There are probably other things I should be writing about right now, but I can’t stop thinking about Safe Schools, and the current business with the Government having an enquiry into it, and deciding to weaken it, and possibly even de-fund it.
This feels very personal to me, because Safe Schools is, first and foremost, an anti-bullying program, and I was bullied constantly at one of my high schools, and to a lesser degree in my first primary school. The bullying I dealt with was not physical, though in retrospect, a lot of the most unpleasant parts from high school are things I would now recognise as sexual harrassment. (I didn’t have the vocabulary at the time to know what to call it, though I hated it quite intensely.) But the schools I went to also had no idea how to deal with bullying, which made it worse.
It wasn’t that the teachers were unsympathetic (though the phrase ‘character building’ got thrown around more often than it should have been), but all that happened if you told them about it was that they would talk to the bullies, who would then know we had dobbed on them. Needless to say, this didn’t help. But I was lucky – one day our House teacher, Mr Doyle, declared that he preferred to spend his lunchbreaks in the classroom, which meant that my friends and I could, too, and suddenly we had somewhere we were safe. (At the time I was too relieved to consider his motivations; in retrospect, I think that Mr Doyle was a very kind man who gave up his right to take lunch with his colleagues in order to give a handful of teenagers some respite.) This helped enormously, but it didn’t really address the underlying issues. Years later, discussing our time at that school, my friends and I began to realise that, while we were at the bottom of the heap, just about everyone in our year was being bullied by someone – it was a completely dog eat dog culture, and nobody knew how to fix it.
Safe Schools is designed to give both students and teachers tools to deal with bullying, and in fact attempts, from the earliest stages of primary school, to address the issues that lead to bullying. This is, in my view, immeasurably important. I did OK, eventually, but other people have been far less lucky. According to Kidspot, children who are bullied are three times more likely to be depressed, and nine times more likely to consider suicide than those who are not. This is an enormous problem.
So what, exactly, is the problem with an anti-bullying program? Well, as far as I can see, the issue is that one of the sorts of bullying addressed by the program is homophobic bullying. And there are people who apparently feel that telling kids that it’s OK to be gay “actually bullies heterosexual children into submission for the gay agenda“.