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Australian Classroom Diversity Issues Essay


Introduction

One of the main social issues that exert a strong effect on the functioning of Australian society has to do with the fact that despite having adopted multiculturalism as its quasi-official ideology, the socio-cultural discourse within it continues to remain subtly eurocentric/patriarchal. The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated, regarding what account for the qualitative aspects of how teachers in Australian secondary senior schools go about educating students on the subject of sex(quality) and gender relations.

After all, there is a good reason to believe that even though the concerned process is formally receptive to the “diversity celebration” principle, it results in marginalizing the alternative forms of sexuality in the eyes of students. The reason for this is that the country’s paradigm of sex education is heavily affected by the provisions of neoliberalism – the ideology that promotes “the introduction of markets and market values into formal institutions, normative assumptions, and cognitive principles” (Birch, 2016, p. 112).

Consequentially, students are being prompted to assume that the society’s proper functioning can only be ensured for as long as men and women are willing to adhere to the traditional conceptualization of the inter-gender relationship – something that effectively disfranchises “queerness” and causes the affiliated youths to experience psychologically unhealthy anxieties concerning their sexual self-identity. As Shannon (2016) pointed out, “Sexuality education in Australia is permeated by neoliberal discourses of personal responsibility, individual choice, and homogeneity… This presents a distinct disadvantage to GLBTIQ students… and effectively serves to invalidate – their lived experience” (p. 574).

It is understood, of course, that such a situation can hardly be deemed appropriate because there can be only a few doubts that, as a result of having been implicitly marginalized in the classroom, sexually diverse students will find it utterly challenging trying to integrate into the society as its productive members. In my paper, I will explore the soundness of the above-stated at length while assessing the concerned subject matter from the feminist perspective in sociology.

First Body

As it was mentioned in the Introduction, there is indeed a good reason to believe that the practitioners of sexually alternative lifestyles in Australia’s secondary schools often experience nothing short of institutionalized oppression – all due to their “queerness”. After all, the instances of such oppression taking place continually have been well covered by the Media. Probably the most notable of them had to do with the 2015 decision of Adrian Piccolo (New South Wales Education Minister) to ban the screening of the Gayby Baby documentary in fifty schools throughout the state (Mandle, 2015).

According to Ferfolja and Ullman (2017), “This occurred just hours before its scheduled viewing in an NSW high school on Wear It Purple Day… The Minister’s rationale, reportedly, was that the film was not part of the curriculum” (p. 350). What is particularly interesting, in this respect, is that the Media contributed rather substantially towards bringing about the development in question, “A polarising paper in the tabloid press appeared to catalyze political intervention” (Ferfolja & Ullman, 2017, p. 350). Therefore, the Minister’s explanation about what has driven him to ban Gayby Baby is best described as having been utterly hypocritical – it is specifically Piccolo’s strive to appease the representatives of the country’s “moral majority”, which prompted him to act in the way he did.

There are two discursive implications to what has been mentioned earlier. First, as compared to what it is the case with their heterosexual peers, Australian LGBT students continue to be exposed to the subtle extrapolations of institutionalized harassment. Second, the process’s intricacies suggest the full applicability of the feminist sociological theory when it comes to explaining the situation’s significance – specifically, this theory’s “third wave” branch.

According to the third-wave feminists, after having failed at trying to prevent women from being able to vote and receive fair salaries for their work, the male-chauvinistic Western society (such as the Australian one) has now resorted to the “synthesized” strategies of preserving the dominant status of masculine/patriarchal values within it, which aim to legitimize the negative stereotypisation of the LGBT community as being thoroughly commonsensical.

This represents the axiomatic premise of third-wave feminism, concerned with the “recognition of multiple and overlapping points of patriarchal oppression, intended to make the latter being considered ‘natural’ by most people” (Evans, 2016, p. 415). In today’s Australia, the morality/religion-based criticism of one’s willingness to pursue the sexually alternative lifestyle is no longer deemed valid – the country’s adoption of the policy of multiculturalism in the early nineties predetermined such an eventual development.

Therefore, instead of trying to coerce LGBT students to embrace “normalness”, the contemporary advocates of heterosexual male-chauvinism invest much effort into trying to convince (subtly) the affiliated youths that they would be able to benefit in several different ways from deciding to conform to the heterosexual conventions. In this regard, the especially strong emphasis is placed on encouraging students to think of LGBT practices as such that pose many hazards to one’s health. Consequently, this creates a certain public impression that there is indeed nothing irreversible about one’s self-identify as a “queer” and that the education authorities in every state/territory are in the position to impose limitations on how LGBT students may go about trying to take full advantage of their constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms.

Second Body

The incident with the banning of Gayby Baby provides us with insight into the practical implications of the Conservative discourse in the country’s domain of public education. After all, the lingering legacy of perceptual eurocentrism in Australia appears to have had a strong effect on the Minister’s decision in question. As Shannon and Smith (2017) noted, “The film was ‘banned’ in New South Wales (NSW) schools in 2015 by a ministerial decree in response to conservative media backlash” (p. 244).

According to the discourse’s advocates, the teaching of the sexuality-related subjects in Australian schools should be consistent with the currently prevailing moral climate within the society. In its turn, this climate is reflective of people’s unconscious fear of “strangeness” – something that results in forcing the representatives of sexual minorities to choose in favor of the socially alienated lifestyles by the time they reach adulthood.

There are strongly defined “moralistic” and “neoliberal” qualities to the Conservative discourse on sexuality. For example, the mentioned ban on Gayby Baby has been partially caused by the Minister’s belief that the film was much too “radical” to be shown in schools. What this means is that the students’ exposure to the film would prove detrimental to public morality, as their parents would be more than likely to find the Gayby Baby offensive.

Nevertheless, it is specifically the Conservative “neoliberal” outlook on sexuality/sexual diversity, which has grown particularly influential through the 2000s. According to its promoters, “What constitutes diversity… remain dictated by a patently neoliberal and heteronormative hegemony. An individual may only be ‘diverse’ within the parameters that hegemony will allow” (Shannon & Smith, 2017, p. 249).

This is the reason why, regardless of how presumably progressive a particular educational strategy may be, it is still expected to adhere to the principle of “heteronormativity” in one way or another. Among the main supporters of the Conservative discourse on sex education are the Christian Democratic Party and various pro-life/religious groups.

On the opposite pole, there is the so-called “Progressive” discourse on the subject matter in question. It is based on the assumption that it is the government’s primary duty to ensure that the representatives of racial/sexual minorities are not even slightly discriminated against (Burford, Lucassen and Hamilton, 2017). As far as the functioning of the country’s education system is concerned, the affiliated individuals call for the enactment of policies that would “directly provide students with protection from homophobic discrimination and bullying through an anti-homophobia message, and encourage their well-being and supportive school environments through messages of inclusion and affirmation” (Jones & Hillier, 2012, p. 451).

The Safe Schools Coalition is probably the main contributor to the concerned discourse in Australia. According to the organization’s spokesmen, students must be provided with the opportunity to learn about sexual diversity within the curriculum’s paradigmatic framework.

Third Body

In Australia, each of the country’s states and territories has traditionally been able to enjoy much liberty defining its educational policies, which partially explains the factual absence of the all-national sex education curriculum. Enough, this makes it much more difficult for teachers to ensure the effectiveness of their approaches to providing students with discursively relevant information, in this respect. As Leent and Ryan (2016) observed, “The Australian curriculum does not define sensitivity, nor does it reveal the standards by which children are judged to be “developmentally” prepared for any particular aspect of the sexuality education curriculum” (p. 717).

Consequently, this makes it much more challenging for educators to address their professional responsibilities in classroom settings. As practice shows, it is namely the dominant ideological/religious ethos in the area surrounding each particular school that affects the concerned process’s aims and objectives more than anything else does – the situation that is not entirely appropriate, to say the least. It would prove impossible to disagree with Ullman (2017), who pointed out that, “When combined with a national curriculum which falls painfully short of articulating spaces for sexual inclusivity, it is no wonder that Australian teachers express concerns

about whether, when and how to discuss sexuality and gender diversity with their students” (p. 276). It is understood, of course, that this results in lowering the measure of sexual awareness in students. What is even worse, the described state of affairs presupposes that there is no objective reason to expect that “queer” students would be less likely to fall victim to bullying in the future. Therefore, it will only be logical to suggest that the current situation with the promotion of sexual diversity in Australian schools is far from being considered completely adequate.

Conclusion

In light of what has been said earlier, the paper’s initial thesis can be confirmed thoroughly sound. The reason for this is quite apparent – just as it was shown in the paper’s analytical parts, the very essence of the neoliberal educational paradigm presupposes the eventual commodification of one’s sense of sexual self-identity, which is one step away from criminalizing queerness, as something that undermines the society’s structural and functional integrity from within.

Hence, the seemingly phenomenological quality of sex education in Australian schools. On one hand, a student’s participation in the sex education classes is expected to make him/her more tolerant towards “queerness”. On the other, however, it simultaneously teaches the concerned youth to think of sexually alternative lifestyles as being rather “unhealthy”. If assessed through the conceptual lenses of third-wave feminism, the described situation signifies the process of patriarchal oppression within the society adopting ever subtler forms while remaining just as irrationally driven as ever.

The most prominent implication of this is that, for as long as neoliberalism continues to define the sociocultural realities in Australia, it will be rather impossible for the currently deployed sex education methodologies in this country to become fully inclusive. Discussing how this particular issue could be addressed is outside of the present paper’s analytical focus. Nevertheless, there can be very little doubt about the fact that the more effort is invested in educating the public on the matters of sexual diversity, the easier it will be for “queer” students to deal with life-challenges throughout the entirety of their last few years in school – hence, the actual purpose of the continual functioning of the diversity-promoting organizations, such as the Safe Schools Coalition. We believe that this suggestion correlates well with the paper’s original thesis.

References

Birch, K. (2016). Market vs. contract? The implications of contractual theories of corporate governance to the analysis of neoliberalism. Ephemera, 16(1), 107-133. Web.

Burford, J., Lucassen, M., & Hamilton, T. (2017). Evaluating a gender diversity workshop to promote positive learning environments. Journal of LGBT Youth, 14(2), 211-227. Web.

Evans, E. (2016). What makes a (third) wave? International Feminist Journal of Politics, 18(3), 409-428. Web.

Ferfolja, T., & Ullman, J. (2017). Gender and sexuality diversity and schooling: Progressive mothers speak out. Sex Education: Sexuality, Society and Learning, 17(3), 348-362. Web.

Jones, T., & Hillier, L. (2012). Sexuality education school policy for Australian GLBTIQ students. Sex Education, 12(4), 437-454. Web.

Leent, L., & Ryan, M. (2016). The changing experiences of primary teachers: Responding to scenarios involving diverse sexualities. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 20(7), 711-725. Web.

Mandle, C. (2015). . Web.

Shannon, B. (2016) Comprehensive for who? Neoliberal directives in Australian comprehensive’ sexuality education and the erasure of GLBTIQ identity. Sex Education, 16(6), 573-585. Web.

Shannon, B., & Smith, S. (2017). Dogma before diversity: The contradictory rhetoric of controversy and diversity in the politicisation of Australian queer-affirming learning materials. Sex Education, 17(3), 242-255. Web.

Ullman, J. (2017). Teacher positivity towards gender diversity: Exploring relationships and school outcomes for transgender and gender-diverse students. Sex Education: Sexuality, Society and Learning, 17(3), 276-289. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2020, July 25). Australian Classroom Diversity Issues. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/australian-classroom-diversity-issues/

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IvyPanda. "Australian Classroom Diversity Issues." July 25, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/australian-classroom-diversity-issues/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Australian Classroom Diversity Issues." July 25, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/australian-classroom-diversity-issues/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Australian Classroom Diversity Issues'. 25 July.

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