The Melbourne Declaration, Democracy and School

…please strive to maximise [my daughters'] potential…so that they can contribute to and enjoy the fruits of living within an Australian society that is fair, just, tolerant, honourable, knowledgeable, prosperous and happy.

Dr Paul Brock

Goal 2: All young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens

         ’Melbourne Declaration’

 

The Melbourne Declaration on the Educational Goals for Young Australians was released three years ago, in December 2008. Much has happened since then but not all of it assists with realising the values espoused in this important document. The state of our democracy is of particular concern. We need to do more, we need to work together to revitalise our approach!

This post is about a school’s plan to act locally, collaborating with local members of parliament and political candidates, in a concerted effort to reinvigorate authentic democratic engagement with ideas across our nation. We will do this in accordance with the goals articulated in the ‘Melbourne Declaration’ and with the support of the Parents & Citizens committee of our school. You may have already noted that I have been stimulated by my experiences in Denmark this year and admire how the Danes value their democracy and actively promote the democratic process in the schooling system.

 


cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by Sheba_Also

 

The ‘Melbourne Declaration’ has the goal to develop ‘active and informed citizens’ with moral and ethical integrity. I believe our school systems do a good job with educating Young Australians to “…have an understanding of Australia’s system of government, history and culture’ but that we do not do an adequate job with assisting students preparation to authentically ‘…participate in Australia’s civic life’ by experiencing the political process and engaging with ideas.

With the above in mind, our school has commenced the process of preparing for the next federal election, which must be held by the 30th November 2013.

 

The Plan

Simply, we want all the local political candidates, seeking election to the state or national parliament in future campaigns, to discuss their ideas at our school, in a pre-election event in our school hall.

The format needs to be refined through collaboration but one idea for a process is as follows:

1. The moderator explains the goals and process to the audience (students would have had an excellent series of classroom lessons in preparation for the event, which could be filmed by the school but no media permitted).

2. Each candidate has a maximum of 3 minutes to outline their vision (see alternative Pechakucha idea below)

3. Each candidate has 1 minute to make a point and ask another candidate a question.

4. There would be a 1 minute response time for each question

5. The moderator would call for questions from the audience to candidates

6. Response time would be 1 minute

7. The candidates make a 1 minute closing statement

8. Students debrief with classroom teachers

In my opinion, an adaptation of the Pechakucha format for presentations, especially engaging to students, would be a good demonstration of any politician’s (or their aide’s) digital citizenship. For example, 5 images/slides in 3 minutes would be a visually stimulating and concise way for a politician to present a brief introduction of their perspectives to students. I imagine this would intimidate many candidates but if we wish to engage students with ideas, it actually means some things need to change.

Radically, I could suggest that all candidates to any parliament in Australia was obliged to participate in such events at their local secondary schools if invited as part of their democratic responsibilities to the nation.

 

Challenges

You will be interested to read the current rules for NSW school principals, about politicians participating in any area of the life of the school, in the Controversial Issues in Schools policy.

1. Schools are neutral grounds for rational discourse and objective study. They are not arenas for opposing political views or ideologies.

In the case of the pre-election event hosted at our school it is obvious that democracy requires that we have ‘arena of opposing political views’ and ideologies. The event would showcase a discussion where ‘ideas’ were respectfully challenged, not individuals. In the vernacular, candidates would be modelling ‘playing the ball not the player’.

I would respectively suggest it is not controversial to have democratic discussion modelled in our schools.

For an event like the one I outline here to happen, many players will have to participate. The goal, to educate Young Australians – very authentically – about the nature of their democracy. As the guidelines for principals clearly states, the NSW Minister for Education would need to grant permission for such an event to occur in our school.

I propose that prior to the next federal, and then state, elections, a policy and process is put in place which encourages principals/schools to organise such an event. I encourage Regional Directors in NSW to support the development of this ideal and the Secondary Principals Association and other professional associations to champion. I would hope many any organisations would like to actively nurture citizenship and would support this initiative.

Recently, I attended a Chamber of Commerce meeting to hear the new councillors for our local wards. It made me think that schools need to more actively education students about the important processes and functions of municipal councils too. More on this in a later post.

 

Your Plan?

If you can share this post, or even better, invite your locals MPs and school leaders to meet about these ideas, we can make a difference collectively for the communities we serve. Our democracy needs the engagement of all generations if we are to maintain and extend civil society. We can do this…we need to do this!

The only real problem with this idea? If it was successful, across the nation, politicians would be so busy engaging with the democratic process in schools they would have no time to be on the traditional campaign trail ;)

What ideas and improvements can you suggest? Will your school participate in such an event? Your commentary is highly valued.

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DISCLAIMER

The views expressed at this site are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

7 Comments

  1. Laureen:

    Darcy,

    I have friends who live in Toronto (Canada, not Australia) & they have a son attending a government school. When the local council elections were held last year the students were actively involved in the election process. The school even had the students listen to all the candidates (who came & spoke at the school and had Q & A with the students). The students had official polling booths and cast their own votes at school on the same day as the election. Students were given roles, such as returning officers and the whole thing was taken very seriously by the entire school community. The children were encouraged to openly discuss the various issues and candidates’ platforms. My friend told me that this is a regular thing and it really gives the children a great understanding of the whole political process. She said that their son had some quite insightful comments to make around the dinner table.

  2. Tania:

    Darcy,

    The HSIE faculty undertook a project where a group of Year 9 students was given a local cnadidate to research and had to give a short presentation on the candidates platforms and philosophies. Google had a site where students could log in and cast a vote and one of the teachers had logged in to receive passwords for the school. The students voted online and we had student electoral officer to oversee the voting process. After the election the teacher was able to log on and access the school’s results and the total reulst for all schools involved. The process was very realistic for the students and the class discussions were insightful.

  3. This is exciting stuff, Darcy, and long overdue.

    I have to say (although perhaps I’m in danger of breaching Code of Conduct with this comment :P) that it’s a bit disappointing that the writers of the Controversial Issues in Schools policy seem to think that “rational discourse and objective study” and “arenas for opposing political views or ideologies” are mutually exclusive. I know our current political climate might support with the policy writers’ belief ( :P ) but I’d like to think that by modelling “rational discourse and objective study of opposing political views or ideologies” in our schools, we could contribute to changing the culture of mindless snipe politics in this country.

    Rational, intelligent political discussion should not be considered a ‘controversial issue’ in our schools or wider society. It should be a cornerstone of it.

    My current school context isn’t particularly suitable for your project, but I’ll certainly pass the word around and have a think about how your model could be applied in my context.

    Keep up the great work, Darcy.

  4. Paul:

    Another good idea Darcy! Let’s go a bit farther and suggest it’s almost revolutionary – the notion that a school should actually be involved in real-life decision making – what message does this send to students :)

    Taking this a bit more seriously, this is a great idea and not before time. I’m not sure it would work in every place but where the community is strongly focussed on the school (smaller communities?) this should be standard practice I think. It would certainly give aspiring, or incumbent, politicians cause for thought. It would be nice to see citizenship and democracy applied to those who so often espouse it yet are less keen when it applies to them.

    A couple of thoughts on your actual plan. Firstly, I wouldn’t be too strong on the pechakucha idea. Whereas it might show which politician has IT skills, good ideas resonate in any format and hopefully, the idea is to elucidate not intimidate. This ‘controversial’ policy is common in so many school systems and yet it is replete with irony and inconsistency. Why are we scared of opening up real issues to students? We seem very happy to allow controversial ideas like conservation and sustainability run through systems (both have huge theoretical issues IMHO) and even promote them in national curricula but we don’t like it when applied to practical politics? I realise there are serious aspects that we should not allow in schools because they are inappropriate but there is so much we lose. Personally, I welcome controversy in my classroom. Properly handled it stimulates debate, promotes ideas, allows differences to be aired in a respectful forum and generally gets away from an often less-than-sparkling syllabus.

    I wish you well. Keep us all posted as to its progress.

  5. This is a very interesting idea Darcy and I will be looking forward to seeing what comes of it . It’s got me thinking !
    Please keep us up to date with how this idea progresses

  6. Virginia Pavlovich:

    What a great idea as any process which stimulates thinking for our students along with engaging our current generation of students with our political process is highly valuable.
    I would think there would need input by the parties/people involved into finetuning the process to make it beneficial for all involved. Social media may be a great way to give the idea some momentum and publicity.
    Like any new change initiative, commence with small changes first and the very big WHY?- perhaps one school or a group of schools first with an overall goal of this process occurring across the state/country in various locations. Definately there are benefits for all if the idea is welcomed.
    Looking forward to see how it progresses and will continue to churn my thinking further!
    After all I am in holiday mode! Happy Easter!

    • Darcy Moore:

      Virginia,

      Thanks for your comment. The state and federal members of parliament both support this plan after meeting re: ‘democracy in schools’. Our federal member has agreed to run leadership workshops for the Student Representative Council in June. It seems we have momentum.

      @Darcy1968

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