I was bullied at school, specifically I was bullied at high school in Bendigo, the schools I attended in Alice Springs (also private Catholic schools had better programs than Bendigo at reducing bullying). I mean, I was briefly bullied at primary school in Alice Springs, but it was really brief (a few months in year one or two) and then it stopped.
I wasn’t bullied because I’m not straight (I’m bisexual by the way), I was bullied because I was different, a smart kid in a school filled with average kids. A kid who wasn’t born in Bendigo (at my school that mattered) and was arriving part-way through the school year.
Safe Schools didn’t exist way back in the late 1980s, and given the conservatism of Bendigo Catholic College, I am not convinced that they would even implement the program in the school (they haven’t to date). Safe Schools would have made my school life more bearable at school as it is a program that encourages the acceptance of difference and builds empathy. Both of these things are important.
I blogged about the garbage humans and their demand for a review of Safe Schools the other day. Today the Government, on the National Day Against Bullying and Violence no less, announced what they were going to do about the review into Safe School. Some garbage humans in Parliament crowed about how the program has been gutted (it hasn’t), and how they thought it would be unlikely that the Safe Schools Coalition would be to accept the changes and would therefore be defunded (we don’t know this bit yet).
Ok, what I want to focus on is the actual media release from Education Minister Simon Birmingham and what some of those changes mean, and whether some of those changes are actually feasible or not.
The government will seek to address these findings and reasonable concerns via a number of immediate actions.
1. Fix the content of the programme resources by:
a. Having the lesson plans for Lessons 2, 6 and 7 of the All of Us resource amended to remove those activities identified by the review as potentially unsuitable for some students.
b. Having the content of Lesson 5 of the All of Us resource redesigned to ensure that the content aligns with the curriculum content for biology appropriate for the target age group.
c. Requiring that the amended resources and any further resources be peer reviewed and approved by a panel of qualified educators appointed by the Department of Education and Training.
Ok, the first bit is not terrible, the second bit sounds reasonable, but the third… the people who provide the resources for Safe Schools are qualified people.
I am not yet convinced that a panel of “qualified educators” would be better qualified than the creators of the Safe School Coalition resources. Sally Richardson is a former lecturer at La Trobe, Roz Ward has a MA in Gender Studies, and Joel Radcliff has a Grad Dip in Education. I assume they also have lived experience, and work with Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, who are a “health and wellbeing policy and resource unit. GLHV is funded by the Victorian Government and sits within the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS), La Trobe University.” (source)
I know that several garbage humans think that there is some kind of Marxist, cultural revisionist agenda here to convert children into being gay, or to confuse them into being transgender, but that argument is so illogical that I’m surprised that anyone let it see the light of day. The majority of the Resource material for Safe Schools is already peer reviewed and is effectively published by a University. Surely that should be enough.
To make another hurdle for material, effectively to be passed by Government, means that the panel of “qualified educators” can be hand-picked by the Minister, and can be set up with an agenda to disallow any further change to the material.
Given there was an additional announcement today that the Federal Safe Schools roll-out would not be funded after 2017 (source), it really does seem that the Government wants to ensure that no changes to the current program (beyond removing resources) happens at all.
2. Address concerns about third party links, advocacy and materials in resources by:
a. Having all third party organisation branding removed from all official resources.
b. Having reference to any third parties limited to organisations funded by state, territory or Commonwealth governments for the provision of mental health or counselling services.
c. Requiring that national and local programme managers not bring the programme into disrepute, or engage in political advocacy in a way that represents their views as being endorsed by the programme.
d. Requiring that the resources for the programme not be used for political advocacy.
And onto the next bit – removing branding from official resources may mean that any IP owned by that organisation (that’s intellectual property for those playing at home) may also have to be removed. There is the potential for less resources to be available to children.
Additionally, this means that schools may find it difficult to refer children to other organisations where they can spend time with people like them. It will make it difficult for parents to find organisations to support them and their children.
And onto the next one. This one amuses me. Everyone says that it means that Minus18 (for example) will not be able to be referred in the Safe Schools material. Minus18 is partly funded by the Victorian State Government as part of the HEY (Healthy Equal Youth) projects. See here for more info also. So Minus18, by the Minister’s own rules, can still be referred to in the Safe Schools material.
The final two of this point are weird at first glance. When you think about the garbage humans who have been involved in calling for this review, and about the statements made by Sally Richardson as the review was called (just google Sally Richardson and Safe Schools and you can see how many media outlets went to her for comment).
What the Government actually wants is to gag Safe Schools on talking about how homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in the media impacts on children. They don’t want Safe Schools to talk about how harmful a marriage-equality plebicite will be for LGBTIQ+ children in Australia. They want to reduce bullying in schools, but they don’t care about the bullying perpetrated by Government, religious groups, and other anti-LGBTIQ+ arsehats.
3. Limit the distribution of certain materials by:
a. Requiring local programme managers to ensure the distribution and promotion of Safe Schools Coalition Australia programme materials is restricted to secondary school settings only.
b. Restricting the use and distribution of the OMG I’m Queer, OMG My Friend’s Queer and Stand Out resources, which were not developed as classroom resources, to one-on-one discussions between students and key qualified staff.
Restricting Safe Schools materials to secondary schools only means that queerphobia and transphobia in Primary Schools is a-ok with this Government. There are children who transition in primary school, what are they (the parents, the student, the school) supposed to do to support everyone through this process if they cannot access Safe Schools material? I’ve read accounts of young people (primary school age) who have wanted to self-harm because their body was did not match their gender. This government has just shown they don’t care about young trans children.
Restricting use and distribution (and I hope all the schools involved in Safe Schools actively disobey this one) of the OMG I’m Queer, OMG My Friend’s Queer and Stand Out resources to students at schools, and stating that they can only be used on one-on-one discussions means that most students who need these resources won’t access them. The Government couldn’t justify banning these resources, because the review didn’t find that they should be, so they’ve just made them impossible to access, particularly because all resources are to be moved off the Safe Schools website. I’d recommend downloading those documents now and sharing them widely.
4. Align the location of resources with other inclusion, support, tolerance and anti-bullying measures by housing official resources only on the official Australian Government Safe Schools Hub website, which contains other inclusion and anti-bullying resources for schools, teachers, parents and students in areas such as racism, domestic violence and disabilities. The Safe Schools Coalition Australia website will not have any resources, advice or links and will limit operations to programme coordination and direct users to the Safe Schools Hub for access to official programme resources only.
See my comment above about the moving resources off the Safe Schools website. Limiting the availability of some information will make it harder for LGBTIQ+ students.
Given the Victorian Government has said they will support, continue to fund, and allow the program to operate as it currently does in Victoria, I don’t know what this means for the Safe Schools Coalition website. There used to be a Victorian site before the Federal Government rolled out the program nationally, so I suppose that could be recreated. It will be an interesting one to watch.
Whatever happens with the Liberals' secret review, we'll make sure Safe Schools stays in Victoria. End of story. https://t.co/ztPHyOc4e4
— Daniel Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) March 16, 2016
No changes to Vic safe schools program in wake of Turnbull Govt recommendations – total cave-in to bigots. We know #safeschools saves lives.
— James Merlino (@JamesMerlinoMP) March 18, 2016
5. Ensure parents are appropriately empowered and engaged by:
a. Requiring agreement of relevant parent bodies for schools to participate in the Safe Schools Coalition Australia programme, including the extent of participation and any associated changes to school policies.
b. Requiring parental consent for student participation in programme lessons or activities, while maintaining the rights of all students to seek counselling services.
c. Having an official fact sheet for the Safe Schools Coalition Australia programme for parents about the programme developed so they have access to full and consistent information of its content and the resources that may be used in schools.
d. Having an official resource for parents of students dealing with questions of sexual identity developed, and distributed only by key qualified staff.
So the PTA needs to approve the Safe Schools program. I freely admit I know NOTHING about school parental body politics. I don’t know if they are more or less conservative than the school at large. I don’t know if this means that schools are more or less likely to introduce Safe Schools. I’m guessing less, because otherwise it would be less likely to be a thing.
Requiring parental consent for student participation means that non-supportive parents of the entire LGBTIQ+ population (students and non-students) will be able to keep their children “safe” from hearing that LGBTIQ+ people are just like them. The ability to opt out of a bullying reduction program means that the bullying does not go away. This is to reduce the effectiveness of the program.
The third item is sensible, but the last one is not. Once again we have the “key qualified staff”, and I don’t know what that means. I’m guessing that the Safe School program comes with a qualified resource to assist the school in running/setting up the program, and this is the “key qualified staff” that the press release refers to. I believe an official resource for parents is a good idea. I hope it is developed in order to ease the mind of parents who are concerned that their child will be miserable because they are not straight. (Why be happy when you can be normal? – Jeanette Winterson) I hope it is freely available, so that parents don’t have to feel anxious or ashamed to ask for it. I’m pretty sure many parents in Australia will google “Is my child LGBTIQ+” before having to ask someone at school.
Finally I want to leave this with two articles that give a little bit of hope. Before I provide those links, I want to share the words of Christopher Pyne, who was not a garbage human today (I know, I was also shocked).
.@cpyne speaks about the #safeschools program "I didn't want to bring my 48-year-old attitude to these materials" pic.twitter.com/nsXqJrwiYO
— ABC News 24 (@ABCNews24) March 16, 2016
Annabel Crabb wrote a good write up of today’s woes, “How to spot a bully: Parliament’s helpful guide“.
The Conversation provided some excellent commentary on today’s news, “Safe Schools review findings: experts respond“.
Remember, these arseholes want to wear us down. They want us to not exist and they don’t care if we die. The best revenge is a life well lived, and stepping away from this shit-fight in order to protect your own sanity and health is vital if you need it.