SCHOOLS, irrespective of their funding sources, have an obligation to protect and support all of their students — especially their most vulnerable. Australia is a country that promotes tolerance, acceptance and equal opportunity. We recognise the special vulnerability of children and young people. School is a vital part of development and should not be a place where youth are subject to discrimination, unfair treatment and left exposed to abuse or bullying.
Community perceptions toward the LGBTI community have changed since I staffed the telephone support lines at Gay and Lesbian Teachers and Students Inc. in the early 1990s, yet some institutions have been slower to change than others. We can ill-afford to wait while these institutions catch up to wider community standards, because the costs borne by many students, their families and society remain too high. The purpose of this service was to support students (and teachers) as they battled against open discrimination or, more subtly, the complete absence of any emotional or material support amid the most tumultuous time of their lives. Their stories were harrowing and often heartbreaking, most often marked by feelings of isolation and profound loneliness. Now, I am in a position to walk the talk.
At the outset, a top-down approach is needed, that is, from the Prime Minister, board of governors, chief executives, principal, and teachers. At my school, Macquarie Grammar, part of our community engagement has included these themes: Education not Discrimination, Education Unifies Nations, Fair Go, Safe Schools, We Are Family, Together, Love in our Hearts, and Hold On to Your Dreams.
Wear It Purple Day is fast approaching but at Macquarie Grammar, every day is “equality day”.
At a broad level, schools need to be a role model for the kind of society that we want. We do not want a society that officially condones discrimination and that allows harassment and bullying to flourish. In an atmosphere such as this, our youth’s self-confidence and self-worth are harmed, as well as their ability and confidence to learn. In a place that allows discrimination — exclusion, prejudice and the harmful expressions of difference are accentuated.
Falling victim to discrimination from a child’s school impacts on their self-confidence and worth, and can seriously disrupt their education. It also legitimises vilification and harassment by other students in and outside the school learning environment, including homophobia in sport. Law-abiding behaviour is managed in apartment blocks, so why not in schools, when the core business is the education of children, not their abuse.
Macquarie Grammar values every student regardless of his/her ability or genetic predisposition and, with respect for cultural diversity and inclusiveness, demonstrates compliance (not exemption) with the Anti-Discrimination Act that makes us distinct from the majority of private schools. If private schools want to be in receipt of state and/or federal funding from the taxpayer resources of law-abiding Australians, why can’t they all abide by the laws of the land, as part of their rhetorical flummery of claiming tolerance and respect? The kind of society that we want is one that actively works against discrimination in all of its components, without exemption.
Increasingly, Australians are concerned about secular education being interfered. As a result, Macquarie Grammar attracts families who are seeking a school with the focus on academic achievement, without the influence of arbitrary dogma.
The growing trend towards private school education continues despite decades of research that demonstrates that a stimulating home environment, parental engagement and socio-economic backgrounds are the biggest determinants of a child’s academic performance. Many private schools teach creation science instead of evolution and teach a modified English curriculum that shields students from “dangerous” words and themes. They also teach an unusual approach to citizenship, so that “God’s law” is more important than the actual law.
Secular schools bring children together in a neutral way: we do not teach that gods either do or do not exist. We teach subjects that have a basis in scientific fact, like mathematics, languages, history, and critical thinking. We teach students to respect other people. Secular schools ensure that everyone has their human rights respected equally, as expected by a fair and just society.
At Macquarie Grammar, we don’t just rely on a set of policies that sit on the cloud. We build a culture of positive relationships and implement restorative practices that promote a positive, inclusive, respectful culture that is values-driven from a whole school approach.
We also provide personalised tuition by experienced, qualified, and dedicated staff who aspire to teach and assess according to the National Professional Standards for Teachers.
Although Queensland’s longest-serving Premier often boasted of having “fed the chooks”, today the emphasis has swung to “don’t feed the trolls”, those who are bound to be confronted by the suggestion of living happily.
Dr Darryl Gauld is the principal of Macquarie Grammar School, Sydney. His award-winning doctoral thesis has been published nationally and internationally, and produced an Effective Teacher Model.
**This article first appeared in the new September issue of the Star Observer, which is currently available in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra. Click here to find out where you can grab your free copy or click here to read the magazine in digital flip-book format.