The Thistle - An E-Newsletter of Scotch College, Perth, Western Australia

On Wellbeing

Open and Closed Societies

What kind of society do we want to be? To what extent should people be allowed to protest and to speak their minds?

In a world of slogans, tweets and soundbites, people may reel off glib answers to such questions. However, if we pause to consider them – and we should – these are deeply difficult questions which go to the core of who we are. If we want to be better, then we should be talking about these topics with young people in a way that helps them understand the complexities.

One of the challenges in discussing such topics is recognising and agreeing on what it is we are discussing. The recent protest marches for the Black Lives Matter movement during a time of COVID-related restrictions provide a good example. At times, it seems to me that people are arguing about different things: on one side, people are arguing there is a need to maintain physical distance in order to prevent the spread of infection and to protect the majority of the population. On the other, people are marching to try to bring an end to the racism and disadvantage suffered by too many people for too long. Whilst both arguments relate to the greater good and our responsibilities towards others, one has racism as its driver, while the other has public safety at its heart. These are parallel tracks, rather than intersecting ones.

People very often seem convinced that they are right. It’s what their newsfeed tells them. It’s what their friends tell them. This is nothing new – history demonstrates people operating with closed minds over and over again. It shows people’s ‘confirmation bias’ in action: we seek things which will confirm how we see the world and ignore, dismiss or simply do not see those things which challenge our view. But in the example above, what if both sides are right? In an all-or-nothing world, this sits uncomfortably with us. 

Imagine if we were wrong in what we thought; if there was a better way of doing things, a better way of living. It is likely, rather than possible: humans think so much there are bound to be errors in our thinking. Perhaps the most basic pre-requisite before a society can even begin to consider itself free and open is this: to accept that there are different viewpoints and that we might be wrong. The question then becomes, "Should some of those opinions be silenced?". The situation in Hong Kong is an example of this. When compared to the streets of America, suddenly I was struck by finding it uncomfortably difficult to tell the two societies apart. 

Our own nation’s past is something that has troubled me for many years. As a History teacher, I am only too aware of the gaps which exist, not only in what we teach, but more significantly, in what we acknowledge. The frontier wars, the missions and reserves, the removal of children, the deaths in custody. These are some of many uncomfortable truths for us as a nation, but they are a part of who we are. 

I cannot fully understand what it must be like to be an Indigenous person living in this country. But I think it must be very tiring to live with racism every day and we all have a responsibility to do something about that. Talking openly should be a part of that. Acknowledgement and forgiveness may hopefully follow. I struggle to see any other way for us to move beyond our past and for all of us to be able to properly embrace being Australian.

Can we be free and open as a society if we don’t acknowledge what has happened? Can we be free if we are unwilling to listen to differences of opinion? Can we be open to accepting what has happened and dealing with what arises from such differences and from the past? Can we be open as a society so that all people have a reasonable level of opportunity? I don’t know, but I am keen for us to try; perhaps we can help the next generation to get closer to that goal. To say, “Now is not the time,” appears to be insufficient. 

Child Complaints Procedure and Student Code of Conduct

Students in Years 6–12 and their parents have received an email outlining the School’s Child Complaints Procedure and providing an updated version of the Student Code of Conduct. These have been discussed in Homerooms in Middle School and the Head will be following up with visits in the coming weeks. In Senior School, these policies and procedures have been discussed in Mentor groups and Houses. I am grateful to many people who had input into the creation of these documents, including staff and students. I also thank the Office of the Commissioner for Young People and Children and the Telethon Kids’ Institute for their resources. You may like to visit the Commissioner for Young People and Children website  for more information relating to Child Safety.