As the government tries to find a compromise between critics and supporters of the controversial Safe Schools program, there are reports that the NSW government is considering giving parents an “opt-in”, instead of an “opt-out” with respect to the participation of their children in the program.
Such a proposal demonstrates how many politicians, and other people for that matter, fundamentally misunderstand the program. Were the “opt-in” to be implemented, it is important to realise that it would only apply, practically speaking, to one aspect of the program, namely, the lessons in the Safe Schools Coalition resource All of Us.
Safe Schools adopts a “whole-of-school” approach, meaning that LGBT themes are not primarily taught in dedicated lessons, but are woven into the curriculum and propagated through policies, posters and school assemblies. This misapprehension was evident in some of the speeches given last Thursday in the NSW Parliament, as a 17,000 signature-petition calling for the abolition of the Safe Schools program was being debated.
That the Government needs to do something is clear. It cannot continue to ignore the growing concerns of parents or the comprehensive report from Sydney University law professor Patrick Parkinson. The report reinforces parental concern and highlighted that teaching gender theory in schools is a scientifically questionable concept and constitutes a massive breach of trust.
The “whole-of-school” approach is made clear, particularly in an early edition of the Safe Schools Coalition Guide to Kickstarting Your Safe School. Aimed at teachers, it recommends that “whatever the subject, try to work out ways to integrate gender diversity and sexual diversity across your curriculum”. It also suggests that teachers display “Safe Schools Coalition posters in corridors and classrooms”.
Melanie Gaylard, who works for the Safe Schools Coalition in Victoria, has suggested ways in which even mathematics might take on a rainbow flavour.
“A maths problem that poses David and his boyfriend Tuan ordering three pizzas that need to be evenly sliced to feed them and their six friends for example, demonstrates the way some less heteronormative thinking can result in some inclusive examples,” she says.
“Even if a problem like this raises questions from the class about sexuality, students can be told that some boys have boyfriends and that’s okay and then redirected to answer the question in a casual way that normalises the inclusive content.”
In reality, therefore, if a school is a member of the Safe Schools Coalition, there is no-opt in for parents. On the contrary, there is only an opt-out: parents must move their child to another school.
Six months have elapsed since the Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, ordered changes to the Safe Schools program, and yet parents report very little has changed in NSW “Safe” Schools their children attend.
Among the changes which Birmingham ordered and yet remain virtually unrealised in NSW include “requiring agreement of relevant parent bodies for schools to participate in the ... program, including the extent of participation and any associated changes to school policies” as well as the provision of an official fact sheet about the program to parents so they have “access to full and consistent information of its content and the resources that may be used in schools.”
Mark Makowiecki is NSW Director of the Australian Christian Lobby.
This article was originally published on the Daily Telegraph.