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?
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:
Here is a sample activity for students:
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.