The past fortnight has seen the school return to parents engaging in onsite activities. This has been a most positive change, however like so many things it needs to be in the form of COVID-normal. Along with parents being able to attend Carey Cubby playgroup, our parent bible study and prayer group I am really looking forward to parents being able to attend the upcoming Primary and High School assemblies – something we have not been able to do for over 12 months. These are ticketed events and the first Primary assembly has already been fully booked out. Look out for information regarding upcoming assemblies.
Over the past month there has rightly been a public discourse on the topic of sexual assault towards women. The focus has shifted from schools to the Australian parliament and across workplaces. This is a matter that needs to be discussed and addressed.
For schools, the survey/petition started by an ex-student of an independent school in the eastern suburbs has now received over 17,000 submissions, including many allegations of sexual assault. While the focus of this petition mainly involved schools in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, the scope of the accounts submitted indicates this is not an issue isolated to one part of Sydney or a particular demographic. It is something that we must all be mindful of and acting against. Secondly, as more recent media accounts reveal, this is not an issue that can be considered just school based, rather it is something we must own as a wider community and a whole society.
Along with over 100 independent school principals, I had the opportunity to join a webinar hosted by the Association of Independent Schools enabling us to meet and ask questions of NSW Police Sex Crimes Squad boss Stacey Maloney. Along with specific responses, there was clear action from the meeting for schools to take an active role in promoting behaviours established on mutual respect. For many this means teaching students more explicitly about matters of consent.
At William Carey we approach this matter from a biblical perspective and totally reject behaviours which support a culture that may enable sexual harassment, objectification, or assault. Allegations of harmful behaviours such as this will be heard seriously, treated confidentially, and managed through the appropriate reporting procedures. We work to promote respect for others and self and encourage our students to act as positive bystanders which can include calling out or reporting harmful behaviours.
Separate male and female Year 8 presentations by our school psychologists in the past week had the purpose to encourage our students to behave in respectful ways toward each other, particularly as they navigate adolescence together in the midst of an overtly and highly sexualised culture which encourages a consumeristic and individualistic view of sex and relationships. A biblical, Christian perspective on sex and relationships was emphasised and integrated throughout the talks as our psychologists guided students towards making practical decisions at both individual and collective levels about these issues.
However, there are real limitations to what is achievable through formal school programs. The role of the wider school is essential in helping create better cultures of respect amongst our students. To achieve this community approach, I call on parents to be involved too in providing positive support to their children, through conversations at home carried out early. The school has a subscription to SchoolTV. This provides parents free access to many resources, including a video on consent and sexual assault, featuring Dr Michael Carr-Gregg. The video, which includes tips for parents on how to initiate a conversation with their children on consent, is posted at https://schooltv.me/wellbeing_news/special-report-conversation-consent
I also wish to make the point that if any real and lasting difference is to be made in the lives of our children, we need to recognise that this is not just a community issue. It is a society issue. Melinda Tankard Reist from Collective Shout wrote for the ABC Why “consent” doesn’t stand a chance against porn culture. (Note this article contains accounts of sexual assault and some readers may find these disturbing). Her point is that there is a culture of pornification and objectification of women in media and advertising and consent education is not enough to fix the mess we are in.
“Consent education” cannot compete with this mega-industry. Consent is important, but it is not women’s salvation. I fear we may start thinking of “consent” as a magic bullet to get us out of this mess. How can we hope to convince boys that “Girls aren’t sexual objects, so don’t treat them like pieces of meat”, when this global industry profits from indoctrinating them to see women as precisely that — just meat for their own enjoyment?”
Going deeper, it is also a heart issue. As a society we hold a series of ‘truths’ which are in themselves contradictory. Our society strives to ignore these contradictions until we find ourselves in the position where they stare us in the face. Currently we are faced with the clash of two worldly truths. Firstly ‘we may not criticise someone else’s life choices or behaviour’ and, secondly, ‘one may not behave in a manner that coerces or causes harm to others’. It is not possible to hold both ‘truths’ in the same space, at the same time, in all situations. This conflict of ideas is unpacked well by Dale Kuehne’s excellent book, Sex and the iWorld. You can listen to him speak on the topic here. He writes on how modern society has moved from the traditional relationships of stable communities (tWorld) to the rule of individualism (the iWorld) which we currently are experiencing. Dale calls for us to move to a relational world (rWorld) built on an ethical approach which is alternative to our current society – a community situated in the vein of a biblical approach to community.
When our society weaves together their own ‘truths’ it is limited by its own understanding and we will continue to be frustrated and hurt by these limitations in our understanding. We need a wisdom that extends beyond our own experiences and desires.
The Bible provides God’s timeless wisdom in calling all people to live justly, love mercy (or kindness), and walk humbly with God. (Micah 6:8). This eighth century B.C wisdom continues to be true today. Similarly, the two thousand year old call for people to follow Jesus and love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbour as yourself (Mark 12:30-31) remains a call for each of us now. When we follow this call and live by this wisdom we enter and can grow within a relational world based on God’s framework for relating well with others.
Mr Keith McMullen