…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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.