OPINION: Making schools safe

MY son was late to the car the other day because a kid at the school bus stop had spat on a little girl. Disgusting behaviour. What I was super proud of was my son didn't stand back and watch, he stepped in.

"Go away or I'll spit on you too," the kid said to him.

"You don't scare me," he said. "I've got five sisters."

We need a program like the Safe Schools initiative because bullying is rife at schools and in our communities. You only have to check out the news any given week to hear a story of someone screaming obscenities at a woman on a bus. It disgusts me.

Bullying is bad. I think we can all agree on that.

We need to stamp it out as much as we can. Again, I've no doubt we're all in agreeance.

Oddly, the difficulty can be some people don't know when they're being the bully. They see it as their right to free expression or they're just having a lark. And I'll come clean right here - I'm as guilty of this as anyone. But I'm always trying to pull myself up on it. And the same with my kids. The Safe Schools program aims to teach a few concepts to our children to help make our schools and our society a better and more tolerant place.

Wonderful. Fantastic. Fabulous.

I, like so many others, think it all sounds great.

So why are there also so many dissenting voices and already calls for an overhaul?

Near as I can tell there are people who are afraid this course will go against the values (given the very nature of the course I struggle to read that without hearing the word intolerances popping into my head) they're teaching their kids at home and, incredibly and more specifically, encourage their kids to be gay. No, I'm not joking. That's genuinely a concern for some folks.

I really don't understand why some people are so scared of gay?

To me, being scared of a threat posed by gay people is as silly as being scared of red heads. What if the conversation went like this:

There's a kid in my son's class and we're all pretty sure he's a red head. When other kids call him Ranga he runs off to the toilets to cry. He's shaved his head to fit in, but you can tell.

It all sounds so stupid, doesn't it? And horrible. So for me, I love the idea of a program at school which tackles, amongst other problems in our societies, the bullying associated with being gay. I'm thrilled to bits. My view is we need to encourage empathy in our children and this program is a good thing. Mentally putting yourself into someone else's shoes is an excellent exercise to engage our kids in.

I think, in a world which is challenging what has been considering the norm for so long, some people have placed blinkers over their heads and lost track of the idea this program isn't specifically about gay, it's about anti-bullying and creating an environment our children feel safe in. Who doesn't want that to be a thing at schools? If you've ever had your child come home crying because some little such and such said something horrid, then you want this. Only it seems some want it without the gay bit. Some people are worried it's part of a gay agenda. Some people think it might introduce their kids to these unwanted ideas at a delicate age.

You know the sorts of unwanted ideas I don't want entering into the heads of my kids? I don't want them thinking they're different and then living some secret nightmare because society gives them the impression that if they are truly honest about who they are they'll be ostracised. How do I know this is a real thing to be concerned about? Because it's been happening for generations. I don't want my kids thinking, as historically has so often tragically been the case, that they can't live like this. I don't want them to entertain suicidal thoughts because their sexuality upsets people who it doesn't even affect.

Because my kids, like yours, mean the world to me.

From what I've read, detractors of Safe Schools seem to want a change in the language of the course so instead of teaching it's okay to be gay they want to teach that even though someone is gay you should be tolerant of that. I understand the point, but I can't agree with it.

Saying it's okay if someone is gay is the only way which this can be taught because anything less than that would be truly awful for gay students. Think about it from their point of view. Put yourselves in their situation.

Or let's look at it from a slightly different angle...

Racism is another topic the course embraces. Can you imagine an Aboriginal in the class and the teacher saying you don't have to like Aboriginals but you do have to tolerate them?

I think you'll agree that is both awful and unacceptable.

But why? Why is this different? I think it's probably because society has already dealt with the idea of racial discrimination and we all know it won't be tolerated. We know that your ethnic background shouldn't afford you any less rights than anyone else. That's fair. But the battle for the gay members of our community to be treated fairly and not demonised is, by comparison, relatively new.

We will get there. Society has proven that once we recognise discrimination and set about solving the problem, we can achieve great strides forward. For now, some in our community will tolerate gay people being treated fairly and, soon I hope, being able to marry their partners, but in the not too distant future it'll just be the way it is and we'll all be the better for it.

And the Safe Schools program is a great step in the right direction, not just for our young up and coming gay members of our communities, but for all the other ways it will make our next generation more tolerant and considerate and able to consider different sides of an issue.

Bullying is something which needs to be addressed so that our kids feel safer at school, and our citizens feel safer in our communities.

Bullying occurs whenever someone highlights someone else's differences and, instead of celebrating diversity, mocks them.

Bullying is awful. It hurts. It wounds. It stays with us long after the incident has passed. In worst case scenarios, it kills.

I suggest we let the experts do the job we can't, won't or simply don't know how to.

Gympie Times

Topics:  opinion safe schools schools

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