Class warfare on domestic violence
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.