, and participate in Australia’s civic life
  • are able to relate to and communicate across cultures, especially the cultures and countries of Asia
  • work for the common good, in particular sustaining and improving natural and social environments
  • are responsible global and local citizens.

Discuss your response to these questions:

  • What values are explicitly described and implicitly expressed in this list?
  • Do you agree with them? Explain your reasons for agreeing/disagreeing?
  • Do you think there are values that all Australians share?

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Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) 2005, National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools, Australian Government, Canberra, viewed 23 August 2016, <>. MCEETYA 2008, Melbourne Declaration on the Educational Goals for Young Australians, Australian Government, Canberra, viewed 23 August 2016,<>.

The power of TV

Activity: View this episode of the ABC TV series Redfern Now to explore how family and community values may conflict
Episode 4 tells the story of 16-year-old Joel Shields (Aaron McGrath), who has just won an Indigenous scholarship to Clifton College — one of Sydney’s most elite private schools. 'Stand Up', Series 1, episode 4 is no longer available online; contact your library for access.


It’s his first day and at assembly Joel’s teacher notices he’s not singing the national anthem. At home that night Joel is busy learning the words so he can join in. His father Eddie is troubled by this — he doesn’t want his son to sing the anthem… or stand for it. ‘At the end of the day we’re all Australians’, says Mrs McCann, Principal.

Consider these questions:

  • What does it mean to be Australian?
  • What does this episode tell us about belonging to culture and to institutions, as Joel struggles with belonging, both as a student in the school and as a member of the community?
  • How much is belonging dictated by your own personal values?
  • How much does belonging mean abdicating your own values to the group’s values? Can you belong to different groups with different (and maybe conflicting) values?

Exploring our identity

Activity: Explore a range of resources on the concept of identity

Identity: Yours, mine, ours

The ‘Identity: yours, mine, ours’ exhibition can be viewed at the Museum Victoria website: No matter where we come from, or what our life is like, defining our identity is vital to understanding ourselves and how we fit into the world around us.

Discuss your response to the following questions.

What do you think the artists' intentions are? Do you consider multiculturalism to be a part of Australian identity?

Identity Web

View Mary Corey March’s Identity Tapestry: Read the article The Identity Web available at
Construct your own class tapestry, or (as a group) make a list of all the aspects of identity that you can think of. Now, list as many aspects of your own identity and relationships with family and friends as you can (you can keep this to use a resource for when you go into school).
Alternately, trace around your hand and give each digit an aspect of your identity – for example, favourite colour, music, place, person and so on. Using these, design a painting that might express your identity. Share and discuss with your group or class.

Consider the following questions

Did you include your cultural/ethnic/'racial' background? Reflect on your list with others around you. Are able you classify the list into the categories of ‘yours’, ‘mine’ and ‘ours’? What do you notice? Discuss your understandings of identity with your peers.

How does it feel to be in the minority?

Watch the 'mockumentary' film Babakiueria (“Barbecue Area”) available at
  • Reflect on who has the most power in the relationships between the characters. Do you think the white family is speaking honestly? If so, why? If not, why?
  • What possible reasons would the family have for wanting to agree with or appease the researcher?

Australian identity?

View images from Michael Cook’s artworks in his exhibition Australian Landscapes using the links below:

When looking at these images reflect on the following:

The curator suggests that we are being asked, 'Does the figure belong in this piece of Australia?' Consider whether you agree and discuss your reasons.

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Knowledge and cultural bias

Activity: Explore activities about Indigenous knowledge systems and cultural bias

Cultural bias - the Koori IQ test

Take the Koori IQ test and consider the idea of knowledge in context.
Cultural bias in testing Koori IQ test:

Knowledge systems

…it is possible that you have managed to live without having to operate outside of knowledge systems that are familiar to you, or to shift the paradigm through which you view the world in order to make sense of things.
In groups, brainstorm together your understandings of knowledge systems. You may like to consider and discuss the following questions:
  • Which knowledge system do you most relate to?
  • Name other knowledge systems and list any differences.
  • What do you know about Indigenous knowledge systems?
Use the following resource provided for the International Baccalaureate to research Indigenous knowledge systems Marie Battiste talks about knowledge as the key site for decolonisation:
  • Is knowledge value-neutral ?
  • Whose knowledge is valued in education systems?
  • To what extent would the knowledge system one identifies with affect one’s education?
  • To what extent do you think your understandings of knowledge systems as a beginning teacher will affect the education of your students?

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Reflect on your values

Assessment objective

Compose an essay entitled How did I come to be what the world has made of me? The essay is to be approximately 1500–2000 words in length.


Since our way of framing the world and acting in it is often linked to a way of being (identity formation), reflect on and explore your views, biases, actions and reactions based on how you frame your identities. For instance, how do I view and have also acted in a multi-cultural Australia based on how my identity was formed? Review your values and the critical definition of key terms, e.g., gender, social class, identity, values, culture and education, to consider how identity relates to a reconciled nation.


Drawing on your reading, as well as your own experiences, compose an essay of approximately 1,500-2000 words in length.Assessment Consider the extent to which your social, cultural and economic background have played a part in shaping you in specific ways to be the unique individual that you are.Consider the following guide questions and instructions:
  1. Reflect on whether your social, cultural and economic background has meant that you have certain advantages or disadvantages.
  2. What are some links between personal identity, values, culture, economic standing and education?
  3. Identify specific life events or experiences (within the family or community) that have contributed in the formation of your identity.
  4. How do I view multi-cultural Australia based on how my identity was formed?
If these questions upset you and you would like to speak to someone, contact your university’s counselling service or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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Topic review

Values, culture and identity

Our values, culture and identity are all closely intertwined. This topic will have provoked you to question the assumptions underpinning your perceptions of cultural identity, and reflect on how this may impact on your pedagogical choices. This topic provides the opportunity to reflect on your own values with your peers in a supportive and inclusive educational space. You may have been challenged to reflect on and explore your views, biases, actions and reactions to consider how our values, culture and identity relates to a reconciled nation.

Questions for review:

  • Were you challenged by reflecting on your values? Reflect on why/why not.
  • How do see your values impacting on your pedagogical choices?
  • Do you see a relationship between your values and a reconciled nation?

Choose one Focus Area of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers where you could apply the knowledge and skills you have gained from Topic 2, such as:
Professional knowledgeFocus Area 1.4: Strategies for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students Demonstrate broad knowledge and understanding of the impact of culture, cultural identity and linguistic background on the education of students from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.  Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (Graduate teachers)

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