Bush fires, floods, COVID-19 and now the global anti-racism movement, and we are only in June. To say that 2020 is turning out to be a memorable year is a lesson in understatement.
Just as the future rapidly reinvents itself, so too, it would seem, do the societal challenges our students will face before they reach adulthood. Their engagement with formal education along the way is therefore more important than ever in equipping them for these challenges and framing the way they relate to events and the people around them.
Choice, rigour and relevance is the teaching and learning mantra in the High School as we seek to engage our students and promote critical and creative thinking skills in the very people who will one day in the near future be our leaders and drivers of societal change, so resilience is also key. Just as we allow students to practice writing responses, we need to afford young people the opportunity to practice resilience – in their thinking, in their problem solving and in their self-regulation, if they are to make it in this ever-changing world. Sugar-coating the unpleasantries and shifting goal posts so things seem better or become easier are not the ingredients for success. While some students are committed to the ATAR cause and invest every moment in refining their response to syllabus dot points, it is important to note that some issues transcend the curriculum and are deserving of our students’ attention and our teachers’ efforts to create a ‘safe space’ in which to explore what really matters. Moments like now.
We have a responsibility to teach our students about the differences and inequality experienced by First Nations people in this country, our country, Australia. ACARA requires us to teach students about the cross-curriculum priority Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures. Events over the last several days have taken the curriculum beyond the classroom and into the hearts and minds of our teenagers, especially as the world held its collective breath at the horrible realisation that racism is alive. That racism is very much a first world problem that permeates every fabric of our society. The global Black Lives Matter movement has prompted conscientious members of the Australian media to reignite the conversation about Aboriginal deaths in custody.
Meanwhile, we can’t wait to see the changes as they happen at this critical juncture in history because the impact will be felt far and wide; this is history in the making. Contrasting images on our screens of peaceful protests, then looting and raging tensions, as tempers boil over and political leadership is tested; never has the curriculum been so relevant. Whether it be the child in Year 9 English studying revolution, resistance and propaganda in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, or the child in Year 10 History studying rights and freedoms of the 1960s, our duty is to facilitate their learning, help them to be balanced in their judgments and show them how to consume the news – that is, with a knife and fork and not a straw.
BREATHE. Our young people are bold, independent, and capable of thinking; the latter being the most portable and arguably one of the most precious skills they can take forward in life.
So, what exactly would we like our students to process from events of the last week? Perhaps it’s the sad reality that for some people, colour still equates with value, or that justice takes time? Some, I dare say, would be upset or even angry at a world where injustice reigns free. If we’re lucky, some will harness that energy and channel it toward how to make a change. That would be something – because the real value lies in a young person’s awakened sense of agency.
About the author
Assunta Di Gregorio is the Deputy Head of High School, Teaching and Learning at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW