Study shows huge flaws with Safe Schools

Where are we leading our children?

The Safe Schools Program made the front page of my local newspaper this week. One of the local councillors, Paul Peulich, raised concerns over the program at a recent Council meeting. He proposed a motion to bring attention to the issues with Safe Schools, but it was met with ‘silence’ from his fellow councillors.

Following the failed motion, another Councillor,  Steve Staikos, referred to Mr Peulich’s comments as ‘disgraceful’, and Kingston Mayor, Tamsin Bearsley, said no local resident had raised Safe Schools with her as an issue.

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The lack of letters and phone calls to the Mayor’s office is probably due to the fact that Safe Schools is a State and Federal issue, rather than one for local Council, but we are  mistaken if we believe that Kingston City residents are not profoundly concerned with Safe Schools.

While the Federal Government has proposed revisions to the program, parental concerns have been repeatedly ignored by the Victorian Government. Disappointingly, rather than responding to questions with reasoned argument, Government members persist with name calling and accusations of phobia and bigotry.

It is one thing to discount the views of opposition politicians, and even to spurn the concerns of families; but it will be interesting to see what will happen in light of an academic  paper that was published last week, The Controversy over the Safe Schools Program – Finding the Sensible Centre.

Professor Patrick Parkinson AM is one of the nation’s most respected legal academics. He has been researching Safe Schools and has deemed it ‘dubious’, ‘misleading’, and ‘containing exaggerated claims’. 

To be begin with, I fully affirm Professor Parkinson’s words, “it is axiomatic that children and young people should be protected from bullying.” As a parent (and as a Pastor), I do not wish to see any child suffering from bullying. Our schools, churches, and communities ought to be safe places for children.

Throughout the 32 page paper, Professor Parkinson gives detail of the research used by La Trobe University to form the basis of Safe Schools, and what he reveals is shocking.

First of all, the numbers don’t add up. Safe Schools material claims that 10% of the population is same-sex attracted, 4% are transgender or gender diverse, and 1.7% are intersex. None of these statistics are true, in fact all these numbers of wild exaggerations.

For example, when it comes to transgenderism, if 4% was true, it would mean that 1 in every 25 students (approximately one child per classroom) would be transgender. We know anecdotally this is not the case. Where does this number come from? The only citation offered by Safe Schools is from a New Zealand study, which, when read, does not purport that 4% of people are transgender.

Professor Parkinson then quotes the actual report, which says,

“About 1% of students reported that they were transgender (a girl who feels like she should have been a boy, or a boy who feels like he should have been a girl…). Ninety-six percent were not transgender and approximately 3% were not sure.”

Parkinson then states, ‘To count the 3% who answer ‘not sure’ as being ‘gender diverse’ is academically irresponsible. People who answer ‘not sure’ in surveys do so for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they don’t understand what the questioner is asking.’

He then follows to summarise a series of notable studies, none which found more than 0.52% of people are to some extent transgender.

He concludes the section with this damning assessment:

“A likely explanation for the exaggeration of transgender and intersex conditions is that it is regarded as necessary to support the authors’ belief system to show that gender is “fluid” and can even be chosen.”

This is not science, this is uncontrolled ideology, and one that is aimed at our children.

Professor Parkinson also demonstrates how Safe School’s depends on theories of sexuality that counter best knowledge and practice in psychology and medicine, how it offers flawed legal advice, and how it is creating unsafe environments for children and families who don’t adhere to the program’s contentious views. He even argues that Safe Schools poses genuine risk to students who are struggling with aspects of their psychosexual development.

Safe Schools must be challenged, because our children matter and because truth matters. No doubt a reader will inevitably mis-hear and accuse me of hating LGBTI people; for their good and the sake of all children, should not our education programs be grounded in proven research? Should we not frame school curricula with the best available research, rather than ‘erroneous information’?

Mr Peulich’s concerns have been substantiated, and rather than being met with silence, we must speak and address this, and we must resolve these issues before we abuse a whole generation of children with unscientific pop-psychology. We want effective anti-bullying programs in our schools, but Safe Schools is not it.

Letters for Members of the Victorian Parliament: RE ‘inherent requirement’ test

If you are interested in writing to your local State MP to express concerns about the amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act, here are some salient points that you might include when drafting a letter of your own

 

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Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to express concerns over the proposed ‘inherent requirement’ test, that is being re-introduced by the Andrews Government.

Diversity, freedom of association, and freedom of religion, are key characteristics of our liberal democracy that are esteemed by Australians. Throughout our history Governments have valued the contributions of religious organisations, indeed society would be the lesser without them, and yet Governments have also understood a demarcation between the State and religious institutions.

The proposed Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016 will cross that line, with the Victorian Government taking a role in supervising whom religious organisations may employ.

First of all, why is this legislation targeting religious groups?

The amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act will not impact any social or political groups, only religious ones.

As it stands, political parties, sporting clubs, and other interest groups have freedom to appoint persons who subscribe to the views and goals of those organisations. This is only common sense. For example, it would be unfair to force the Greens to employ a climate-change skeptic, or to expect the local Football Club to appoint a groundsman who was intent on converting the oval into a swimming pool.

It is therefore reasonable to ask, what is the motivation behind the Government focusing on religious organisations, and not others?

Indeed, this amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act is but the latest of a growing list of anti-religious measures that have been introduced by the Government over the last 2 years. I appreciate that some policy changes are being presented as fighting equality for LBGTI people, and some of this is laudable. However other policies are completely unrelated to sexuality issues, and are simply attacks on religious freedoms: removing SRI lessons from schools is one such example. And the legislation itself says its scope is not limited to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but extends to ‘differing religious beliefs’. In other words, it is no longer permissible for a church or school to reject an applicant on the basis of them adhering to a different religion. Such an idea would be laughable, except it may soon become law.

Secondly, the inherent requirement test assumes that the Government has the right to intrude on religious organisations, and influence whom they employ.

This test is a clear abrogation of one of Australia’s most basic ideals, that the State will not interfere with the beliefs and practices of religious organisations.

Mr Andrews has stated, “Religious bodies or schools will be required to demonstrate a necessary connection between their religious beliefs and the requirements of a specific role.”

This move counters the very notion of a pluralist society, and is setting up the situation whereby  a Government impose impose its narrow secularist agenda onto groups who do not share their ethical and religious viewpoint.

Thirdly, the test assumes that the Government, and any tribunal set up by the Government, has the expertise and knowledge to interpret the theological framework underpinning these organisations.

Again, Mr Andrews has said,

“The defence will be limited to circumstances where religious beliefs are an inherent requirement of a job, and an employee or job applicant does not meet the requirement because of a specific personal attribute.”

But who is to say when and where religious beliefs are an inherent requirement of a job?

The legislation assumes that some jobs in a church,  or mosque, or religious school can be considered ‘religious’ and others not. This may be the case in some instances, but is the Government really in a position to decide what is inherent and what is not?

It is important to understand that this assumption is not ethically or  theologically neutral; it requires a body, set up by the Government, to interpret and impose their understanding of Islam, Judaism, or Christianity onto these various organisations. For example, in Christian thinking, the roles of gardener, administrator, and teacher are not separated into religious and non-religious work, for all are expressions of service to God. 

As it happens, many of these organisations do employ persons who don’t subscribe to the particular religious principles of the institution; that is their freedom to do so. Surely though, school boards, charities, and churches are in the best position to understand the values and needs of their organisation?

In the end, it comes down to these questions:

Is it the role of Government to interfere with the beliefs and practices of religious organisations?

Is it wise or fair to force religious organisations to employ persons who do not share their values and beliefs?

I believe this legislation is unnecessary, and will set a dangerous precedent for our future as Victorians.

I am asking that you consider voting against this legislation. I am very happy to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you for taking the time to hear my concerns

Yours Kindly,

Murray Campbell

Incoherent ‘inherent requirement’ test

Two months ago I sat in a packed room where Mr Tim Wilson MP and Rev Dr Michael Bird addressed the topic, ‘Freedom of Speech in Australia today’. During the conversation Mike Bird said that the next issue facing Victorians will be in relation to religious schools and discrimination policies. This week my non-prophetic friend was proven to be right: the Victorian Government announced that it will reintroduce the ‘inherent requirement’ test, impacting whom religious organisations may and may not employ.

The test was originally introduced by the previous Labor Government in 2010, but was removed in 2011 by the Coalition Government.

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This explanation is offered on the Premier’s website:

“The test was scrapped by the former Coalition Government in 2011, which left many Victorians vulnerable to discrimination when seeking employment with religious bodies or schools, particularly because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The inherent requirements test will limit the ability of a religious body or school to rely on a religious defence to discriminate in the area of employment because of a person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or differing religious beliefs.

The defence will be limited to circumstances where religious beliefs are an inherent requirement of a job, and an employee or job applicant does not meet the requirement because of a specific personal attribute.

The test will not force religious bodies or schools to employ people with attributes that conflict with its religious beliefs and principles. However, it will require them to demonstrate a necessary connection between their religious beliefs and the requirements of a specific role.”

This latest move from the Victorian Government is disturbing, although not surprising. I appreciate and at times laud the Government’s move to ensure particular social minority groups are protected, including LGBTI people. But one may be forgiven for concluding that some of the extreme measures have less to do with the principle of inclusion, and more about exclusion.

For example, removing SRI from schools had nothing to do with advocating sexual equality. Indeed, the list of anti-religious of measures is growing, and one can only wonder where and if Mr Andrews’ will draw the line. Over the last two years many Victorian families have come to feel as though they are being pushed away from public schools, and now it appears as though the same Government is set on invading the religious school space also, and that of any religious organisation. It is yet unclear whether Churches will be protected from this test or not.

The inherent requirement test is a deeply flawed concept:

First, the notion of ‘inherent requirement’ depends upon imposing a secularist view of religion. The test presumes a separation between what is considered spiritual work and what is not. It is surmising, for example, that a gardener or an office administrator is not doing specifically Christian work because they are not teaching the Bible, etc. This is a false dichotomy that does not exist in Christian faith, nor in many other religions. Every role is an expression of commitment to God and is a valuable part of the whole which serves a common purpose.

Second, this test wrongly assumes that because a particular role does not have a direct theological or spiritual teaching component, it therefore does not matter whether the employee agrees with the organisation’s ethos, beliefs, and vision. This is purely illogical. Why would any organisation or company employ a person who does not support the basic values and vision of that association?

Equal Opportunity doesn’t mean sameness. I’m not doubting the Victorian Government’s commitment to ‘equal opportunity’, but their paradigm of equal opportunity is flawed, and represents an ethic that is not ultimately about diversity, but about conformity.

During that cold July night when Michael Bird pre-empted Mr Andrews’ announcement this week, Tim Wilson offered an idea which deserves consideration as the Victorian Parliament wrestles with this legislation. Mr Wilson believes that the question of whom religious organisations employ is better dealt with through contracts rather than through law. He said,

“In terms of hiring and firing people, I don’t think it’s best dealt with through law. I fully accept that religious institutions have a right to preserve the environment and the value systems of people who embody those value systems.”

“It is the right of children and parents, to raise their children in the culture, traditions and customs to which they hold dear.”

Finally, the question needs to be asked, is it reasonable for a Government to determine what constitutes required religious adherence or not? Is it the Government’s role to dictate theology and ministry practice? Does the Government have the necessary skills and knowledge required to adequately understand theology and therefore make the right judgement regarding the question of what is inherent?

Daniel Andrews’ plebiscite letter to Malcolm Turnbull

I’m beginning to suspect that our Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, needs a new media advisor, someone who can help him tone down the rhetoric he is continually spraying at millions of fellow Australians.

In an open letter address to Malcolm Turnbull, Mr Andrews has called for Government to drop the plebiscite on marriage, and instead present a bi-partisan Bill to Parliament within the next 100 days.

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In the letter, he writes,

“It will legitimise a hateful debate which will subject LGBTI Australians to publicly-funded slurs and denigration.”

“In Victoria equality is not negotiable. On behalf of my state, I urge you to accept there is no need for a costly and divisive plebiscite and agree to produce a bipartisan Bill to amend the Marriage Act within the next 100 days.”

And apparently members of Parliament who don’t share Mr Andrews’ views, “do not represent a fair and modern country.”

Clearly, the Victorian Premier doesn’t trust the Australian people to conduct a civilised discussion on marriage, and he is also fearful of the possibility that Australians will not support change to the Marriage Act.

I believe there are arguments for and against this plebiscite, and it is undoubtedly an unusual course of action, but it is a valid democratic pathway, and one that was determined months ago.

Given this fact, would it not be wise for our political leaders to encourage Australians to discuss this issue with grace and respect, rather than the unhelpful name-calling Mr Andrews’ seems unable to avoid? This letter is certainly not as offensive as many of his comments which usually include the words, bigot and homophobe, but it still derogatory.  

Let us not pretend otherwise, changing the definition of marriage is no small thing. Australians are not choosing whether to adopt a new tax or funding more schools or creating the NBN, as important as such things may be; we are deciding how Australia will view what is the most essential and basic unit of every society on earth, marriage. Does not the significance of this issue deserve the voice of the Australian people?

As someone who has a voice in the community, albeit a small one, I will gladly stand alongside Mr Andrews’ and affirm that hateful speech and actions against LGBTI people is unacceptable. A marriage plebiscite does not justify spite or slander toward those who wish to change the Marriage Act, nor toward those who believe the Act should remain unaltered.

As important as this plebiscite is, there is something of greater consequence, and that is the good of others. I have no desire to sacrifice people for the sake of a vote. I do not wish harm on any homosexual and lesbian Aussies. But please do not erroneously fuse disagreement with hate as though there is an inextricable link between the two, for this is not the case. To disagree civilly is not to hate, and by thinking as such Mr Andrews’ risks undermining the foundation of democracy.

It is possible, indeed desirable, to show kindness in disagreement. I realise that kindness like marriage is a disappearing norm in Australia today, but showing gentleness and respect toward those with whom there is a different view ought to be basic to our humanity. Is this not one of the reasons why Donald Trump leaves us shuddering?

Mr Andrews’, I appreciate your concerns about the plebiscite, but rather than demeaning those Australians who have a different opinion, will you stand with us in modelling and encouraging a constructive conversation about marriage?

An Open Letter for Daniel Andrews and James Merlino

I have a question that I would like to ask of Daniel Andrews and James Merlino.

Any Government will introduce policies with a mixture of success, and with varying responses from the community. On occasions I have affirmed changes implemented by this Government, as well as  highlighting concerns.

The reason for making this letter public is because the question is pertinent to many thousands of Victorian families. Indeed, it is a question many people have raised with me this year.

I appreciate that our members of Government have very busy schedules, with many demands on them, and so it perhaps unlikely Mr Andrews and Mr Merlino will read this letter for themselves, although an acknowledgement would be welcomed and seen by many Victorians as a positive sign from an inclusive Government.

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Before asking my question it is important to provide some context.

SRI (Special Religious Instruction) was a ½hr/week  opt-in program in schools. A variety of religions were offered, depending on parental interest. In August 2015, the Government announced that the program would be removed from class time, and only made available under very strict guidelines (such that very few schools now have the resources to run the program). In the place of SRI, a new program was introduced, Building Healthy Relationships. This curriculum is to be compulsory in all primary and secondary Schools. It is presented as an anti-domestic violence program, an issue which Mr Andrews’ has rightly identified as a major community concern.

There is a lot of useful material in this program, but unfortunately it is aggressively and unnecessarily promotes gender theory. It teaches children to explore alternative sexualities, provides information for children as young as 12 for having sex, and speaks of heterosexual marriage almost exclusively as a ‘power structure behind which domestic violence occurs.’

In the mean time, a separate curriculum, Safe Schools, has been investigated by the Federal Government and much of the material deemed inappropriate for school children. This Federally funded but optional program has been taken up by the Victorian Government. They have rejected the decisions made by Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, they have promised to fund the program if needed, and they have announced that Safe Schools will be compulsory in every Victorian Government School.

The main architect of Safe Schools, Roz Ward (from La Trobe University), has made it clear that the program less about anti-bullying and is primarily designed to introduce Marxist ideology into schools, in order to change children’s beliefs:

“Programs like the Safe Schools Coalition are making some difference but we’re still a long way from liberation… Marxism offers the hope and the strategy needed to create a world where human sexuality, gender and how we relate to our bodies can blossom in extraordin­arily new and amazing ways that we can only try to imagine today.”

Safe Schools not only describes heteronormality as wrong, it labels children who believe in heterosexual normality as “sexist”. It is somewhat ironic that an anti-bullying program specifically gives derogatory names to children who do not support its contentious ideas.

On top of these programs and other initiatives, The Age announced yesterday (May 8) that the Government is also considering introducing into Victorian schools another program about LGBTIQ ideology, the Gayby Baby education toolkit, which is being released this week.

The Director of Gayby Baby, Maya Newel, believes the program is a “no brainer”, saying, “It’s 2016 and something like 30 per cent of children are not raised by biological heterosexual parents, so we’re not just talking about children in same-sex families, but also divorced families and kinship families and so on. Not only will this be the first resource to represent same-sex families, it will also be something that can really dive deep into family diversity as a topic.”

While Newel concedes that the 30% is not all made up with same-sex families, she does misleadingly say, “30 per cent of children are not raised by biological heterosexual parents”. She thus gives the impression that same-sex families are indeed common place. However, according to the 2011 Census, 0.1% of all Australian children live in a home with a couple of the same gender. Not only are the majority of children raised in homes with a mum and dad, most of the other 30% lives in homes where the intent was for children to have a mum and dad, but due to divorce, death, and other circumstances the children are unable to live with both parents.

If we are going to use statistics as argument for changing school curriculum, surely we ought to present the numbers accurately. And also, if 0.1% of the population warrants another sexuality program in schools, then surely the 60% who have at least a nominal Christian affiliation, warrants introducing a Christian view of marriage and family into schools! Don’t worry, I am not actually arguing for that, but simply pointing out the irony in Newel’s argument.

According to The Age,

“As part of its lesson plans, students will be encouraged to deconstruct the stories of the four main children featured in the documentary (whose parents are gay); reflect on families that fall outside the “traditional” family unit; and challenge gender stereotypes.”

“Victorian Equality Minister Martin Foley said the state government would be “only too happy” to lend its support to the resource, “because it fits with our notion that to be a successful and equal society then there has to be a place for everyone”

Given this context of our State Government introducing multiple new curriculums on the same topic of sexuality, my question is this, are families who do not subscribe to views on sexuality as prescribed by the current Government, still welcome in Victorian State Schools? If the answer is yes, are these families permitted to express their views? Will children who articulate a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim view of sexuality be protected in our schools from bullying? Will they be encouraged to share their opinions without students and teachers belittling them?

Last Wednesday, The Australian reported a story of a Frankston family who have been forced to leave their local school because their daughter was subject to bullying for holding Christian beliefs. Perhaps this is an isolated incident or should Victorians anticipate this to be common practice? After all, if gender theory is taught as fact, should we not expect alternative views to be rejected and spoken against in our schools?

Mr Andrews and Mr Merlino, we understand the direction you are taking children’s education in Victoria, but what remains unclear is whether Victorian families remain free in our schools to engage in, to question, and to offer alternative ideas to the ones now promoted. 

I appreciate your time in reading and considering these questions.

Kind Regards,

Murray Campbell

Respectful Relationships?

I agree with Daniel Andrews’ recent comments about the evils of domestic violence in our society, and I laud the Victorian Government for adopting strong measures to support victims and convict perpetrators. Domestic violence is a dreadful, dreadful thing: Sexual, physical, emotional, and material abuse is never justified.

In August 2015, Daniel Andrews announced that the program replacing SRI in schools would be Respectful Relationships, which has been introduced into secondary schools, and will be compulsory from kindergarten to year 10 in 2017.

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There are many things to like in the curriculum, but oddly, a significant portion of the material has little to do with domestic violence, but is teaching children how to find partners and have sex.

For example, year 8 students are asked to write an ad, describing what qualities they would like to find in a partner. Is it appropriate to ask 12 and 13 year old children what kind of sexual relationship that would like to have?  Is it healthy for children to be directed to online dating sites, and given examples, such as these found in the curriculum?:

‘hot gay gal 19 yo seeks outgoing fem 18-25 into nature, sport and nightlife for friendship and relationship’

‘lustful, sexually generous funny and (sometimes shy) Tiger1962 seeking sexy freak out with similar intentioned woman.’

Not only are young teenagers taught about what to look for in a partner, they are taught what to seek in sex, and they are taught what to believe about sexuality, even to explore and affirm alternative sexual orientations.

As one of the year 8 sessions explains, it is designed to,

“enable students to explore the concept of gender and the associated notions and expectations that have an impact on sexuality. It also provides them with the opportunity to connect issues of gender to different positions of power central to adolescent sexual behaviour. The activity also aims to extend their understanding of gender by exploring traditional notions of gender in a case study that examines the experience of a young transsexual person.”

Much of the ensuing material explores broadening the horizons of sexual relationships, with the determination of deconstructing the “narrow” view of gender.

It may surprise some people to learn that children can legally have sex in Victoria from the age of 12 (younger in some States), so long as it is consensual and the other person(s) is within the legal age bracket. This may be lawful, but I suspect many parents would be shocked to learn that schools teach our children it is okay for them to engage in sexual intercourse at such a young age.

We are fooling ourselves if we think that exposing children to these ideas will not result in influencing sexual and social behaviour. The fact that Respectful Relationships makes consent unequivocal (a vital point) does not mean the activity is therefore good and okay for the child.

Also astonishing is what is missing. In a curriculum teaching relationships and sex, marriage receives almost no mention. Why is that? Marriage is mentioned on a ‘character card’ where Stephen, a 16 year old Christian attending a Christian college, believes sex should only take place within marriage between a man and woman (got to love the pastiche Christian example!). And there is Maria, a 15 year old girl who doesn’t want to wait for marriage before experiencing sex. Otherwise, marriage is only mentioned as a power structure behind which domestic violence occurs. What a sad and miserable view of marriage. I understand there are marriages where appalling abuse happens, and in my work I have ministered to victims from such circumstances. But marriage is designed to be, and often is, a beautiful thing, and it remains the best model for loving and caring intimate relationships in society.

Is it not a wonderful thing when a couple covenant together for life, ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, to love and to cherish’?

There is much sensible and good advice offered in Respectful Relationships, which could be easily taught without the intrusion of particular views on sexuality and without exposing young children to ideas that blemish their innocence. It is a travesty that the issue of domestic violence has been taken captive by sexual libertarian ideology.

Is it the role of Government to absolutise onto children a theory about gender that is disputable and widely contentious? James Merlino has made it clear that this curriculum is to be compulsory in Victorian schools; I wonder, is forcing explicit sexual language and ideas onto children, moral or even legal?

Far from solving the unspeakable horrors of domestic violence, it is ultimately presenting a different version of the me-centric vision of the world. Author, Tim Keller writes, ‘It is possible to feel you are “madly in love” with someone, when it is really just an attraction to someone who can meet your needs and address the insecurities and doubts you have about yourself. In that kind of relationship, you will demand and control rather than serve and give.’ 

Instead of leaning on a failed sexual revolution in order to find a way forward on domestic violence, would we not serve our children better  if we considered a paradigm of sacrifice and service, and where living for the good of others is esteemed more highly than our own gratification?

‘Respectful Relationships’ & ‘Safe Schools’

“Respectful Relationships”

It has been positive seeing media report this week on the Safe Schools program. No matter what one thinks of the program, it is important for parents to be informed about what their children are learning in school. We want to know what direction our children are being led as they grow and learn in our schools. Indeed, where is the train going?

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Last week I wrote a piece about the Victorian Government’s plan to introduce compulsory General Religious Studies into our schools from 2017 (prep-10). While this content coincides with the removal of SRI from normal school hours, the program replacing SRI is in fact Respectful Relationships (as Premier Daniel Andrews announced in August 2015). The program was piloted in some schools last year, and is this year being implemented across Victoria.

Here is a useful and succinct summary of the program, supplied by a Government source,

“Respectful relationships education is located within the health and physical education and personal and social areas of the Victorian curriculum.

Students will develop knowledge, understanding and skills to enable them respectfully relate to, and interact with, others, as well as learn strategies for dealing with relationships when there is an imbalance of power caused by bullying, harassment, discrimination and violence (including discrimination based on race, gender and sexuality). This includes a focus on students protecting their own safety and the safety of others.”

At face value it sounds promising, until one reads the curriculum.

It is unclear what the connection is between Safe Schools and Respectful Relationships (I’m sure someone can clarify this for us). Apart from having different names, and one being a Federally funded program while the latter has been introduced by the Victorian Government, there appears to be significant overlap in the general ethos of the programs and in the material being taught. The most notable difference is this, Safe Schools is optional, whereas ‘Respectful Relationships is now compulsory (from prep-10).

I imagine (and trust) that parents would strongly support our schools teaching students about the harms of bullying and violence. Through the work of Rosie Batty and many others, the dreadful realities of domestic abuse have been exposed and spoken too, including the staggering statistics that reveal how commonplace violence against women and children is in our communities. We rightly want our homes, and our schools, to be safe places for our children.

It is somewhat ironic and disappointing to learn of parents who’ve been subjected to verbal abuse and bullying because they have publicly raised concerns about these programs. Sadly, it has become an all to common, but effective method to keep dissenting voices quiet.

It needs pointing out that our schools already have in place effective and well designed programs to teach our children common values, including respect, care and resilience. Anti-bullying programs have existed and worked in our schools prior to Respectful Relationships.

The issue with Respectful Relationships, as with Safe Schools, is that it extends well beyond anti-bullying education, to teach and encourage children to doubt their sexuality and to explore alternatives.

Here is a contents page for the first part of the course:

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Here is a sample activity for students:

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In Unit One there is a session designed to:

“This session enables young people to explore the impact of particular understandings of gender on expectations about being male or female. It provides a background for the other activities in this resource. The session has been designed to enable students to explore the concept of gender and the associated notions and expectations that have an impact on sexuality. It also provides them with the opportunity to connect issues of gender to different positions of power central to adolescent sexual behaviour. The activity also aims to extend their understanding of gender by exploring traditional notions of gender in a case study that examines the experience of a young transsexual person.”

One of two learning goals for this session is to ‘identify implications of narrow understandings of gender’. In other words, it is encouraging children to explore and perhaps even identify with a view of sexuality that is not just boy and girl, or that biology and gender and necessarily connected.

The Principal of Scots school Adelaide, said of Safe Schools, ‘It feels like a ham-fisted attempt to change a culture.’ The same can be said of Respectful Relationships, only that in Victoria it is compulsory.

If parents are concerned about these programs, you may wish to your local member of Parliament. It may be helpful to talk to your school principal, and to learn what your school is doing.

I would also encourage parents to read the program materials for themselves. Finally, it is important to read this piece in todays, The Australian (Feb 10):

Eleven-year-old children are being taught about sexual orientation and transgender issues at school in a taxpayer-funded program written by gay activists.

The Safe Schools Coalition teaching manual says that asking parents if their baby is a boy or a girl reinforces a “heteronormative world view’’.

Religious groups yesterday criticised the “age-inappropriate’’ manual, which suggests that sexuality be raised in every subject area. “Whatever the subject, try to work out ways to integrate gender diversity and sexual diversity across your curriculum,’’ the manual says.

The All of Us teaching manual, designed for Years 7 and 8, says that children often realise they are lesbian, gay or bisexual between the ages of 11 and 14, while the ­average age for “coming out’’ is 16.

A lesson plan on “bisexual ­experiences’’ requires students to imagine they live in a world “where having teeth is considered really unpleasant’’. Students take turns telling a classmate about their weekend, without showing their teeth.

“How did it feel to have to hide part of yourself?’’ the students are asked. “Do you think that some lesbian, gay or bisexual young people feel that they need to hide part of themselves? How might this make them feel?’’

Children are shown short films about the personal stories of young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

In a lesson on same-sex attraction, students as young as 11 are told to imagine they are 16-year-olds who are “going out with someone they are really into’’. The class is divided into students pretending to be going out with someone of the same sex, and classmates pretending to like someone of the opposite sex.

The children have to answer 10 questions, including whether they could “easily talk to your parents about your sexuality”, and to name four famous Australians of the same sexuality.

The teacher then instructs the children to stand, and slowly counts backwards from 10. Each child can sit down when the number called out by the teacher corresponds with the number of times they answered “yes’’ in the quiz — meaning that a student who answers “no’’ could be left standing in front of the class.

The Safe Schools manual ­appears to reach beyond promoting tolerance, to advocating activism by students. It tells students to defy teachers who refuse to let them put up LGBTI posters.

“If you can, it’s a good idea to get permission to put your posters up, so you avoid getting in ­trouble,’’ the manual says. “If your school or teachers say no, ask for reasons and see if they make sense. If they don’t seem reasonable, you may have to be creative about where you place them.’’

Safe Schools also advises ­students to “use your assignments to start conversations’’.

“For example, some students have chosen to do their English oral presentations on equal marriage rights or their music or art assignments on how artists express their sexuality, gender or intersex status through their work,’’ it says.

The Safe Schools Coalition suggests that schools paint a rainbow crossing, provide unisex toilets and hand out stickers to supportive teachers.

The federal government has provided $8 million in funding for the program, which has won support from the Australian Secondary Principals Association, beyondblue, headspace and the Australian Education Union. The Victorian government will require all state schools to join the Safe Schools network by 2018, but the program is voluntary in other states and territories.

So far 490 primary and high schools nationally have signed up, although the list of 24 schools in Queensland is secret.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said the Safe Schools program was an “opt-in’’ for schools and run at arm’s length from government.

“Homophobia should be no more tolerated than racism, especially in the school environment,’’ Senator Birmingham said. “The resource is intended to support the right of all students, staff and families to feel safe at school.’’

A La Trobe University study of more than 3000 same-sex-attracted young people in 2010 found that 75 per cent had experienced some form of homophobic bullying or abuse — with 80 per cent of those occurring at school.

Australian Christian Lobby spokeswoman Wendy Francis said the Safe Schools material pressured kids into accepting LGBTI concepts and “confuses them about their own identity’’.

She said forcing students to imagine themselves in a same-sex relationship was a “form of cultural bullying’’.

Ms Francis said the material was not age-appropriate, as 11-year-old children were too young to be taught about sexual orientation and transgender issues. “A lot of children are still pretty innocent about this stuff — these are adult concepts,’’ she said.

Ms Francis agreed that bullying against LGBTI students “absolutely has to be stopped’’.

“Every child should be safe at school,’’ she said.

Safe Schools Coalition national director Sally Richardson said students at safe and supportive schools did better academically and were less likely to suffer poor mental health. “Our resources are designed to provide teachers with tools to help them have conversations with students around inclusion and diversity in the community,’’ Ms Richardson said. “We provide schools with practical ways to foster a positive school culture where students, staff and families of all sexualities and gender identities feel safe, included and valued.’’

Ms Richardson said all the Safe Schools materials — including the All of Us teaching guide — were used at the discretion of individual schools.

The principal of Scotch College in Adelaide, John Newton, said his students had “embraced’’ the Safe Schools message of support and tolerance.

But he did not approve of the lesson plan that required children to imagine themselves in a same-sex relationship.

“That wouldn’t be a method we’d use,’’ Dr Newton said.

“It feels like a ham-fisted attempt to change a culture.

“Our children are well ahead of the issue and happy to talk about it — they seem to have a very mature approach.’’

Safe Schools is also used in Shenton College, an independent public school in Perth. “We strive to be a welcoming, progressive and inclusive public school,’’ said principal Christopher Hill.

“We can’t turn away from the fact that schools need to deal with these sorts of issues.’’

The Safe Schools guide cites statistics that 10 per cent of people are same-sex attracted, 1.7 per cent are intersex — born with both male and female features — and 4 per cent are transgender.