An early test for Education Minister Rob Stokes comes with the news that Hurstville Boys Campus, a public school in Sydney’s west, has adopted “an agreed protocol” which effectively excuses some of its male students from shaking hands with females is yet another attack on our values and has no place in our taxpayer-funded schools.
This decision came about following an awards ceremony at the school during which the female presenters were informed prior to the event that some of the recipients would not be accepting their congratulatory handshakes.
Shaking hands is an expression of respect, trust, balance and equity between parties. These are the values of Australian society. Refusing to shake hands with someone indicates that you neither respect nor hold these values.
The school’s ruling is at complete odds with the Australian government which, in its citizenship ceremony, requires all new citizens to make a public commitment to Australia and to “accept the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship”. The exact wording of the pledge is that “from this time forward pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey”.
On the one hand, new citizens are required by the state to take an oath to uphold, obey and respect the rights and liberties of our society, but on the other hand, principals in our taxpayer-funded schools are undermining their employer’s directive by telling students that there is actually no requirement from them to uphold, obey or respect Western values. They are failing abysmally both as educators and as public servants.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. Last year, a group of students at a Melbourne primary school were granted a religious exemption from singing the Australian National anthem at assembly.
In 2015, the Victorian Education Minister James Merlino tried to stop children being taught to sing traditional Christmas Carols in public schools.
The concept of schooling is essentially a liberal humanist one which has been inherited from Western civilisation. It is through schools that knowledge, skills, attitudes and way of acting are transmitted to students. We essentially use our education system to pass onto the next generation our values.
All Australian schoolchildren need to be taught that our ideas about human rights are grounded in Christian theology and that the legacy of liberty, of inquiry, of toleration, of religious plurality, and of economic and social freedom originate from the West. But these values are being undermined by the educators. This is the challenge that lies ahead for Mr Stokes.