Social Justice

Changing the World is Good for You!

I originally wrote this for my regular Generation Next Column.

If you can use your strengths in the service of something greater than yourself, many psychologists will tell you that this is a key predictor of wellbeing. They refer to it as having a sense of purpose or meaning.

Recently I’ve been working with schools to push their thinking in this regard.

What if schools were a place where kids learnt how to make a difference?

This has always underpinned my teaching philosophy, and it always excites me when I hear of former students who have taken this attitude with them into their adult life.

Genevieve Radnan is a former student of mine, who – instead of taking a gap year to party in Europe – decided to spend her time in Africa.

Her experience there inspired her on to great things. In particular she has worked with the Karunga community in Kenya.

Despite only just turning 22, Genevieve has already:

* Project managed the building of a kindergarten,

* Provided facilities for an orphanage

* Built from scratch, staffed and resourced a women’s education and training centre.

She has recently established her own charity: Gennarosity Abroad

Her story will be aired on TVS’ Models Of Achievement in August.

But she would like to share more about her experience with young people who are about to leave school as there could be so much more to a GAP year than partying in Europe! She will be speaking at a public Sydney showing of Models of Achievement on Tuesday 6th August at Emanuel School in Randwick, NSW.

Several travel agencies will be coming on the night to promote available volunteering programs for anyone interested especially targeting those who are about to have a GAP year.

It only costs $10 for adults and $5 for kids. Doors open at 6.45pm And you can buy tickets online.

Genevieve would love it if local schools could encourage students to attend, or if you’re not in Sydney, share her story to inspire your students. You can contact her through her charity’s website.

Meaning… purpose… wellbeing.

Social Justice Youth

What’s Wrong With the Juvenile Justice System?

Originally posted on The ABC Drum.

In the wake of two teenagers being shot by police in Kings Cross, The Sydney Morning Herald has been running a series of articles focusing on the  effectiveness of the juvenile justice system.

The facts presented by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics within the articles are startling.

As a result of a ten year study, the Bureau report that domestic violence cases involving 10 – 17 year-olds have increased by 167 per cent, while other violent crime, break and enter and malicious damage to property all rising 21, 13 and 47 per cent respectively.

Approximately 5000 young people per year have their first contact with the juvenile justice system, but of particular concern is the rate of recidivism of those juveniles brought before the courts. Of the 4938 juveniles who came before NSW courts in 1999, over 2600 of them reoffended, on average four times before 2010. For Indigenous kids the rate of recidivism was 84 percent.

What is going wrong with our juvenile justice system? Why are kids released only to return a few months or years down the track?

The fact is: If we want to stop these kids re-offending, we have to stop them offending in the first place.

We must address poverty in earnest. We need to be creative in how we run our schools. We need to provide genuine learning and employment opportunities. Provide better funding for youth workers, outreach programs and schools. We need to support families.

The government must realize that society as a whole is responsible for our youth, and funding in this area should not be seen as a cost but an investment.

You can read my full article on The ABC Drum…

Education Social Justice Wellbeing Youth

When Freedom of Religion becomes Bullying

This article was originally published here at Online Opinion.

In polite company, I tend to avoid discussing politics or religion, and whilst writing around educational matters, often requires me to comment on the former, I’ve managed to steer clear of the latter. Until now.

In response to the federal government announcement that it intends to consolidate the five separate human rights policies into a single Act, Christian Schools Australia (CSA) argue that they must be able to retain the right to discriminate against Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender (GLBT) teachers, or those heterosexual teachers who live with a partner out of wedlock.

To date, the government has granted exemptions for religious schools to discriminate on the basis of religion, sexual orientation and marital status with respect to staff and students. With the government’s announcement, the CSA are worried that its schools stand to lose that right.

The group’s chief executive officer, Stephen O’Doherty, said exemptions relating to sexual orientation and gender identity should remain in place. “We currently have the ability to employ people who have Christian beliefs and whose lifestyles are consistent with those beliefs.”

He goes on, “We are seeking exemptions to be able to employ staff who are Christian and hold certain beliefs. For instance, many Christians believe that being an active homosexual or living with a partner out of wedlock is not part of the Christian faith.”

All this from an association that claims on its website to, “[serve] the diverse needs of a large network of member schools.” (My italics.)

Presumably then, schools in the CSA do not hire women, as Timothy 2:11 states:

“I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent.”

Or do they pick and choose which Christian beliefs best suit their argument?

I’m not a scholar of religion. I am not anti-Christian, or anti any belief system.

I’m in favour of people having the right to worship who, what, when or how they like. So long as that in doing so, it does not impinge on anyone else’s rights or wellbeing.

In what is reportedly the first systematic review and analysis of suicidality and depressive symptoms in sexual minority youth, Dr Michael Marshal PhD from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania conducted an analysis of nineteen studies that included a total of 122,995 participants.

He says, “gay and lesbian individuals experience much more violence, discrimination, and victimization than heterosexual teenagers, which in turn leads to increased stress and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that can develop into depression and [suicide].” He also argues that gay teens are socially marginalized and ostracized from mainstream social groups and, as a result, they gravitate to “fringe” social groups, where there tends to be more risky behaviour, including drug and alcohol use.

In short, GLBT teens are three times more likely to report a history of suicidality and more than twice as likely to report symptoms of depression than their heterosexual counterparts

And what is the Christian response?

That it’s okay to discriminate against GLBT kids and adults?

And if you’re GLBT, you have no place in our schools or community?

The schoolyard bully takes on an entirely more dangerous form in this instance.

In March of this year, the federal government launched, with great fanfare the Bullying. No Way! website. But should the federal government continue to grant exemptions to these schools then it will be complicit in the institutionalized bullying of GLBT children and adults across Australia.

For this to occur in the name of God is one thing, but surely it can’t be allowed happen in the name of education?

Support is available at all times by calling Lifeline on 131 114, Mensline on 1300 789 978, and Kids Helpline 1800 551 800

Education Social Justice Wellbeing Youth

Is Education The Way Out of Poverty?

In light of the Gonski Review of school funding in Australia, I revisited and updated a piece I wrote whilst sitting in a New Orleans Hotel room. I’d initially written this piece as a response to what I’d witnesses in the virtually non-existent or corrupt education system in New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina. What is clear from my time in New Orleans, is that it will take a whole lot more than just money to address the gap between our richest and poorest kids.

For those born into poverty, every day is a natural disaster. Yet in this case, society often appears to turn a blind eye. The very same people who shed tears watching the aftermath of the Japanese Tsunami are the ones who cross the road to avoid the homeless. Those who ran around the office with a bucket to help the Haitian people in the wake of the earthquake that claimed 220,000 lives, are the same ones who avoid eye contact with those, who really should just go get a job.

You can read the full piece on The Huffington Post

Media Social Justice Wellbeing

Impact of the Influential on Mental Illness

Appalled by some of the comments made by BBC personality Jeremy Clarkson last week, I wrote this piece. It has been published on the ABC website, The Drum.

“Imagine in the aftermath of a suicide on a busy rail network, trains don’t wait until body has been removed from tracks. Imagine the remains of the victim are left, while drivers are ordered to get the train back on schedule as quickly as possible. You can’t imagine that. Can you?” Read the full article on The ABC…

Social Justice

Playing To Her Strengths

A couple of weeks ago I met with a former student of mine, Genna Radnan, who at only 20 years of age is doing incredible work in Kenya.

She has an interesting story as Genna says, “I was never an academic and only had passes for my work, regardless of how much effort I put in. In the end, my HSC marks were between 70-79 for the exams BUT (because of the subjects she chose) my ATAR was 64.5. That was my ‘fear’ I guess, that no matter how well I went, I’d only get a low mark. The HSC didn’t cover any of my personal strengths where I could excel.”

After finishing Year 12, Genna signed up with a volunteer agency who were due to be based in Ghana. However that didn’t materialise and the group ended up in the village of Karunga in Kenya.

After the allotted volunteering time was up, Genna got on the phone and begged her family to allow to spend more time in Karunga – this time on her own…

Genna decided to raise funds through her contacts in Australia, and subsequently paid for a new kindergarten school to be built (pictured) as well as the schooling of a number of the local families.

As well as helping others Genna has seen a huge change in herself, “What I’ve been doing in Kenya is my passion. I’ve seen my own strengths grow and develop, none of which could be tested at school.”

Seeing this change in herself was a huge confidence boost. From not wanting to go to university for fear of furthering labelling Genna is now in her first year of a Bachelor of Nursing degree. She says, “I’ve been getting credits, distinctions and high distinctions – marks which I barely saw in school.” She says this is because nursing draws on her strengths. It draws on who she is as much as what she can do.

Genna is hoping to defer the second year of her nursing course, should she be successful in being awarded a United Nations $25000 grant to set up a women’s education centre in Karunga. As part of the Project Inspire initiative of United Nations, Genna has beaten hundreds from around the world to be among ten who have been shortlisted for the award.

The winner of the award is announced in Singapore at the end of this month.

You can hear Genna’s story in her own words and vote for her at the Project Inspire website (CLOSING DATE IS TODAY!) by clicking here.

Please do……

Sign up for email updates here, share with your friends or connect on Facebook or Twitter…

Education Social Justice Youth

The Natural Disaster Nobody Sees

Below is an excerpt from an article I wrote, inspired by my time in New Orleans.

It is obvious people go the extra mile to help those affected by a natural disaster. We only need to think of the global responses to the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In January 2010, the world mobilised its efforts to respond to the earthquake in Haiti that left 220,000 people dead.

There would not have been an Australian school child or employee that wasn’t asked to donate or contribute in some way to at least one of these relief efforts. When an issue such as this is front and centre in our minds, we respond.

However, there is another natural disaster that is destroying lives every day, the effects of which will be handed down to generation after generation. The effects from the fallout of this disaster include sub-standard living conditions, poor education, poor health and higher levels of crime. Ironically this became all the more apparent to me having recently visited New Orleans spending time with survivors of Hurricane Katrina as well as teachers and social workers who work with their children.

For those born into poverty, every day is a natural disaster. Yet in this case, society often appears to turn a blind eye. The very same people who criticised George W Bush’s administration for their inept response to Katrina are the ones who cross the road to avoid the homeless. Those who ran around the office with a bucket telling you how much you should give to help the Haitian people are the same ones who avoid eye contact with those, who really should just go get a job.

Online Opinion, the largest e-journal of Social and Political Commentary in Australia has picked it up… you can read the article in full by clicking here.

You can leave comments here or on the Online Opinion website.

Sign up for email updates (top-right of screen), share with your friends or connect on Facebook or Twitter…