While the debate over Safe Schools has descended into a slinging match between alleged “homophobes” and “progressives,” there remain important – and, alas, neglected – questions to be asked of the program.
Late last week, I opened my email to an excerpt from aSafe Schools brochure (you can find it on page 24), a quote showing how a supportive father responded to his bisexual son: “Scott, you like boys and girls, I like Asian women. Neither of us can help that, it’s just who we are.”
Disturbing though this comparison may be, I am no longer surprised. After my initial questioning of the evidential underpinning Safe Schools last year, I have received a steady flow of feedback from concerned parents and others.
Through its content developer and collaboratorMinus18, Safe Schools links students to guides on binding breasts, tucking penises, online “dating” services, even links to BDSM, a hardcore porn site and sex shop (which was quickly deleted after the initial parliamentary criticism).
And now, in its very own content, Safe Schools is comparing the objectification of Asian women with bi-sexuality.
Not only has , but pornography is also under fire from the medical profession for its damage to children. So how could a program that promotes such content supposedly safeguard children?
Proponents of Safe Schools argue that this content speaks to young people in their own language. Yet the topics covered include cissexism, pansexuality, allosexuality and demisexuality – ideas that appear more relevant to liberal arts graduates rather than school-aged kids.
The program has been repeatedly touted as “evidence based” and “world leading,” yet any actual evidence of how this particular content will reduce bullying is yet to be seen. In fact, far from challenging bullying, the mocking of other students appears to be a core tenet of the program – with students encouraged to print out Safe Schools posters touting slogans such as “GROSS! BEING STRAIGHT IS JUST A PHASE” and “YOU’RE CIS? SO WHAT DO YOU HAVE DOWN THERE?”
Safe Schools seems to assume that imposing new categories of gender and sexuality upon children will somehow assuage bullies, or perhaps level the playing field such that heterosexual students can be targeted.
Not only is the tone and content matter of the program deeply concerning, but the entire basis underpinning Safe Schools is highly debatable.
The core premise underlying Safe Schools is “queer theory.” If this term is unfamiliar, there is a good reason: queer theory is a highly contested and relatively recent development in the sociology academy. Queer theory propositions – such as the 51 gender categories, and growing – are more likely to be found discussed on Tumblr than in any empirical study. That hasn’t stopped them from being rolled out into schools in various countries.
Queer theory confuses and divides academics, even those in the LGBT community, and emerged from the obtuse world of post-structuralist philosophy. If all of this doesn’t sound much like a child-friendly anti-bullying framework, that’s because it isn’t.
Undoubtedly, anti-bullying measures and programs to break down stereotyping are invaluable. How exactly Safe Schools will achieve this by educating children on new theories of gender has not been explained. Can children can be encouraged to embrace diversity without being taught to accept problematic theories of gender, or without mocking straight students? Why the links to pornographic content? How does the racial objectification of Asian women teach kids to embrace diversity?
Anyone who questions the validity of the Safe Schools approach is shot down by the dogmatic left, who demand strict devotion to their supposedly progressive doctrine. Those seeking impartial evidence for the program are labelled “fundamentalist” in a painfully ironic bid to avoid analysing the actual question at hand. Apparently, seeking evidence-based school programs now constitutes phobia, bigotry and fundamentalism.
This is precisely why Safe Schools needs to be under review. If a new school program is to be funded and rolled out nationally, it must be based on solid evidence. Teaching children to accept a highly contested theory as factual is no less than indoctrination, and the idea that this is somehow linked to anti-bullying remains hypothetical at best.
Ending homophobia and bullying is an urgent task that requires far more than treating children as guinea pigs and making a mockery of students assumed to be “straight.”
School children across Australia are currently the subjects of a poorly designed experiment for which there is no informed consent.
If Safe Schools is as foolproof as its proponents claim, then its review should be welcomed with open arms.
Laura McNally is a psychologist, researcher, author and PhD candidate. Her doctoral research examines the political and social implications of global corporate social responsibility. She is the chair of the Australian branch of Endangered Bodies and provides social commentary on issues related to gender inequality.Share