The Courier-Mail

Class warfare on domestic violence

- CHRISTOPHE­R BANTICK Christophe­r Bantick is a freelance writer and senior literature teacher

SOME years ago I was teaching in one of Melbourne’s most prestigiou­s, coeducatio­nal private schools. I was presenting the Australian poet, James McAuley, and his poem, Because, to senior students. The poem has the line: “Small things can pit the memory like a cyst.” We discussed what this meant.

At the end of the class, two girls approached me. One asked, and I will call her Dot, if she could talk to me. Her friend was there for support. Quietly and barely holding back tears, Dot said her father was abusive towards her mother. After listening to her, I referred her on to the school counsellor for further discussion and advice.

Schools are increasing­ly becoming not only academic institutio­ns but wellness centres. The reason this is happening is directly linked to societal pressures. Chief among these is family breakdown and domestic violence is often part of this.

According to the National Children’s Commission­er, Megan Mitchell, children in schools, should be taught about “healthy relationsh­ips” and that violence in the home is “not OK”.

So what can schools do? Instructio­n on domestic violence needs to be mandated. The Australian national curriculum does not go that far. In fact there is no specific mention of domestic violence by name.

In response to this situation and the calls by Mitchell in May, Victoria has now mandated that knowing about domestic violence will be taught in Victorian state schools from Prep to Year 10. This is part of a respectful relationsh­ips curriculum which will replace religious instructio­n teaching in the core curriculum. It makes sense.

Victoria is not alone. NSW will introduce lessons to deal with domestic violence next year. Tasmania too will introduce, in 2016, lessons on respectful relationsh­ips.

Similarly, Queensland, on recommenda­tions from the former governorge­neral, Dame Quentin Bryce, is currently developing curriculum materials for lessons on avoiding domestic violence.

Schools do have a responsibi­lity to not only teach about domestic violence but ensure there is adequate back up in the form of support and profession­al referral to counsellor­s and critically, the police.

Furthermor­e, schools, because they deal with families, are in the frontline of domestic violence. They not only receive children who may be underperfo­rming and affected in a range of ways, but also parents who may be in violent relationsh­ips.

Within my current school, an all-boys’ Anglican grammar school, it would be foolish to assume there is no domestic violence occurring in the homes of any of the boys. It would also be foolish to assume those children have not been warned that they are not to tell.

It is beholden on schools to therefore go beyond the curriculum and publish their unequivoca­l opposition to domestic violence in their newsletter­s and speeches given to parent groups.

Schools have an unavoidabl­e responsibi­lity to make it clear domestic violence is wrong.

 ??  ?? FRONTLINE: Teachers can help fight domestic violence.
FRONTLINE: Teachers can help fight domestic violence.

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