Speaking Up Is Difficult But Necessary

Janine Rees 18th August 2016 http://www.sparkt.com.au

I taught a group of year threes recently. The teacher was very sick and so there was no plan for the day. I saw they were learning about democracy and rules. We discussed democracy, equality and some great leaders from the past then I posed a few questions for them to think about then write about. We had a discussion and then they were asked to write their answers to three questions. Each question started with either ‘what do you think…’ or ‘why do you think…’

Many of the responses from the students got me thinking. Some of the responses were…

“What do you mean by what do I think?”

“But what’s the right answer?”

“Do I write down what you said before?”

To me this was a great example of our current education system training our children to take tests and get the right answer. What happened to critical thinking? What happened to creativity? What happened to individual thought? No time for that I’m sorry, when you have three assessment items to get through for each of the eight subject areas in a ten week period.

How does this help our children to learn to think for themselves? It doesn’t! What it does do is create people who don’t speak up, who don’t debate issues and take a stand. It creates people who believe everything they hear and don’t question anything. We know it is dangerous to buck the system. In historical terms many people who stood up for what they believed in lost their lives. When you buck the system you risk a lot. You risk people disagreeing with you, you risk people disliking you because they disagree with you, you risk losing your job. So maybe it is safer to learn to keep our mouths closed and go along with the crowd.

Except… sometimes when you do that bad things happen. Yesterday I read about a group of boys targeting young girls or rather ‘hunting’ young girls and distributing naked images to degrade and humiliate these girls. I was absolutely gutted for these girls. These girls need to know that they were in no way to blame for being exploited, humiliated and abused. The blame lies purely with the boys who took part in the hunt. Again the conversation turned to how the girls should protect themselves from predators.

It struck such a cord with me because I want a better world than that for my children. I was 12 when I first felt the humiliation that being female brought upon me. Whilst walking to the bus stop a creepy middle aged man driving past slowed down and wiggled his tongue out at me in a way that made me feel disgusting and said something along the lines of hey baby. There were many more of those sorts of occurrences over the next 20 or so years, and I’m sure most women have similar stories.

Luckily, now that I’m older it doesn’t seem to be such a problem but I know it will be a problem for my daughters. I know way too many women who have been sexually abused and assaulted. I know there are a large number of men that have also been sexually abused in their youths. The common theme is that this abuse is usually carried out by men who use others as objects for their own satisfaction and enjoyment. These violent perpetrators are of course a small number of men but there are a still a hell of a lot of men (and women) who are bystanders to sexist and abusive behaviour.

We have two daughters and a son. We treat them equally. We teach them that how they behave affects others. We teach them that everyone is equal. We teach them to stand up for what they believe in, even if no one else is game to. We teach them not to be a bystander. We teach them to always do what is right. Sometimes we make mistakes, like most parents. Teaching my children to have good manners has entailed me saying 450,000 times, “what do you say???” when someone gives them something. It’s bloody hard work this parenting thing, it’s not for the faint hearted and I probably didn’t really think about the absolute importance of getting it right before embarking on the role.

When we are very young our primitive personality is impulsive and all about self gratification. As we grow and mature we interact with and experience the world and we start to become in touch with others and work out right from wrong and how to function in society. Maturity brings self control, the development of rational and critical thinking, the ability to delay gratification and an understanding of how our behaviour affects others. Sometimes though, for whatever reason, some don’t make it out of the first impulsive, egocentric stage of development, for example every bully you’ve ever met and Donald Trump.

Being human, we all swing between the two I believe, but one would hope that being adults we spend most of our time doing the later. Sometimes I find myself focusing on the people causing great harm to others, like the boys of the pornography ring of yesterday’s news. I want so much to point out that these types of behaviours are learned and modelled by the adults in their lives and the culture in which they live. As parents we need to constantly be on the lookout and we need to guide and teach our kids how to respect themselves and others. Teaching our kids from a young age to take responsibility for their actions and behaviour is very important. Don’t justify or minimise bad behaviour, or blame it on others. We also need to model good behaviour. We can’t say one thing and then do another. If you treat others well, are kind and polite your kids will more than likely learn to be those things. If you are rude and disrespectful of others then your kids will also more than likely treat others that way too.

In my quest to find schools that work well I came across Kimberley College – a multi-age, co-educational high school on Brisbane’s eastside. The principal, Paul Thomson, leads a team that works to develop an individualised curriculum that nurtures intellectual and moral autonomy and also nurtures self respect and self confidence in the students. There is zero tolerance of bullying. Students at Kimberley College learn the importance of being themselves, of being an individual, of not following a pack or herd mentality. Such a shame it’s not closer by. We need more schools like this.

As parents we teach our kids to stand up to bullies, not to bully others and stand up for another who is being bullied. If you say nothing you are just as bad as the bully. That is most certainly a hard task for a kid, everyone wants to belong. No one wants to be the one to speak out for fear of being the next victim. We also need to teach our kids about sexism, if you hear a sexist comment call it out, stand up against it. When you hear a parent yell out to your son’s team that they are playing like girls, you can say that is a sexist comment and a really bad example for our boys. If your mate suggests you to go to a strip club you can say no, I have respect for women. If you hear a sexist joke you can say that’s not funny and actually those jokes perpetuate the disrespect of women which can often end in domestic violence. Don’t join in with the singing of the sexist war cry, in fact make a point of walking out. Move out of the herd.

We should start assuming that people who tell these types of jokes, buy the porn, frequent the strip clubs are in fact more than likely perpetrators of domestic violence or manipulative psychological abuse of others. We can all use the terrible incident yesterday to start thinking about our own behaviour and roles in our children living in a fair, equitable and safe society. Many young girls have been terribly damaged in this recent event and unfortunately unless we speak out about sexism and the objectification of women there will be more. Every bystander is complicit.






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