Are Victorian school children being taught Safe Schools?

In a televised debate on Sky News, Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews was asked a question about the Safe Schools program. My interest doesn’t relate to the forthcoming election, but as a parent with 3 children, I am interested in what they are (or aren’t) taught at school.

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I found Mr Andrews’ answer to be a curious one, and it raises several important questions.

Are our children taught Safe Schools material?

First of all, Mr. Andrews made the point that “Safe Schools is not taught to any student in any school in this state…It is a resource for teachers”.

He is correct when he says that Safe Schools provides resources for teachers. However, Mr. Andrews is mistaken when he suggests that “Safe Schools is not taught to any student in any school in this state.”

The reality is, Safe Schools material is promoted and taught in almost every State secondary schools, and it is also found in many primary schools and privates schools around Victoria.

For example, the Safe Schools Coalition website explains,

“The Hub is the Government’s one-stop−shop for information and resources on student wellbeing for the whole school community including students and their parents/carers. The site includes curriculum−aligned resources on contemporary topics and issues that impact on the wellbeing of students.”  (bold is my emphasis)

All of us is assigned material to be used in schools. To quote,

“ALL OF US All Of Us is a collection of short videos and teaching activities designed by Safe Schools Coalition Australia in order to assist students in understanding gender diversity, sexual diversity and intersex topics. “

“ALL OF US: UNIT GUIDE…The Safe Schools Coalition Australia guide for a Health and Physical Education resource for years 7 and 8 on the topic of gender and sexual diversity. This unit is taught in conjunction with videos, student handouts and posters”

Safe Schools own advertising speaks of material that is designed for children, and it is written to be integrated throughout school subjects: “This material can be interspersed throughout school subjects, “Schools may also choose to adapt and use the videos and teaching activities in other areas of the curriculum such as English, History, Humanities, Legal Studies, Civics and Citizenship, and applied learning curriculums (e.g. VCAL, TAS) where the exploration of LGBTI people and topics allows.”

 

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Is Safe Schools about preventing all bullying?

I have a second question relating to the scope of Safe Schools. Mr Andrews said,

“It is a resource for teachers to make sure that if a child is bullied for wearing a turban or if a child is bullied (or a younger person is bullied) because of their sexuality or if a person is bullied because of the faith they practice or if a person is bullied because of their gender, then they have a safe environment”

While I applaud the Premier for speaking against students being bullied because of their race or religion, this has nothing to do with Safe Schools.

Safe Schools does not address issues relating to bullying on the basis of a student’s race or religious beliefs. It is specifically and narrowly aimed at preventing bullying of LGBT schools students and promoting and even encouraging the normalcy of LGBT lifestyles.

The Victorian Education website describes the program as follows: “In 2010, the Victorian Government established Safe Schools to ensure schools are safe places for all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) students, and are free of discrimination.”

To my knowledge, there is no emphasis on or even mention made in the program about bullying because of race or religion. I am yet to read even a paragraph that teaches students to respect and affirm other students for their religious convictions. The material does, however, allege that students who affirm a Christian or Jewish view of sexuality as being sexists,. Children who believe heterosexuality is normal or desirable are labelled with the new and derogatory term, heterosexism. There are also numerous reports of children being marginalised in their schools for not supporting the gender fluidity theories that are promoted as fact in Safe Schools.

I’m sure our schools are doing an excellent job at teaching children to respect people from other races and religions, but it is simply wrong to suggest the Safe Schools is doing anything to counter this kind of bullying.

Is Safe Schools compulsory?

A third question relates to Mr Andrews’ suggestion that Safe Schools is not compulsory. It has been interesting to note that while the Federal Government and many State Governments have either greatly reduced the Safe Schools curriculum or removed it altogether, Victoria has pushed ahead with the plan to implement the program into every secondary school by the end of 2018.

It is interesting to note that Mr Andrews stresses that Safe Schools is not part of the Education Curriculum. While that appears to be the case (it is fine to argue over semantics), but we must note that Safe Schools is an official program of the Victorian Education Department.

In March 2016, The Age reported that “Education Minister James Merlino says he’ll make the original un-gutted program compulsory for all state schools by the end of 2018”

In January of this year, Education Minister, James Merlino reminded Victorians that, “We will be continuing to deliver the Safe Schools program and every government secondary school will be participating by the end of 2018.”

In other words, every secondary school in Victoria is expected to participate in Safe Schools, and while there is flexibility as to what the school presents, there is specific teaching material provided for teachers to implement across the school curriculum.

I’m sure many parents would be keen to hear Mr Andrews or Mr Merlino clarify the Premier’s comments.

A return to common sense pluralism in Victoria?

Matthew Guy, leader of the Victorian State Opposition, has announced that “a government I lead will bring back religious instruction in schools because it’s very important.”

This is encouraging news, not only for Christian families but also for Victorians in general. Let me explain.

But first of all, it is important to premise my commentary with this statement: when I talk about various policies or pieces of legislation, one shouldn’t read into this an advocation for any one political party.  I don’t believe it is the role of a pastor to dictate or to suggest to their congregation (or to others) how to vote. I also recognise that there are many important issues which influence the way we vote and on these Christians may differ. One, however, may comment on specific policies, for such things are designed to influence and to shape aspects of society, and therefore they can very real consequences for constituents. It is a misstep however for the reader to conclude that either giving praise or criticism is a signal to vote in any one direction.

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Having said that, let’s address the issue at hand.

In 2015, the Victorian State Government announced that Special Religious Instruction (SRI) classes would cease in our schools, during class hours, as of January 2016. This was not a policy that State Labor took to the election.

At the time, Education Minister, James Merlino, offered this reason for SRI’s removal, ‘We can’t have kids missing out on essential teaching time.’ However, he then announced that a new program will be introduced to schools, replacing SRI, which includes instruction on faith and ethics. The reasoning behind the axing morphs again when the Australian Education Union supported the decision, stating that SRI is at ‘odds with Victoria’s secular education system’.

To be fair, Mr Merlino also made it clear that SRI could continue “outside the curriculum.” I am sure that Mr Merlino was and is aware of what every parent knows, and that is our children already have multiple programs running during lunchtimes and after school. During those breaks when they are not having sport or music practice, they need that downtime to relax and to play with friends.  Yes, schools are permitted to run SRI, but the goal posts were moved so frequently that almost no one knew what was permissible, and the red tape has been wound so tight that most schools were unable to give students an option. Despite the rhetoric about schools being allowed to run religious classes, by design, there is a massive disconnect between optics and what is actually possible on the ground.

One of the results of this move is that many Victorian families no longer feel welcomed in State Schools, and instead have been pressured into moving their children into religious schools, often at significant and unplanned cost to these families. This movement may have benefited independent schools, but our State Schools are the poorer for it. Matthew Guy’s announcement is welcoming and sends the message that all children are welcome.

It is also important to note that under the current Government (and the previous Government), important lessons were learned in relation to the training of religious instructors and to preferring an opt-in approach. Mistakes were made by SRI providers, but the sensible answer, however, was never to rid schools of these classes.

Once again, I understand that Matthew’ Guy’s announcement is enmeshed in politics and an upcoming election; so let me repeat, that’s not my interest here. What can be said is that (whatever the motivation) the Liberal’s position on this issue better reflects the Australian ethos than does the current position on religion in schools. The announcement permits and encourages healthy pluralism, as opposed to the narrow ideology that is currently being forced upon an entire generation of children.

A return to opt-in SRI also better reflects the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which was adopted by the United Nations in 1948:

‘Every child shall enjoy the right to have access to education in the matter of religion or belief in accordance with the wishes of his parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, and shall not be compelled to receive teaching on religion or belief against the wishes of his parents or legal guardians, the best interests of the child being the guiding principle.’

Art5(2) Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1981)

Replacing Safe Schools with a curriculum safe for our children

Matthew Guy has also announced that a Coalition Government would remove the  Safe Schools curriculum from Victorian schools. This is a safe option for our children.

While some of the intent of Safe Schools needs affirming, it was unnecessarily but inextricably enmeshed in unscientific and dangerous theories that have potential to cause immense damage upon our children. To teach our children to respect others, regardless of their sexuality, is right and important, but to teach that gender is fluid, to encourage exploration in sex, and to encourage children to transition to another gender despite research indicating that most children will recover from dysphoria with maturity, it is morally and intellectually reprehensible to have such things taught in our schools. To label children who believe in heteronormacy as ‘sexist’ is itself sexist, and demonstrates the hypocrisy that’s woven into the program. The whole saga has been troubling; Safe Schools isn’t about anti-bullying, it’s about forcing on our children a particular and narrow view of sexuality. When the very authors of the curriculum pointed out this fact, the Government were quickly dismissive.

Since the introduction of Safe Schools, two separate and academic reviews have been conducted (the first by Professor Louden and one by Professor Parkinson), both demonstrating significant flaws and problems with material, including dependence on fake statistics, unscientific theories, and in places presenting as fact ideas that remain highly contested within the medical fraternity. Following Professor Louden’s Review, the Federal Government announced significant changes to the curriculum, but Victoria has insisted on ignoring the findings and implementing the program without change.

What has happened in Victoria over the past 3 years is that a ½ hour opt-in religious program was removed and then replaced with compulsory curriculum (not only Safe Schools but also Respectful Relationships). In addition, the Government began designing a ‘general religious’ curriculum course for schools, which is to be compulsory across our schools (I am not aware if this course has been implemented as yet).

Don’t fall for revisionist views of secularism

According to The Age, “Australian Education Union Victorian branch president Meredith Peace said special religious instruction had no place in the curriculum of secular public schools.

She said there was already room to learn about religion and its role in society and history in state schools.”

“But it shouldn’t be taught by unqualified people who come into the schools with a very different purpose.”

These remarks prove the point. Contrary to Meredith Peace, secular does not mean non-religious or keeping religion out of public education and other public domains. The definition of secularism is not private religion, as Peace implies. True secularism allows for and encourages the plurality of ideas.

Also contrary to Meredith Peace, it is sensible that those who teach the Bible, should be qualified people (whether teachers or volunteers) who understand and believe the Bible’s message, rather than skeptics who explain away and misrepresent the Bible’s message.

Neutral education is a fairy tale, and it’s simply disingenuous for anyone to suggest such. This bias is clearly demonstrated by the Department’s own statements in the draft general religious studies program. As someone who holds an honours degree in theology I am in some way able to speak to the following statements.

According to the Education Department, these are the key premises of Christianity:

“There is one God, consisting of the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit. God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. God became human in the person of Jesus, the Son.

People have one life and its purpose is to live in a loving relationship with God, with others and with the world. The life and teachings of Jesus show how this is done and make possible the life-giving changes needed in individuals and society. Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit and are called to demonstrate God’s love, compassion and justice in all their relationships and interactions. Most Christians believe in an afterlife; that after their physical death, they will live forever with God.

The Bible is the sacred text for Christians. The Bible has two parts, known as the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament contains Jewish books and teachings, before the time of Jesus. The New Testament records the teachings of Jesus as well as the history and teaching of the early Church which is based on the teaching and example of Jesus.”

Some of the above statements align with Christianity, while others are blatantly wrong, and some of the most central tenets are altogether missing.

Here is one example of a basic error, ‘Most Christians believe in an afterlife; that after their physical death, they will live forever with God”. No, all Christians believe in an afterlife, and this life beyond death will be physical.

Notice how there is no mention of sin, Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection, and of salvation on account of God’s grace. There is no mention of hell. Without these things, there is no Christianity. It is not enough to make the excuse, we can’t say everything in a few paragraphs, the core of Christianity has been ripped out and in so doing it is presenting a Christianity that is inauthentic and inaccurate.

To quote the Bible, Christianity is about “Christ and him crucified”.

My point is this, if the Education Department is unable to fairly and accurately summarise the Christian faith, how can we trust what they want to be taught about any and all religion?

Would we want our children being taught maths by a teacher who doesn’t understand algebra? Would we be happy to learn that the school biology teacher doesn’t believe in male and female anatomy? Is it acceptable for sports teachers to deny the value of physical exercise? Why is it, therefore, acceptable when it comes to Christianity specifically, and religion more generally.

This is not about imposition, this is about recognition.

Why shouldn’t we give our children an opportunity to explore the greatest book that has ever been written? A book to which we owe more than any other? A book that has given shape to millennia of civilisation (not only in the West but also in the East), and has given our society its ethical and political moorings?

An intolerant secularism that is claiming the public space.

The version of secularism that now dominates much public and political conversation in Victoria feints intellectualism and freedom, but it is simply the guise for a new wave of intellectual totalitarianism, where dissent is squashed by a tirade of shout downs.

Barney Zwartz made this astute comment in the The Age,

“This attitude masks a more serious problem in the widespread contemporary misunderstanding of what “secular” means, one that I suspect is shared by Fairness in Religions in School. It has never meant, as many imagine, the absence of religion from the public arena but simply that no religion should be privileged (as, for example, the Church of England is in Britain).

Properly understood, that works to protect people of all religions and none, and to foster an open, vibrant, tolerant public culture.”

Are we so frightened of the Bible that we must prevent our children from spending 1/2hr of the week from exploring it in a safe and fun environment? It is sad to see children having taken from them the freedom and opportunity to explore what is the greatest book to have influenced Australian life and culture.

I said it in 2015, and it remains the case today; 20 years from now, a generation of Victorians will look back upon the decisions that have been made, and we will recognise the diminished experience that we have given our children, having kept from them the very ideas that gave birth to Augustine and J.S Bach, C.S Lewis and Martin Luther King, and many of the greatest thinkers, scientists, artists, writers, and humanists of history.

I would encourage the Government to reconsider their own policies on these issues, and to realign them true secularism and with best scientific and medical research. Surely for the good our children and the future of the State, it is worth it.

Safe Schools Update

The Safe Schools Coalition released a statement on July 31st, defending the program and denying recent allegations made against their curriculum.

They state, “Recent online discussion regarding the Safe Schools Coalition Australia (SSCA) program has spread a lot of misinformation, including claims about the content of SSCA resources. These claims have no basis.”

Nowhere does the statement mention which particular allegations are being denied, and neither do they offer any evidence to counter the ‘misinformation’.

It would have been helpful had SSCA clarified what exactly they are repudiating, because as it stands, their statement raises questions rather than answering them.

I am aware of one video that has been shared on social media recently, which has now over 3 million views. The video shows a mother describing her children’s story of how Safe Schools is being taught at their school. Some of her comments relate to facts that can be easily accessed either on the Safe Schools website itself or in media reporting from the last 2 years. Other comments relate to specific activities in the classroom which I can’t personally verify and therefore I’ll suspend judgment. I have no reason to doubt her and her children’s truth telling, but one also needs to be careful about conflating accounts with facts. It is unclear however whether SSCA is referring to this video or to something else. This has an unfortunate effect, a public statement that is designed to be clarifying is in fact just creating ambiguity.

The spokesperson for SSCA ask people to read the information that is available online for teachers, students, and parents. I thought, what a great idea. I hadn’t seen the material for sometime and assume that it may have been updated. So I did check it out, and sadly all the concerns that I have previously expressed have been reinforced.

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One statement I do agree with relating to Safe Schools, is found on the Victorian Education Department website, “All students should be safe from bullying and feel included at school. Students who don’t feel safe or included at school cannot learn effectively.”

Unfortunately though, Safe Schools is creating unsafe schools. In the year since the Federal review, concerns have not been alleviated.  It is becoming clearer that the authors of Safe Schools have taken one issue, but in the attempt to address it positively they have in fact created many more issues.

Facts:

  • What was first promoted as an anti-bullying program, was soon explained by founder Roz Ward, as a program designed to persuade children of socialist ideologies. Interestingly, the anti-bullying rhetoric is less prominent now, and the program is more clearly marketed as one of supporting LGBTI sexualities.
  • Safe Schools will be compulsory in all Victorian State secondary schools in 2018. It is also encouraged for Primary Schools.
  • Safe Schools is no longer allowed in NSW, and in South Australian it is being heavily revised.
  • Two studies have been conducted into Safe Schools by leading educational experts in Australia. The first was headed by Professor Bill Louden (of the University of Western Australia), and the other by Professor Professor Patrick Parkinson AM. Both studies demonstrate that Safe Schools is built upon misleading information and is unsuitable learning material. Prof Parkinson said that the curriculum is  ‘dubious’, ‘misleading’, and ‘containing exaggerated claims’.
  • Safe Schools relies on theories of gender and sexuality that have been deemed dangerous, and is now banned from schools in NSW.
  • Safe Schools depends on pseudo-science, relying on LGBTI statistics that have been shown to be false.
  • Safe Schools material is to be integrated throughout school subjects: “This material can be interspersed throughout school subjects, “Schools may also choose to adapt and use the videos and teaching activities in other areas of the curriculum such as English, History, Humanities, Legal Studies, Civics and Citizenship, and applied learning curriculums (e.g. VCAL, TAS) where the exploration of LGBTI people and topics allows.”
  • Despite the Federal Government calling for the removal of third party websites such as Minus 18, Victoria continues partner with Minus 18, and the material encourage teachers to refer students to the Minus 18 website.
  • The curriculum is designed to alter the way children think about sexuality and gender, and to change their behavior. Safe Schools is not mere information, but it is aiming for change how children think and relate. One of the dominant themes is that heteronormacy is wrong and immoral, and instead we need to embrace the ‘fact’ that biology doesn’t determine gender, but instead we are what we feel we are
  • Exercises and questions given to 11-13 year old children are at times staggering in their inappropriateness. For example,
      • ‘Would you invite your partner home with you to meet your family?’
      • ‘If you were in a sports team, would you confidently tell your teammates about your sexuality?’
      • “Tell students on the left-hand side of the room that their character is going out with someone of the same sex, while the character of those on the right-hand side of the room is going out with someone of the opposite sex…”

 

There is tremendous pressure on students to conform to the new state quo. Students are not only participating during class, but they are given homework, and are encouraged to share their answers with teachers and with the class. Can you imagine the pressure on those kids who don’t subscribe to the views being taught? Can you imagine the pressure on a child who believes sex is only for a man and a woman in marriage, and to tell the class this? What about children who are same sex attracted but don’t wish to live a gay lifestyle? There is nothing to support them. And what about children who are experiencing some form a gender dysphoria? While best medical research urges delayed action (because the majority of kids no longer suffer dysphoria by the time the reach the end of adolescence), Safe Schools encourages schools to help them transition.

The teachers at my children’s schools are fantastic, and I greatly value their input into our children’s education. Say, though that one of my children came home and told me that their science teacher didn’t believe dinosaurs ever existed; I’d be a tad concerned. If my children’s history teacher taught revisionist history, I’d be keen to chat with the school.

Why then is it ok for our children to be forced to sit in classes that teach sex material based on dubious, misleading, and dangerous ideas? We are not talking about debating palaeontology or what really happened in 1066, but the health and wellbeing of our children, which of course includes children who do not identify as heterosexual.

Building school curriculum on flawed studies ends up hurting students, including those whom its meant to help. For the sake of all our children, we must do better than this. We want to see all children doing well and flourishing, not being bullied, but loved and supported. Safe Schools is continually showing that it isn’t the answer.

I would urge all parents to read the material for themselves. Ask yourself, are you happy for your child(ren) to be taught this in the classroom?

NSW is removing Safe Schools. Could Victoria follow?

It was announced today that the NSW Government is scrapping the controversial school curriculum, Safe Schools. From July, not only is the Federal Government stopping its funding of Safe Schools, but the NSW Education Department will introduce an alternative program. The content of this new program is yet to be released, but early indications suggest that it will be a broader and more inclusive program, and one that does not depend on the now debunked gender theory.

Safe Schools is presented as an anti-bullying curriculum, and is designed to teach children acceptance of other children who are different to them. The emphasis however is on sexuality, and teaching a flawed view of sexuality and encouraging young children to explore these alternative sexualities for themselves.

Safe schools was originally an opt-in program, but it is now compulsory in all secondary schools across Victoria. Many primary schools have also signed up.

One of the chief authors of Safe Schools, Roz Ward, defined the curriculum’s intent as follows: 

“Programs like the Safe Schools Coalition are making some difference but we’re still a long way from liberation,’’ she said. “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.”

It would be wrong to suggest everyone who supports the program views Safe Schools as does Roz Ward, but it is telling that one of the chief architects has admitted that Safe Schools is less about anti-bullying, and is designed to educate and influence a new generation of children to the values of marxism and to its accompanying sexual ideology.

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One year ago, the Federal Government made numerous changes to the curriculum, following widespread concerns regarding the appropriateness of material and the promotion of third party websites whose content could not be approved.

The Victorian Education Minister responded by saying,  Canberra was caving in to the bigots, and announced Victoria would not implement any of the amendments.

At the start of this year, the NSW Government introduced even more overhauls, including that gender fluid theory could no longer be taught in schools.

Only Victoria has made Safe Schools compulsory for schools. Each school can decide how much of the curriculum they wish to use, but the material to be used must be that which is set by the education department. This makes sense, except that Safe Schools is, to quote Professor Patrick Parkinson from the University of Sydney, ‘dubious’, ‘misleading’, and ‘containing exaggerated claims’.

Concerns over Safe Schools has received some bipartisan support in NSW, with Labour MP, Greg Donnolly saying,

“Politicians in one state do not generally take kindly to colleagues in another state giving them advice. There can be exceptions but the unwritten rule is that if you stick your head out and give advice across the border, you are likely to get it knocked-off. With that said, let me now give some advice to my Labor colleagues in Victoria.

The Safe Schools program that the Victorian Government is imposing on public schools in that state is political poison. While it may be just starting to show up in focus groups and other polling activities undertaken by the Labor Party, do not underestimate its malignancy. When it fully manifests, it will be like a fully laden freight train that you will not be able to stop.

The problem for the Premier and the Minister for Education is that the Safe Schools program from the get-go was never about anti-bullying. It was about inculcating into school children hard edged sexuality and gender ideologies. The same ideologies that are examined and debated when undertaking Gender Studies units at university. The same units that such students elect to do by choice; no compulsion or requirement. Not only are these ideologies being presented to school children as a matter of fact i.e. sexuality and gender are not to be understood in any other way, but parents are being kept completely in the dark about what is being presented to their children and by who.”

As it stands, there are children in Victorian schools currently transitioning on account of what is being taught, despite best medical practice stating that most children with gender dysphoria will grow out of it by adulthood and will happily conform to their birth gender. Many Victorian families are being pressured because they cannot subscribe to the curriculum, and feeling  pushed out of the public system. Children who believe heterosexuality is normative are labelled  as sexist, and the program is built to reframe their thinking until they believe that all sexual preferences and practices are legitimate human expression, and perhaps they might wish to explore these for themselves.

Being a Victorian, I understand our reluctance to listen to our northern neighbours. After all, has anything good ever come out of Sydney? I totally get why Victorians build rhetorical walls to keep out this colony of convicts. Listening to a New South Welshman may sound like a Banshee singing Justin Bieber, but on this occasion we Victorians are fools to ignore such sage advice.

Mr Andrews and Mr Merlino, as a Victorian and parent of 3 children, I strongly urge you to re-examine your position on Safe Schools, and the unscientific and harmful gender theories now being forced upon our children. It’s ok to once in a while  redress mistakes and poor policy; humility is in fact a virtue that we value in our political leaders.  In winding back ‘Safe Schools’ and aspects of the ‘Respectful Relationships’ program, we do not have to wind back the clock on caring for children who may be working through issues of their own sexuality. We want to see them safe and flourishing, and this is achievable without having to promote ideology that is demonstrably skewed and unsuitable for the classroom.

Respectful Relationships now compulsory across Victoria

The Respectful Relationships curriculum is now compulsory across Victorian schools and early childhood learning centres. Children will be first introduced to material in kindergarten.

With all the attention on the now unravelling Safe Schools program, its cousin, Respectful Relationships has received little attention, despite it targeting not only teenagers but also our young children, and it being made mandatory throughout the State. It has however received some attention this morning in The Australian,with reporter Rebecca Urban, revealing that Safe Schools co-author, Joel Radcliffe,  has been appointed to the Victorian Education and Training Department to assist in rolling out the program across the schools.

It is important for parents to have knowledge of Respectful Relationships and to ask questions where they are unsure of its content or have concerns. One may well discover that their school shares similar concerns over the material.

I want to make it clear that there are positive aspects to this new program as well as  significant concerns, and it would be a shame for the program’s aim to be hijacked by the unscientific theories and morally dubious suggestions that currently run throughout. It would be certainly irresponsible to teach some of the content without parental awareness. 

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If you are unfamiliar with the program, here is an overview that I wrote last year:

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.

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?

We can learn from NSW…sometimes

I know we like to dislike our northern neighbours in NSW, but sometimes we really ought to take notice and learn from their example. No, I don’t mean playing football with an oversized egg or drinking their faux coffee. Yesterday, The Australian  reported that students in NSW schools will no longer be permitted to learn gender theory,

Students will no longer be taught that gender is a “social construct”, or that sexuality is “non-binary”, occurring on a ­continuum and “constantly changing”.

An edict encouraging teachers to “de-gender” their language will also likely be scrapped, along with sexually explicit case studies and teaching aids such as the “Genderbread Person”, which promotes the idea that there are “infinite possibilities” of gender identity.

The decision follows an independent inquiry that reported in September last year. The review was headed by Professor Bill Louden (of the University of Western Australia) and examined sex and health education resources for NSW schools. It appears as though changes are being implemented not only with Safe Schools, but any part of the State curriculum where a de-gender and gender-continuum message has been integrated.

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Of particular relevance for Victoria is  that Professor Loudan’s review is finding bi-partisan support in NSW. In fact,  NSW Labour MP Greg Donnelly has taken the unusual step of writing an open letter to the Victorian Premier, imploring him to give this report due consideration,

“Politicians in one state do not generally take kindly to colleagues in another state giving them advice. There can be exceptions but the unwritten rule is that if you stick your head out and give advice across the border, you are likely to get it knocked-off. With that said, let me now give some advice to my Labor colleagues in Victoria.

The Safe Schools program that the Victorian Government is imposing on public schools in that state is political poison. While it may be just starting to show up in focus groups and other polling activities undertaken by the Labor Party, do not underestimate its malignancy. When it fully manifests, it will be like a fully laden freight train that you will not be able to stop.

The problem for the Premier and the Minister for Education is that the Safe Schools program from the get-go was never about anti-bullying. It was about inculcating into school children hard edged sexuality and gender ideologies. The same ideologies that are examined and debated when undertaking Gender Studies units at university. The same units that such students elect to do by choice; no compulsion or requirement. Not only are these ideologies being presented to school children as a matter of fact i.e. sexuality and gender are not to be understood in any other way, but parents are being kept completely in the dark about what is being presented to their children and by who.”

Mr Donnelly continues, “Premier Andrews and Education Minister Merlino have been both doctrinaire and obstinate about the Safe Schools program. As a case in point, in March last year following a review of the resource material located on the Safe Schools Coalition Australia website it was recommended by the reviewer, Professor William Louden, that certain content was not fit for purpose. It was subsequently removed from the Safe Schools Coalition Australia website. In Victoria though the material that was removed from the website was immediately uploaded onto the state’s Department of Education and Training website, presumable under instruction from the Premier and/or Minister for Education. That material still sits on the Department’s website and is being actively promoted. In other words instead of taking into account what were rather modest recommendations by Professor Louden, the Victorian Premier and Education Minister got all hairy chested and gave the whole review exercise the middle finger.”

I totally get why Victorians build rhetorical walls to keep out this colony of convicts. Listening to a New South Welshman may sound like a Banshee singing Justin Bieber, but on this occasion we Victorians are fools to ignore such sage advice.

Mr Andrews and Mr Merlino, as a Victorian and parent of 3 children, I strongly urge you to re-examine your position on Safe Schools, and the unscientific and harmful gender theories now being forced upon our children. It’s ok to once in a while to redress mistakes and poor policy; humility is in fact a virtue that we value in our political leaders.  In winding back ‘Safe Schools’ and aspects of the ‘Respectful Relationships’ program, we do not have to wind back the clock on caring for children who may be working through issues of their own sexuality. We want to see them safe and flourishing, and this is achievable without having to promote ideology that is demonstrably skewed and unsuitable for the classroom.

Heteronormacy is the new Heresy

A word of clarification and qualification:

I’ve received some helpful feedback this afternoon, and upon reflection, I should probably have nuanced some of the comments in this post.

While the guidelines don’t ban the use of ‘traditional’ words, it is nonetheless framing a new language that the Government want used in the workplace.And while I agree that one can read the document with a fair degree of latitude, it is written in a way that can also be enforced rigidly when suited.

– The Guidelines do discourage using the language of husband and wife, and it does encourage gender neutral alternatives.

-The document also rejects heteronormative language and thinking, branding it as a form of sexism.

Both of these points are problematic.

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The Victorian Government has published Guidelines for State employed workers, informing them of what language is appropriate when addressing fellow employees, including those who are married. The Government is encouraging even non-Government  business and organisations to adopt their chosen language.

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In The Australian today, Ro Allen, Victoria’s gender and sexuality commissioner, says that the Inclusive Language Guide is designed to teach people to use the ‘correct language’.

What is the basis for the officially declared ‘correct language’? If anyone was hoping the answer would be grounded science or even common sense, you’ll be sadly disappointed. The accepted language is defined against what is perceived as heteronormative. In other words, the noun wife assume that the person is a woman; that is gender specific and therefore inappropriate.

What is the correct language? Spouse is preferred, but also, if you a married woman, you shall be known as Hir, and if you are a married man, you shall be called Zie.

I would have thought that quite a few married women will be offended if you refer to them as an androgynous being, which is what the pronoun Hir means. And calling a bloke Zie is not going to upset anyone? Hey Bill, instead of referring to you as he and him, and man, I will now speak of you as Zie! And if you’re offended by that, don’t worry, it’s the correct language so says the Government. 

To be fair, the Guidelines also address some issues relating to LGBTIQ persons, which are reasonable. For example, using words to demean gay and lesbian people is not appropriate, in the workplace or anywhere for that matter.

The Guidelines state,

‘Inclusive language ensures everyone is treated with respect as such language is free from words or tones that reflect prejudice, discrimination or stereotypes. Gender and sexuality are experienced and expressed in many different ways, and using language that excludes or stereotypes can cause unintentional harm to LGBTI individuals. This includes ‘positive’ stereotyping of LGBTI people.’

The Government has a growing list of policy initiatives that allege to defend equality and safety for LGBTIQ Victorians. I gladly affirm policies that will protect people from harm, but it is clear however, that the Government’s agenda exceeds these goals, and there is the now explicit intent to rewrite the human understanding of male and female. Whether it is Safe Schools, the birth certificate legislation, Respectful Relationships, or this workers guide, what we are told to believe is that heteronormacy is false and unethical. Indeed, as with Safe Schools, these Guidelines judge that anyone affirming heteronormacy is sexist, and their views are to be removed from the workplace.

Think about it, what is more sexist, acknowledging my wife’s femaleness, or referring to her as an androgynous being? What amounts to discrimination, suggesting a married man is someone’s husband, or calling them Zie, and doing so whether they like it or nor?

As crazy as it sounds, in the foreseeable future Victorians will be forced to refrain from speaking of anyone as a woman or man, boy or girl, daughter or son. Instead, we will told by Governmental authorities what the correct language is, and those who fail to comply will no doubt find themselves in hot water.

The new moral vision that Daniel Andrews is championing will not lead to a fairer Victoria, but a more confused Victoria, and one where people are fearful to use natural and wonderful words like husband and wife, and man and woman, lest they be bullied for pseudo-sexism.

We should not be afraid to affirm manhood and womanhood. No one should be called sexist for using the natural categories of wife and husband. No gay and lesbian or transgender person should be victim of work place mockery and bullying.

I trust that concerned members of Parliament, including  within the Labour caucus, will speak up against this latest chapter in Mr Andrews program to prejudice heteronormacy.