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Politicians shame children for caring about others

You may have noticed yesterday’s minor furore over primary school children sending a petition to various politicians protesting the vileness, criminality and inhumanity of off-shore detention policies.

The children didn’t use those words of course, rather they asked that politicians show concern for children in off-shore detention and resettle them. They also sent drawings expressing their distress on behalf of detained children.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten claimed that eight-year-olds should be writing to Santa not getting up petitions, and federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham expressed his wish that the teachers involved be hunted down and disciplined for aiding and abetting the children’s budding awareness of human rights. Children should not be “politicised,” it was bipartisanly agreed.

Off-shore detention policies are inescapably political: it is impossible to “politicise” what is inherently political. Shorten, Birmingham et al should be owning the shamefulness of their policies, rather than shaming children for objecting and protesting.

Of course politicians don’t want children knowing, let alone caring, about the crimes and misdemeanours they continue to commit against humanity in the interests of attaining and maintaining power. However, in my experience children are far more aware of the world than most of us give them credit for. They need tools with which to deal with the deceits and duplicities of politicians, and politicians have only themselves to blame for this parlous situation.

What is most wickedly deceptive and destructive is the conflation of concern for the welfare of others with so-called “politicisation.” We’ve had decades of contempt for “lefty bleeding hearts.” We have now reached a stage at which anyone expressing concern over the state (and compliant media) treatment of refugees, asylum seekers, Indigenous Australians, those struggling with poverty, mental health, disability and the myriad other challenges people face in a country in which increasingly the only concerns that matter are those of the alpha white male and his consort, is immediately accused of the manufactured offence of “politicisation.” Or my particular favourite, Political Correctness Gone Mad (PCGM).

Do we really want to grow children who believe that caring about the fate of others is something to be ashamed of?

The abysmal legal and moral failure by both major parties to fulfil their responsibilities to asylum seekers and refugees under both international and domestic law is the core problem, not children or anyone else protesting this failure.

If you want your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, children you know and or teach to become aware of the human rights of others, I recommend this rather lovely book, titled 2030 Not a Fairytale. In 2015 world leaders adopted the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, setting seventeen Global Goals to be attained by 2030. These goals are simply explained to young children, and are an excellent introduction to caring about the world they’ll inherit and the people in it.

I know I’m being dangerously subversive, suggesting the politicisation of children. Shoot me.

As for whether or not the 2030 goals will be attained, and the usefulness or otherwise of world leaders at the UN setting them, that’s another story we have to tell children at another time. First, let’s brainwash them into caring.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.



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  1. Ella

    Jennifer, you are sooooo right.
    But our leaders want our young people to be politically illiterate , lacking the in the skill of critical thinking because they want a dumbed
    down society who will not have the capacity to think for themselves and hence they will believe the BS being told them and hence accept the status quo !!!!

  2. Jaquix

    I dont like either Bill Shorten’s reply, or Simon Birminghams. BUT, I do find it interesting, Bill Shorten’s is more human and humane; Birmingham’s shows the typical “conservative” viewpoint of smack em down, chuck em in jail, to hell with human rights and so forth.

  3. Ricardo29

    Just when you think Labor might be starting to do the right thing, Shorten (and Plibersek with comments about the parly house protests) demonstrate they have the wrong end of the stick and still have some way to go with empathy

  4. Miriam English

    Excellent post Jennifer. Our politicians need to be shamed. Children are morally superior to them.

  5. king1394

    One of the reasons students are turned off education is because controversial matters are not permitted to be discussed in the classroom except in quite abstract ways. Partly this is because in a class of 30 or so students there will be parents of various backgrounds and political belief. Teachers are always going to be seen as brainwashing the children if they come home with ideas contrary to the parent’s beliefs. It is a shame that current affairs are not deeply examined in the classroom but you can see why they are not.
    However, if students themselves bring up an idea that applies skills they are learning, such as letter writing and the dreaded persuasive text, it is surely appropriate for the teacher to support the enthusiasm of the young people, and help them to carry out such a project.

  6. cowper133

    You are so right about children being far more aware of what goes on in the world today than they have in times past. Actually children are a beacon of hope in many instances as they still have a moral compass and want action on climate change, humane treatment refugees and a host of other issues. It is the job of teachers to allow discussion of current affairs, children come to school with lots of questions as they learn about the world around them and the discussions they often overhear.

  7. Jexpat

    Bill Shorten proving his incompetence in politics and public perceptions yet again

    He may be a master wheeler dealer and election rigger on the factional party scene, but coarse and dismissive comments like this about people who not long down the track will also be voters.

    There was nothing to be gained by his statement, which makes him look like a petulant child -in stark contrast to the kids, who are behaving more like a responsible, caring adults.

  8. Kaye Lee

    In 2014 I took my two young nephews to the March in March. The week before we talked about a lot of stuff and then we all sat down to make our posters. The boys (aged 6 and 9) decided they wanted to ‘save our fish’ and made a great poster with drawings and cutout pictures and colourful writing.

    I was amazed at the many people who marched and the complete cross-section of society….and was very disappointed when Tory Shepherd wrote “But the Marchers in the end threatened to disappear up their own proverbials in a puff of BO and bong smoke.”

    How very wrong she was about the wonderful people that we marched with (some in wheelchairs, some in strollers) all carrying placards about what mattered to them to make the world a better place.

    We shouldn’t tell children what to think but tell them the age appropriate facts and then ask them how does that make you feel. Tell them that some children had to run away leaving their home and their grandparents and aunties and uncles and sometimes even their brothers and sisters because it wasn’t safe. tell them that they would like to come to Australia but our government won’t let them and they have been stuck on an island for years. Should we let them come?

    Let Peter Dutton explain to the children why he must keep these people locked up.

  9. stephentardrew

    Spot on.

  10. lawrencewinder

    Good article… We really do need to call this ruling rabble for what it is Fascist! And as for Short-stuff….he just weakens his own case by siding with these mongrels and assisting in legitimizing these right-wing views.

  11. Michael Faulkner

    We can’t expect much from the Simon Birminghams and the Peter Duttons of the world such is the extent of their empathic and moral atrophy, but Bill Shorten should know better.

    Flouting the essence of the eternal Christmas story about generosity to strangers, about helping those in need, and about giving freely, Shorten lines up with the value of indulgent consumerism, stating that ‘ Eight year olds should be writing to Santa ‘ !

    Civic education is not a strong feature of the curriculum in schools across this country, and there seems to be bi-partisan agreement from the two mainstream parties to keep it that way. Thus young Australians can then grow up ignorant of their history ( Anzackery indoctrination aside ), of the social, cultural and scientific achievements of our nation, of Australia’s place in a rapidly changing world, and, the inter-connectedness of peoples around the globe.

    Meanwhile, many thoughtful and empathic kids even younger than 8 years, are aware of the ever-festering off-shore asylum seeker issue and though politically disenfranchised, seek to make sense of it themselves. Making sense of it, can include sending a petition to politicians. Like many adults, such kids are distressed that our nation should have effectively thrown away the key to freedom for off-shore refugees (and many living here as well), for four years or so, with no real end in sight to this.

    Jennifer, I agree whole-heartedly with your sentiments.

  12. Florence nee Fedup

    Why is the phrase political correctness back with such anger, when we haven’t heard it mentioned for decade or so? Seems only raised it ugly head when Labor is out of power. #auspol

  13. Terry2

    We have to be so careful that in demonstrating against the incarceration of refugees in offshore camps we don’t harm their cause.
    The parliamentary demonstrations became a focus for the conservatives to attack the demonstrators and totally ignore the message. Much as the case here, the plight of the refugees is completely lost and the focus is an attack on teachers.

    I remain totally perplexed when people like Julie Bishop say, as she did earlier this week, that our campaign for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council is entirely legitimate and deserving.

    Informed reasonable people are appalled that we have held these people for over three years but we must acknowledge that we are up against a highly refined misinformation machine overseen by a Minister filled with loathing for these people supported by radio shock-jocks and Murdoch media . Couple this with the secrecy and it is no wonder that the average punter just doesn’t give a f**k.

  14. Phil

    Great thinking Jennifer Wilson – thanks. I just ordered that children book you linked – it’s going direct to my grandkids on the north coast – their father is a primary school teacher.

    No doubt your views would be seen by our current crop of conservative authoritarians as “…being dangerously subversive, suggesting the politicisation of children” hah!!!

    Interesting how the term ‘politicisation’ is being used as a pejorative by the perpetually frightened right wing authoritarians. It’s as if they believe they have some sort of inalienable right to the realm of political life and the rest of society can go stuff itself anywhere but in their ugly bloody faces.

    Too many Australians, in a broad sense, do have very a narrow and confining view of politics – they refuse to move outside their party confines – they see a relentless battle between opposing political party ideologies as if they were sporting teams for whom you cheer your side and scream abuse at the opposition.

    Yet politics is so much more than this. To me, it is the essence of day to day communal existence – it’s how we negotiate our lives, in the family, in the town, at the market, in school, in fact everywhere we have to deal with other humans. We would do well to teach this broad spectrum politics from early primary years right through to full maturity. Not the sort of trite political ideologies so loved by the fools in our government, but the full spectrum politics of communication, negotiation, compromise et al.

  15. wam

    Children write letters to santa, billy but to politicians as well, eg: Letter from six-year-old Alex of Scarsdale, New York to obama.
    It is almost impossible for children to be unaware of the refugee situation ruled over by you and trunbull.

    Your brush is too broad for the average punter is confused, worried and aware of the ‘fact’. In addition by observation, compared to the world refugees. the conditions of incarceration seems well stocked and comfortable.
    Why don’t refugee activists explain about ID delays or why hazaris, shia, sunni kill each other overseas but are peaceful here or sharia?? Surely we are entitled to have some apprehension on topics like these? Rather than pictures of women which, given that the ratio men to women is at least 10-1,.lend suspicion to the message

  16. Florence nee Fedup

    wam, same was true for irish half century ago. Killing one another in Ireland, living next door, working with one another and friends here. Used to amuse me as a 18 year old. Was never really about religion but poverty and who had control capital and parliament.

  17. Jennifer Wilson

    King, yes, I know there can be conflicts between what’s said at school at what’s said at home, but it has always been thus perhaps?
    It seems to me a crippling of the intellect and the emotions to decide nothing will be discussed for fear of offending one parent or another. Parents need to make the change I think. After all, children have to deal with the world, and knowledge of it enables them.
    My experience with my school-age kids was positive: I loved it that teachers conveyed social concerns.
    Now one of my sons is a primary school teacher, & he’s just returned from Cambodia with a group of boys from his school. They’ve been teaching, building and playing football with kids in a school they sponsor for children who have absolutely nothing.

  18. Jennifer Wilson

    Phil, glad you bought the book, I think it’s quite exceptional.

  19. Jennifer Wilson

    Thanks everyone for commenting. It really is disgraceful to treat children like mushrooms, imo. They are the ones who will have to find a way to live in this mess we’re leaving for them.
    Even in pre-school our family’s now five-year-old learned that “the erf is our home we haven’t got annover”

  20. Deanna Jones

    So children should not know about the children we lock up in detention? The children in detention sure know that they are locked up in detention. Shorten is being wilfully ignorant which is very disingenuous of him. His condescending response and this ‘let children be children’ trope is absolutely a way of politicising children.

    This nation is a signitory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, after all. Article 12 states that children have a right to be heard on matters that affect them. These principles inform all of our legislation that is relevant to children. Children in state care have a charter of rights that by law must be explained to them. I am sure that Shorten knows all of this.

    Having spent many years working with children of families with very complex needs, interviewing children, facilitating their voices into decision making processes etc. I have formed the view that children usually have wisdom and insight that we as adults rarely give them credit for.

    The children that Shorten is talking down to this week will be voting in a few years and they will remember him.

  21. John Brame

    Good article Jennifer, I wholeheartedly agree with your view that children can express their concern with what is happening in our world.

  22. Terry2

    Deanna thank you for mentioning the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to which we are a signatory : a powerful document that Peter Dutton would do well to study over the Christmas break.

    He will find that he has led us into a breach of this powerful convention to his and our eternal shame.

    As regards the current debate I would refer all our politicians to Article 13 :

    Article 13

    1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.

    It is sad that only on this site do we see the compassion that should be a guiding force in our government and our community : congratulations to all on AIMN, enjoy your Christmas, 2017 is going to be a challenging year.

  23. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Well done, Jennifer Wilson.

    Of course children should be encouraged to understand what is happening around them and in their name. They too, will have to live with the disgusting legacy in terms of asylum seeker policies that the Lib/Lab flipflops have ‘bestowed’ in Australia’s name.

    I also applaud the children’s teachers and parents, who have helped nurture their higher ethical thinking.

    I blame Birmingham for targeting the teachers and I blame Shorten for demeaning the children’s efforts.

  24. Ella

    When my children attended primary school in NSW there was a programme called “Behind the news” in which they explored current issues and the children discussed and wrote about the issues that they felt strongly about. That was 30 years ago…my how things have changed???!!!

  25. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Very true, Ella.

    I remember that show. It was very good.

  26. Ella

    Jennifer Meyer-Smith,
    I stand with you…..
    If our politicians think that children are ignorant of what is going on…then..they are wrong.

    What is more half understood issues cause anxiety and fear ……I have seen this in my grand children aged between 9-12 , they ask for clarification if only we would listen and answer honestly.

    It is no use shielding them from death, future problems …because it is they who will have to face them …prepared or not.

  27. Deanna Jones

    Ella, I watched that show and I recall my own children also watched it so it was still running up until at least the early noughties that I know of. Great show.

    Terry, re Dutton studying the UNCROC.

    We would need to check that he has heard of it, first. It may come as a great shock to him.

  28. Ella

    A. Huxley, in his Brave New World revisited said:
    “the effects of false and pernicious propaganda…..can only be neutralised by training in the art of analysing” which to me means being able to use critical thinking…..which is what our children need if they are to retain any form of freedom….
    He further said;
    “education should be in facts and values….facts of individual diversity……and values of freedom , tolerance and mutual charity”

    Perhaps our politicians need to go back to school….because not many of our so called leaders demonstrate an understanding of any of the above.

  29. townsvilleblog

    I agree with Ella, the yanks (Murdoch) has been dumbing Australians down for many decades now, always putting right wing slants on the information he provides via his newspapers and web sites. The yanks have copped this for far longer than Aussies but have proven to be quick learners. Common sense is no longer common and anything/everything that the yanks do, Aussies are sure to follow. I noticed yesterday that Turnbull had adopted onlt half of the Trump plan, the tax cut half, not the abolishing of “all” taxable deductions half. Can Australians really be so easily led that they are unaware of what Trump has said?

  30. Ella

    In the same piece above Huxley quotes Winston Churchill:
    “never have so many been manipulated by so few”.

  31. Markus

    As long as the children are given all the facts. Make sure they are shown the 1200 dead bodies that happened with the boat arrivals. Also that the people are not locked up and can return to their country of origin whenever they like. They are still in detention because the cant prove their identity and as such could pose a threat to this country. All the facts or dont raise it for school kids.

  32. Matters Not

    As long as the children are given all the facts.

    all the facts. Who could disagree with complete transparency? You then go on:

    Make sure they are shown the 1200 dead bodies that happened with the boat …

    Seems reasonable – but that’s not the complete picture by any means. Is it? Certainly, not all the facts. Seeing we are into ‘dead bodies’ and the counting of same, should we also show the dead bodies of the estimated 50 000 children who died in Syria in recent times – and perhaps have them do the maths? Then ask them if they had the opportunity to stay and be bombed to death in their homes or shelters Or take a chance and join the thousands of children who didn’t drown but successfully crossed the waters.

    I imagine it is ‘all these facts’ you want discussed? Right? if not, then why not?

    As for returning to Syria, Aleppo in particular, what decision would you make? You might also point out that at least some of the child deaths in Syria might have come from Australian bombs.

  33. Roswell

    Wow, Matters Not. You nailed it. Rarely do I tip my hat to a comment, but I do to yours.

  34. Miriam English

    Markus, not only has the horrible situation on Manus and Nauru NOT stopped the boats coming, it has also not stopped the boat deaths. It has been a complete, dismal failure. All it has done is swept those deaths under the carpet and attempted to make them someone else’s problem. (It’s known as not taking responsibility.)

    Several times the case has been made for making safe immigration available to refugees via planes and normal ships*. Each time this humane solution has been knocked back in favor of making a horrific example of these poor bastards in order to deter people from seeking safety here. Of course that deterrence doesn’t work either. Dying will always be less attractive, no matter how disgustingly we treat those people.

    We don’t live in a police state yet. Thankfully I don’t have to prove who I am anytime, anywhere and I can travel across the QLD/NSW border without needing to prove anything to anybody. I could be a serial killer or a mad bomber or a bankrupt defrauder. Why don’t I have to prove anything to anybody? An accident of geography and, no doubt an accident of light skin pigmentation. So why are those people a threat to everybody here? You’re not being racist, perchance, Markus? No…. of course not.

    *NOTE: For those who protest that it would mean too many people coming here, we can easily decrease ordinary immigration by the amount of refugees. It will hardly affect normal immigration numbers.

  35. Matters Not

    Markus re your next claim:

    They are still in detention because the cant prove their identity

    I think that you really believe that, don’t you? Are you aware that that vast majority of those detained on Manus and Nauru have been judged by Australian authorities to be genuine refugees. And because they are legitimate refugees they are perfectly entitled to seek asylum in Australia. If they broke any law – then surely they would be charged and if found guilty be jailed or deported as happens now with anyone else who breaks the law. Have you ever asked yourself the question of why these ‘illegals’ haven’t been dragged before the courts? Never had a trial? Never been convicted of anything in a properly constituted court? You are aware of that, aren’t you?

    Because they have been judged to be legitimate refugees, the authorities not only know their names, but where they lived, what type of work they did, their religion, what their food preferences are, the name of their partner and children, who was ‘threatening’ them, why they were in fear of their lives and so on. In short, they have been put through the ‘wringer’ by officials who proceed on the assumption that they are not refugees, and the onus of proof is on their own heads. They have been interviewed in their own language by people who know the ‘threats’ and the like.

    As for being ‘threats’ to this country, I like to think that those who threaten this country ought to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. And that includes those who proceed on the basis of ignorance. And have shown no evidence that they want to overcome their ignorance by doing some reading.

  36. Florence nee Fedup

    “As long as the children are given all the facts. Make sure they are shown the 1200 dead bodies that happened with the boat arrivals. ”

    Children might come to the conclusion, if they risk death to get here, they deserved to be treated with kindness, not abuse, treated as criminals.

    There is no justification for the treatment these people endure. The demonisation of refugees should be taught as wrong. There are always humane options.

  37. Florence nee Fedup

    They are in detention because some want NO refugees entering the country at all. Some “no” immigrants full stop. Dutton belongs to the “no one” school.

    Found guilty in court this week of refusing assessments. Very few have been assess since Abbott came to power.

  38. Markus

    Florence and Matters not. They travelled through countries that could have given them safe haven. No denying they needed to get out. The ones that are walking around in nauru have been granted refuge by this country and are free to go wherever they want. The ones still in detention cannot prove who they are and cannot pass our entry laws.
    Miriam -if you dont think that the turbacks have bèen successful then how many boats have landed on Australian soil in the last 12 months -none. All the people on the camps came fron Labors open door policy and caused the deaths. They are the only ones that would like this swept away. Our refugee intake has increased but now in a safe way and a way where we can check the backgrounds properly.

  39. Deanna Jones

    Markus, your commentary is outdated, based on falsity and deplorable. You play right into the hands of those who seek to dehumanise refugees and asylum seekers in order to gain support for heinous and inhumane policies. They are people who desperately need our help. The f*ck is wrong with you?

  40. Markus

    Deanna -f*ck you. If thats how you want to refute my post.

  41. Michael Taylor

    Now now, Marcus. Calm down.

  42. Deanna Jones

    Markus, I didn’t mean make you get all emotional. My bad.

  43. Florence nee Fedup

    The countries they pass through have high rates poverty. Trouble looking after their own. Do you really believe neighbouring countries, none wealthy should take millions while we take none.

  44. Miriam English

    It’s all about avoiding responsibility. They should take care of the refugees, not us. Regardless of signing on to treaties requiring us to share in the responsibility, Australian politicians (and some of our population) say screw ’em — someone else’s problem. We’re rich and well-off; let the poor look after their own. None of that riff-raff here.

    The moral vacuum is stunning.

  45. Max Gross

    What a fine shining example of humanity – paragon of animals! – for our kids to aspire to! Our career politicians are utterly morally bankrupt and deserve nothing but our contempt.

  46. Charles

    “Do we really want to grow children who believe that caring about the fate of others is something to be ashamed of?”

    So you won’t mind me teaching them that abortion is the murder of a human being (i.e. an ‘other’), that all human life is precious, and that all fetuses ought to be given support and allowed to grow up and reach their full potential?

    But as to your specific question in its context. I’d teach the kids not to trust what strange grown-ups say, especially not ones who got their own ethics from the Communist Manifesto or whose aim is to make Australia into the kind of country that refugees don’t want to go to anymore (for example, by being less rich, safe or free). I’d teach them to be wary of anyone who tries to rev up their emotions for reasons that they might not know about or understand. I would definitely teach them to help out a person who is in trouble if they can, but again to be wary because there are people out there who will abuse the kindness of strangers for their own ends.

  47. Miriam English

    Charles, that’s a weird comment to make.

    Caring about others is not equivalent to teaching absurd myths about a mystical soul entering cells at conception.

    Seems you think we shouldn’t take responsibility for the laws we signed onto and share the responsibility of helping during calamities (especially gross since we had a hand in creating some of the calamities in the first place).

    As for your thinly veiled insults, I’d teach kids not to trust right-wing xenophobes who don’t believe in social responsibility or fairness, who think good people from “over there” are automatically dangerous, and who think Australia is for rich white people only.

    I’d suggest that people who try to play on the emotions by revving up fear of outsiders though sneakily inserting false triggers about becoming less rich, less safe, and less free are not to be trusted. Countless studies show over and over again that refugees create jobs and wealth, and since they come here for the safety and freedom of this country they tend to be model citizens (far more so than many of the greedy, selfish, lazy, xenophobic people who have been here for many generations).

  48. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Well said, Miriam.

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