The good & not so good from the Safe Schools Review

First of all, I want to thank Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for calling the review of Safe Schools, and Education Minister, Simon Birmingham for his role in overseeing the process.

I know many people are grateful to these and other members of Parliament who have listened to the concerns expressed by the public.

The proposed changes are indeed positive and welcomed, however there remain a number of serious concerns, especially for Victorians.

The positives:

I have copied the Minister’s report below, but to summarise the more significant amendments.

  1. Parents will now have more access to the program, be included in the process if and when a school considers using Safe Schools, and be given the right to have their children opt-out of the program.
  2. Third-party websites will removed except for “organisations funded by state, territory or Commonwealth governments for the provision of mental health or counselling services.”
  3. The content from some lessons will be either removed or reconfigured to be less affronting and to be more age appropriate.
  4. There will be tighter controls on what materials can be used and distributed in classes and in schools.

The negatives:

1. The Network Provider in Victoria is La Trobe University, the very group who authored the program. According to the findings of the review, the La Trobe university team have been found to have written material unsuitable for young teens, and using the program to promote political ideologies.

It is therefore surely untenable to have La Trobe university acting as Network Provider for the State of Victoria. Their reputation has been diminished, and trust significantly eroded, if not altogether.

What guarantees do we have that Roz Ward and her colleagues will desist from using school children as a means to further their ideological agenda? If this were any other education program, they would surely be removed from such an influential position of power over schools and children.

2. What guarantee is there for Victorian families that children will be given permission to opt-out of the program?

While the Federal Government are making this guarantee, the Victorian Government have repeated their policy that the program will be mandatory.

What are Victorian families to expect when our Education Minister, James Merlino, refers to the Federal Government as “caving into bigots”?  Where does that leave 100,000s of Victorians who are against bullying but do not support Safe Schools? The possibility of any genuine dialogue with the Andrews’ Government is doubtful, and no wonder there are people using social media to lash out at concerned persons, when we are hearing Government ministers resorting to such malicious rhetoric.

3. The fact remains that Safe Schools teaches gender fluidity (as though it is the new norm), and it encourages children to question their own sexual orientation and practices. It is ironic that this imbedded doctrine of gender fluidity remains so  intolerant towards anyone who doesn’t fit within its parameters. Teaching children to doubt or ignore biology, and to create their sense of sexuality will inevitably lead to confusion, experimentation and harm.

At this stage, children who believe in heteronormacy will still be labelled as ‘sexists’, and children with unwanted same-sex attraction are given little choice other than to believe that it is inevitable, permanent, and to be embraced.

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Like with Autumn the leaves fall from their branches so Safe Schools has been pruned, but its roots remain unchanged. The revisions are a good start, but they do not go far enough. Safe Schools remains a social engineering program that is wired to change the way children view themselves and each other. With the revisions announced today it is certainly a more sensible program, but the wisest course would have been to put Safe Schools to rest and introduce a new and better program which teaches respect, kindness and resilience.

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There is a story in John’s Gospel where Jesus broke the cultural expectations of his day by speaking to a Samaritan woman. At that time Samaritans were considered social outcasts, and often discriminated against. Jesus’ conversation is all the more outrageous because the person before him was a woman and she was then living with a man to whom she was not married.  To our culture of anything goes this may not sound particularly shocking, but at that time this woman was guilty of  triple-headed social evil. However, it didn’t stop Jesus.

The text tells us how Jesus understood her heart and her past, and yet he struck up a conversation with her, showed her kindness, and even offered this astonishing word, “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” In other words, Jesus did not agree with her lifestyle and yet he loved her and broke down cultural barriers to express kindness to her.

In contrast, many advocates for Safe Schools are repeatedly slandering, and throwing around derogatory names toward anyone getting in the way of this program.

Which of the two examples demonstrates greater tolerance? Which of these two illustrations is more attractive?

Augustine once wrote,

“I have read in Plato and Cicero sayings that are wise and very beautiful; but I have never read in either of them: Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”

Safe Schools may get a few things rights, but its blind commitment to a particular gender theory is setting the stage for a generation of confused children and a society that will grow less tolerant by the day. We need better. We must do better. We can do better.

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Here are the stated changed announced by Simon Birmingham:

1. Fix the content of the programme resources by:

a. Having the lesson plans for Lessons 2, 6 and 7 of the All of Us resource amended to remove those activities identified by the review as potentially unsuitable for some students.

b. Having the content of Lesson 5 of the All of Us resource redesigned to ensure that the content aligns with the curriculum content for biology appropriate for the target age group.

c. Requiring that the amended resources and any further resources be peer reviewed and approved by a panel of qualified educators appointed by the Department of Education and Training.

2. Address concerns about third party links, advocacy and materials in resources by:

a. Having all third party organisation branding removed from all official resources.

b. Having reference to any third parties limited to organisations funded by state, territory or Commonwealth governments for the provision of mental health or counselling services.

c. Requiring that national and local programme managers not bring the programme into disrepute, or engage in political advocacy in a way that represents their views as being endorsed by the programme.

d. Requiring that the resources for the programme not be used for political advocacy.

3. Limit the distribution of certain materials by:

a. Requiring local programme managers to ensure the distribution and promotion of Safe Schools Coalition Australia programme materials is restricted to secondary school settings only.

b. Restricting the use and distribution of the OMG I’m Queer, OMG My Friend’s Queer and Stand Out resources, which were not developed as classroom resources, to one-on-one discussions between students and key qualified staff.

4. Align the location of resources with other inclusion, support, tolerance and anti-bullying measures by housing official resources only on the official Australian Government Safe Schools Hub website, which contains other inclusion and anti-bullying resources for schools, teachers, parents and students in areas such as racism, domestic violence and disabilities. The Safe Schools Coalition Australia website will not have any resources, advice or links and will limit operations to programme coordination and direct users to the Safe Schools Hub for access to official programme resources only.

5. Ensure parents are appropriately empowered and engaged by:

a. Requiring agreement of relevant parent bodies for schools to participate in the Safe Schools Coalition Australia programme, including the extent of participation and any associated changes to school policies.

b. Requiring parental consent for student participation in programme lessons or activities, while maintaining the rights of all students to seek counselling services.

c. Having an official fact sheet for the Safe Schools Coalition Australia programme for parents about the programme developed so they have access to full and consistent information of its content and the resources that may be used in schools.

d. Having an official resource for parents of students dealing with questions of sexual identity developed, and distributed only by key qualified staff.

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