A public high school in Melbourne has angered parents with a mandated puffer jacket that contains not only the school logo but a rainbow flag and an indigenous flag as well. The jacket, an initiative of the student representative body, is not mandatory, but is the only jacket option (apart from a softshell jacket, which is not as warm).
Parents have disclosed that students attempting to remove the flag or cover it are receiving detentions.
A parent, who wished to remain anonymous because of concerns about her child being targeted if she used her real name said:
“It’s a shame I can’t buy a puffer jacket with the school emblem on it to keep my kid warm … It’s a school, not a political statement”.
A number of people have raised concerns about the wisdom of forcing students to wear political symbols as part of their school uniform, or telling them “what to think about social issues”:
“When people – especially young people – are forced to show support for a belief they don’t share or understand, their responses can do more harm than good.”
“Schools who promote causes or one side of a political issue can also find that parents trust the school less and schools might also then be criticised heavily for being too radical or for virtue signalling.”
The school’s decision in effect requires students to affirm an ideology that, for some of them, is antithetical to their sincerely held beliefs and values. This is not just a concern for Christian students, but those of other faith backgrounds as well.
As Christian commentator Murray Campbell has observed:
“There is a profound misunderstanding in Victoria as to what secular education represents. State schools are not meant to be homes that drive socio-political agenda and push controversial sex theories. Secular education is meant to provide a space for all children. In seeking to be inclusive, Cheltenham Secondary College excludes numerous families and their children, and even punishes them for removing the ‘pride’ flag.”
The choices available to parents who wish to raise their children in accordance with their own faith and beliefs are diminishing:
“It is becoming more difficult for Christian families to send their children to public schools. For many, they cannot afford to pay the fees of a private school, but neither will they subject their children to an education system that is proactively sterilising Christian and traditional sexual ethics.”
The school’s uniform policy also sends the false message to students who are struggling with their sexuality or identity that any students who do not wear the jacket are rejecting them or hostile towards them.
Again, Murray Campbell rightly observes:
“I also feel for the students who are thinking through their sexuality and who may not feel comfortable in their physical bodies. These students deserve kindness and care, not to be used as pawns in an ideological game. The school is guilty of forcing the false binary between support and hatred, affirmation and rejection. Such an abuse of power is dangerous both to LGBT students and to families who adhere to classical understandings of human sexuality and gender. LGBT students are probably feeling exposed and vulnerable because of parental anger and other students are feeling outed and hurt because they cannot with a conscience support the rainbow flag.”
This controversy is not unlike that of the Manly 7 last year, where seven Christian players in the Manly Football Club were prevented from playing with their team during the NRL’s pride round because they refused to wear a pride jersey that conflicted with their Christian beliefs.
The school's policy is essentially a form of compelled speech, as it mandates the display of an ideological symbol, thereby implying endorsement.
In order to ensure a neutral learning environment, it is important for public schools to minimise the imposition of ideologies on students and provide them with an education that is free from such influences. Public education should be welcoming of all students, regardless of their backgrounds, financial means or faith or ideological backgrounds.
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