Tag: Pauline Hanson

Dear  Pauline Hanson: Autistic children are not the flaw in our education system.

Dear Pauline Hanson: Autistic children are not the flaw in our education system.

Dear Pauline Hanson,

When I first heard you proposed that autistic (and other disabled) children be removed from mainstream classes, I was angry. You asked Australia to go back and review exactly what you said in context. So I did.

I’m no longer angry. I’m frustrated and disappointed.

You argue that teachers are too preoccupied with children who have special needs to adequately attend to the rest of their class–and you are correct. You are absolutely correct.

But this preoccupation isn’t due to children with autism or disabilities being present. And children with different abilities are not placed in “mainstream” classes to make them “feel included” or “less hurt”.

Allow me to explain.

  1. ALL children in the classroom have special needs.

    All of them. No exceptions. The way that we teach children is fundamentally flawed, it accounts for only the tiniest percentage of people who learn effectively in a traditional classroom environment.

    This environment is only just beginning to acknowledge students who learn best by methods outside of lecture and repetition. It is only just beginning to recognise that there are intelligences outside of being able to recite times tables.

    In a classroom the variation of ability is not as simple as disabled and non-disabled. No two kids are at exactly the same level in every aspect of their education, and teachers are charged with understanding each individual child to help develop their weaknesses and provide pathways to excel in their strengths.

    Teaching to a range of learner types, at very different stages of learning, is an enormous challenge. Especially in the primary system where one teacher is responsible for the general education of an entire class.

    Our system doesn’t allow for the attention that every child should get. It just doesn’t. Teachers are pretty marvellous beings, but even so, a single teacher can only be in so many places at once. The issue isn’t too many children with special needs, it’s too many children competing for the attention of one. It’s a classroom system that doesn’t cater for the different ways in which children learn.

  2. Autism is not always a negative in the classroom.

    Children with autism are often especially gifted in a particular area, “leaps and bounds” ahead of the others as you put it. They aren’t holding anyone back. Teachers could–and should!–encourage autistic (or any) children with a particular gift to work with their classmates who may be struggling in that area.

    Why? Learning to help others is a lesson in patience. It’s a lesson in truly understanding what you’re teaching. It’s a lesson in cooperation. It’s a lesson in communicating. Learning to work with others is knowledge you can’t just get off Google–and this is what we need to be preparing our kids for more and more. Information is great, but social and communication skills are far more important.

  3. Mixed-ability classrooms develop social skills and tolerance in all.

    School isn’t about learning facts anymore. It’s learning how to exist in the world, and how to be a good person. When you rob a classroom of its diversity, you create a false world where differences are abnormal. Children are then not socialised with those outside of what they know, and rather than viewing each other as peers they see aliens. People they don’t feel they can understand.

    The best way to teach children how diverse and wonderful humans can be is to have that representation in the classroom.

    For children with aspects of autism, socialising may not come naturally. Having examples of their peers on which to model and test their behaviour is one of the most effective interventions you can get. I act as “normally” as I do almost entirely due to my observation of others my age—an opportunity I would not have had if I were segregated out of a mainstream class.

  4. Autistic children are not all the same.

    Not even close. If you imagine the range of life and academic skills as a bar graph, the level of the bars for an average person doesn’t vary very much from skill to skill. They have strengths and weaknesses, but overall it’s pretty level.

    In a person diagnosed with autism, these bars are all over the place. Language abilities may be a huge tower, but mathematical skills is almost 0. Psychologists call it a ‘spiky profile’ of abilities. Autism is an intense variation in strengths and weaknesses. My social skills (very low in early childhood) might render me “disabled” but my language abilities (very high) say the opposite. What would happen to children like me in a special school? Would my gifts be forgotten in a room designed to rectify weaknesses?

    You can’t solve the issue of teacher attention by taking out all the kids who are classed “autistic”. You actually make it worse. What you have there is that same mix of different abilities as you find in a regular classroom… on steroids. A single teacher, however superhuman, will not be able to provide that group with the learning support they need.

  5. A child needing intensive teacher support should not be relying on the main classroom teacher for it.

    What you seem to be referring to are children who are so challenged by their autistic traits that they require extensive teacher support. That does indeed drain the teacher’s time.

    These children should have aides. Someone dedicated to providing the learning support they require so that it doesn’t impact the teacher’s ability to teach the rest of the class.

In short, segregating a subset of children from classrooms will not work. You simply recreate the same issue in two different classrooms. A teacher with no “disabled” children still needs to cater for an incredible range of intelligences and learning types. It robs children of their ability to learn from each other, actively and passively. It robs them of the chance to understand someone different to who they are.

The system is the fault, not the children in it. A system that expects teachers to effectively manage and balance their time between so many variables. A system that requires schools and parents to jump through fiery rings of paperwork just to provide one child with the support they need. A system that devalues the complex work our teachers do, while asking more and more of them every day.

Our schools need help. Our teachers need help. If we truly want to create an education system we’re proud of, we need to invest in it. Get aides beside those children who need them. Let our children learn from each other. Bring down classroom sizes and let our teachers bring out the best in all of their students. Let them teach rather than tying their hands with paperwork and ineffective testing standards.

This isn’t about avoiding the “hurt feelings” of children with autism. This is about ensuring that all our kids get a well-rounded education.

And we need to all be in it. Together.

For we are young and free speech is illegal?

For we are young and free speech is illegal?

Free speech is being choked out of us by restrictive laws! You can’t say anything anymore! Torch the Racial Discrimination Sections 18c and 18d!

While it may be true that the social consequences of ‘you can’t say that!’ are getting trickier to navigate, the legal restrictions on ‘free speech’ in the Racial Discrimination Act (1975) are actually quite straight forward.

Senator Cory Bernardi is calling on Australians to ‘defend free speech’ with adjustments to RDA section 18c by removing the words ‘insult’ and ‘offend’ from the following:

Offensive behaviour because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin

             (1)  It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

                     (a)  the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

                     (b)  the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.

The practical effect of such a semantic switch would be akin to giving your toddler a brick to smash his toe with, rather than a mallet.

Bernardi claims that the law ‘should not concern itself with feelings’, and perhaps he has a point there–it’s tough enough to apply law to cold hard facts, why should someone’s feelings be considered also?

First of all, because the Racial Discrimination Act is designed to build a social structure that includes and welcomes everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity. Where groups are publicly made to feel less than others in community spaces, that destroys any sense of inclusion they may have had. Feelings are at the very core of this law.

Secondly, Bernardi has only picked ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ from the list of harms. ‘Humiliation’ is also a feeling, as is ‘intimidation’. To exclude all feelings from the practice of this law would take away any meaning. The only means by which racial vilification could be proved is by non-emotions based evidence: physical assault, statistics, and other symptoms that appear long after insults have bred into negative attitudes.

The truth is, removing two words does very little to change the way this law would work. Someone who is ‘insulted’ may no longer be able to claim this in court, but ‘insulted’ persons often feel ‘humiliated’, the practical applications of the law would not change at all.

Changing this law is an exercise in futile grandstanding, a politician who seeks to whip up support by claiming the political left is choking Australia’s right to free speech. Which would be all well and good, if he had any plan to do something substantial about it.

Note that this is also included:

Note:          Subsection (1) makes certain acts unlawful. Section 46P of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 allows people to make complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission about unlawful acts. However, an unlawful act is not necessarily a criminal offence. Section 26 says that this Act does not make it an offence to do an act that is unlawful because of this Part, unless Part IV expressly says that the act is an offence.

These acts are unlawful but they are not considered criminal offenses. Charges are not brought by the state against the person, they are civil complaints that are handled by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

This is not the same as being prosecuted in criminal court.

So let’s have a good look at the RDA sections in question, 18c and 18d, and see just how restricted our free speech really is!

Section 18c (a) makes it pretty clear that it is unlawful to do anything (other than in private) that could upset someone if the reason for doing it rests on their being of a certain race/ethnicity/religion/etc.

That seems fair to me. I could agree with repealing this law if it meant that Australians were going to act on common sense and what their mothers taught them. It’s unfortunate that we need laws to teach us not to be dicks to each other. Be nice to each other, unless you’re in a private space.

(2)  For the purposes of subsection (1), an act is taken not to be done in private if it:

                     (a)  causes words, sounds, images or writing to be communicated to the public; or

                     (b)  is done in a public place; or

                     (c)  is done in the sight or hearing of people who are in a public place.

“public place ” includes any place to which the public have access as of right or by invitation, whether express or implied and whether or not a charge is made for admission to the place.

A public place can be considered as anywhere that you might reasonably have an ‘audience’, whether that’s via public media, social networks, or community spaces. Places where you are likely to be heard or seen by the persons you are speaking against, and where your actions can directly affect them.

This is especially important for journalists, politicians, and other prominent personalities who may have their words taken as fact.

The law is not telling you that you can’t have an opinion. The law isn’t telling you that you can’t voice your opinion to your mates. It clearly states that negative acts that are racially motivated are not accepted in community spaces and media.

While we’re on the subject of voicing opinions, there are some exceptions to 18c:

Section 18C does not render unlawful anything said or done reasonably and in good faith:

                     (a)  in the performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work;

Artistic work is ‘free speech’ at its best. Art is how we express the state of the social structure, art is how our society will be seen by generations after us. We understand history by Shakespeare, Picasso and Mozart–Australians of the future will experience our society in a similar way.

Art shows us a reflection of what is, and inspires us to change. That is why it’s more acceptable to enact discrimination via artistic means. Art is supposed to challenge us and make us feel, to be confronting.

(b)  in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made or held for any genuine academic, artistic or scientific purpose or any other genuine purpose in the public interest;

If what you are saying is proven fact, you cannot be sued. Even if the fact is hurtful or humiliating, it is not unfair nor unjust to speak it in a public setting. This passage also provides immunity for discriminatory practices used in research on how and why people discriminate, and debates on society and discrimination.

This allows us to openly discuss what discrimination is, and what discriminating attitudes we might feel ourselves as we open our minds to understanding the subjects of those attitudes. Discrimination is a social issue, and not one we should run from.

If you are expressing a view that is unacceptable under 18c, but is for the purposes of learning or is proven fact, you are protected by 18d.

(c)  in making or publishing:

                              (i)  a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest; or

                             (ii)  a fair comment on any event or matter of public interest if the comment is an expression of a genuine belief held by the person making the comment.

For those of you who were wondering where your right to an opinion went, here it is.

If you honestly, truly, believe in what you’re saying, you might be ignorant but you cannot be sued. This is why politicians like Pauline Hanson, who openly expresses her reservations about multicultural aspects of Australia, are not sued under 18c. She has an opinion that she wholly believes, has built a platform upon it, and though she offends and insults a lot of people over public media–she can’t be sued on ignorance alone.

The first part of (c) allows news outlets to report what occurred, without fear of litigation. If an attack occurred that was carried out by persons of a single race, so long as the account of the event is true and void of opinion-based speculation (unless written in an article stated as opinion) there are no grounds for litigation.

In summary:

Truth, common sense, and respect for others are the core values at the heart of The Racial Discrimination Act (1975) Sections 18c and 18d. The law and these amendments in no way infringe on anyone’s right to speak the truth, only restricting the unfounded fear-mongering hate rhetoric that injures others and damages Australia’s chances at an inclusive society.

If Bernardi wants to preserve ‘free speech’, he needs to do more than try and remove a few words. He needs to help Australia understand what free speech is, and what is appropriate according to the existing law. His changes won’t have any functional effect, just another distraction in Canberra.