News / Current Affairs

SHOULD WE CHANGE THE DATE OF AUSTRALIA DAY? A QUESTION THAT SPEAKS TO NATIONS ACROSS OUR GLOBE.

Should we change the date of Australia Day?

William Ricketts Sanctuary Photo credit Margaret Hepworth

William Ricketts Sanctuary Photo credit Margaret Hepworth

 

A question that speaks to the heart of who we are as Australians. A question that is relevant to all nations across the globe.

 

Are we an inclusive nation?

 

Many, many years ago as a teenager in secondary school, I learnt in our History class, that the Protestant Irish celebrated a holiday, parading through the streets, on a day that marked an Irish Catholic massacre. Even as a young girl at that time, I could feel the lack of empathy. I wondered why they did this and couldn’t they simply celebrate their special day on another date? There appeared to be a lack of willingness to understand and resolve. The ‘victors’ dancing on a day of sorrow for the ‘other.’

 

I am a teacher of some 30 years now, having taught English, Humanities and Indigenous Studies throughout that lengthy time. Interestingly, one of the main focuses for our pre-service teachers, i.e. our next generation of teachers in Australia, is to learn to teach the value of inclusivity and to model this through their teaching methodologies.

 

Inclusivity is highlighted in our National Curriculum as being of primary importance for our young people to grow as healthy, well-adjusted individuals. Then surely we also need to look to celebrating this value as an Australian nation.

 

I recently went on a tour of so called ‘orphanages’ that held aboriginal children of the Stolen Generations, a period of time that ran (approximately) from 1910-to early 1970s. I am sure I do not need to tell you these children were not orphans. I was horrified by the tour; the horror came from the ‘what was still being said now’. It felt like we were back in the 1930s and that the prevailing attitude of that time was still being carried by this tour guide. I was deeply concerned and I don’t even want to refer to the words she used to describe Aborigines. She also presented some of the stories that were told to Aboriginal children to stop them looking for their mothers as though they were truths.

 

I want people to know that in certain places in our country, this is how our history is still being told.

 

I spoke privately with the tour guide afterwards, inviting her to listen to another way that this story could be told; inviting her into a narrative that needs to be shared and deeply understood if real change is to occur. Finally, I added, “You have an amazing opportunity here for real learning, education and for healing to occur, if you can open to a different perspective.”

 

It is my belief that we have this same opportunity for learning and healing by changing the date of Australia Day.

 

Our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, recently declared that local councils will be forced to hold Australia Day ceremonies on January 26, even if the councillors personally believe this should not be happening.  Many see this as an unusual and authoritarian stance. In my own experience as a teacher of many years, we would be better to apply critical thinking and utilise Collaborative Debating to open up the topic to exploration. In this way, we do not tell people what to think, yet we invite them to think.

 

Let’s be very clear, Australia Day falls on January 26. This is the day that Captain Arthur Phillip stabbed a flag in the soil of, what they had named, Sydney Cove. If we want to be pedantic, on that day they claimed the colony of New South Wales, and a penal colony at that. Not a nation, not Australia!

 

There is nothing pedantic in stating and understanding that this was the beginning of a genocide for the peoples of the British Government’s “Terra Nullius.”

 

If we continue to celebrate on a day that many of the First Peoples and others regard as a day of mourning but as a nation, we can’t see or understand or empathise – then that is an ongoing tragedy. Where is the inclusivity we are teaching, put into practice? It is time to change.

William Ricketts Sanctuary Photo credit Margaret Hepworth

William Ricketts Sanctuary Photo credit Margaret Hepworth

 

I have been running Collaborative Debating workshops over the past couple of years in schools in Melbourne. This topic: “Should we change the date for Australia Day?” is a popular choice. The responses from secondary students have been nothing short of extraordinary and I wish more adults were in these workshops to hear these young people talk.

 

I want to be very clear here – I don’t tell these kids what to think. We set up a Collaborative Debate, which has a framework that invites respect, listening and participation from all involved, including the audience. Speakers may even acknowledge that they have changed their mind throughout the debate. They may even apologise to the other side! And halfway through what are always very active, robust debates, we have a mindful moment of stilled silence, allowing new wisdoms and insights to enter the debate. Can you imagine politicians doing this?

 

Students have told me: “Saying sorry doesn’t mean we are ever going to change.”

What these young people understand is it is all about what the date represents and it will take a change in attitude for real change to occur. For most, they want to see the date changed as a mark of respect and so it allows them to freely celebrate all the wonderful positives about our country, together. Australians all let us rejoice.

“because of the damage it represents that none of us can ignore”

16 year old participant in a school Collaborative Debate

 

Some students have suggested, “Not changing the date yet changing our attitude.” They say we should keep this date but not to be celebrated, instead to “have it like ANZAC day”, as a commemorative day. Then to have a separate day of celebration, inclusive for all. At one school, after this same decision had been made, one boy put up his hand. He spoke vehemently, from the heart. He said that he could understand a commemorative day, and yet, with what had occurred through our history, the biggest way we could show we were taking action in regards to commemorating, was to change the date, “because of the damage it represents that none of us can ignore.” He received thunderous applause.

 

In all cases, the final decision from the majority of these secondary students was to change the date of Australia Day.

 

This year I want to walk the Songlines in Western Australia. I want to learn. One truth that we commonly forget in this country is that the Aborigines actually aided many white ‘settlers’ and early explorers. It is thanks to local tribes, that many of these people survived.

 

I am hoping they will now include me, teach me, and that in doing so I will not only survive, I will thrive.

Do we need to change the date of Australia Day? 

I believe it is a question that speaks to the hearts and minds not just of our country, but reaches out to hearts and minds across the globe, to any country who claims to value inclusivity, empathy and equality as values that pillar their nation. After centuries of colonisation / invasion, the ‘victors’ across the world are still unable to empathize or listen deeply. Perhaps this shows they are still carrying the hallmarks of colonialism, even whilst proclaiming we have progressed into a 'modern world.'

Inclusivity is a value that could change the world. I believe Australia has an amazing opportunity to be an exemplar to other nations with similar histories who continue to undermine their First Peoples or other marginalized groups.

I am not telling you what to think. Yet I am inviting you to think.

 

Margaret Hepworth

Founder The Gandhi Experiment

William Ricketts Sanctuary Photo credit Margaret Hepworth

William Ricketts Sanctuary Photo credit Margaret Hepworth


Speaker / Author / Educator Margaret Hepworth is an expert in teenage motivations & behaviours; a thought leader in peace education; the founder of The Gandhi Experiment;  an English and Humanities teacher of 30 years; author of The Gandhi Experiment – teaching our teenagers how to become global citizens; recipient of the 2016 Sir John Monash Award for Inspirational Women's Leadership; creator of Collaborative Debating ©. www.thegandhiexperiment.com

Margaret@margarethepworth.com  

The Gandhi Experiment - Teaching our teenagers how to become global citizens Purchase here

Maragret is the ‘go to’ for Collaborative Debating. For workshops you can contact her on Margaret@margarethepworth.com

#ArmMeWith HOW DO WE MAKE THE VOICE OF PEACE EDUCATION LOUDER THAN THE VOICE THAT RAISES GUNS?

Global Citizenship - it starts with us! teacher training workshop, Mumbai.

Global Citizenship - it starts with us! teacher training workshop, Mumbai.

Opinion piece.

See all these teachers? Amazing people. Every one of them committed to values education. Every one of them seeking to implement more peace and values education, embedding it into the academic curriculum.

 

And yes, that’s me in the centre – having just run a livley teacher-training workshop, Global Citizenship – it starts with us! for Principals and teachers in Mumbai.

 

Yet, now I sit with my head in my hands. Deflated. A physical and emotional response to the suggestion that teachers in America be armed with guns.

 

Thankfully, as I scan social media, I discover two American teachers, Brittany Wheaton and Olivia Bertels,  - and I take time to observe these are American teachers -  have created the #ArmMeWith movement. Essentially, they are saying, Arm Me With the equipment, resources and stability to teach, NOT GUNS! And teachers all across America are joining in.

 

Here is what I have read thus far:

Arm me with smaller classes

Arm me with books, not guns

Arm me with mental health resources

Arm me with anti-bullying programs

Arm me with suicide awareness

Arm me with libraries with books (What? They don’t have a library in their school?)

This one speaks volumes: I don’t need a gun; I need a raise.

Arm me with school supplies. I should not be single-handedly keeping Target in business

And Arm me with politicians who value my students over guns

 

It is difficult to point the finger overseas and let it rest there. Only two weeks ago, I visited a vital organisation here in Melbourne which works with youth at risk. I listened as their CEO spoke of how they are struggling to continue their programs with funding cuts. I returned home to turn on the news. The headline - 'Australia unveils plan to become one of world’s top 10 arms exporters' - also left me with my head in my hands. I will not have guns used in unearthly conflict with ‘Made in Australia’ stamped upon the barrel and by extrapolation, upon my own sweating brow.

 

If you think we are already ‘doing enough of this stuff’ in schools – you know, the ‘peacey stuff’, then ask yourself why a man who thinks it is ok for teachers to carry concealed weapons got into power. Stop. Think. He didn’t vote himself in.

 

In fact, we need more of the ‘peacey-stuff.’ The stuff that helps kids unravel hate and discrimination. In particular, an education that unravels fear.

 

Recently, I was chatting with a primary school student. It was just a light-hearted, friendly chat. Out of nowhere came this question from the child, ‘Did you know you can only go to America for one day.’ I smiled inwardly at the child’s cute lack of knowledge about global travel. I asked casually, yet curiously, ‘Oh, why is that?’ ‘Well,’ replied the 9 year old, ‘It isn’t safe to go there.’

The time to do more is well overdue.

For me, my Arm Me With wish?

#ArmMeWith the funds to continue teaching non-violence, in all its forms. To allow peace and values education to gain wider reach and depth. For the work to flourish, just as our kids should be flourishing.

Look back to the photo above. Trust in the solidarity of educators who are change-makers and peace-builders.

Speaker / Author / Educator Margaret Hepworth is an expert in teenage motivations & behaviours; a thought leader in peace education; the founder of The Gandhi Experiment;  an English and Humanities teacher of 30 years; author of The Gandhi Experiment – teaching our teenagers how to become global citizens; recipient of the 2016 Sir John Monash Award for Inspirational Women's Leadership; creator of Collaborative Debating ©. www.thegandhiexperiment.com

Margaret@margarethepworth.com  

'The Gandhi Experiment - Teaching our teenagers how to become global citizens' Purchase here

Please note: The views expressed are the opinion of the writer and not necessarily of anyone pictured or mentioned. 

Arm me with politicians who value my students over guns
— Teacher from the #ArmMeWith movement

Kashmir in Crises

Kashmir in Crises

72 people have been killed in the recent protests since July 9th, 2016, and over 11,000 people injured. Hundreds have been blinded or suffer structural eye damage through the use of pellet guns; many of these are children. Rajmohan Gandhi writes of the situation and suggests a lateral, thought provoking call to end the violence http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/kashmir-violence-unrest-drop-the-stone-3002958/Sending prayers, thoughts and this poem, to all people caught up in the crises.