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Community highlights

The Conversation receives a lot of comments each day and you can’t read everything. That’s why we occasionally end the week with a selection of community highlights: comments we enjoyed or thought discussing.


How the desire for masculinity might drive some disadvantaged young men to substance abuse

Kathryn Daley’s article looked at the social factors that might influence substance abuse in young men:

While poverty or childhood trauma certainly don’t cause substance abuse, they do play a part. But awareness of other social and environmental factors, such as society’s perpetuation of masculinity, are critical to understanding the interconnections between trauma, disadvantage and substance abuse in young men.

In the comments, Sue Gaffney shared her experience working with disadvantaged children and the affect their not having adult mentors had on them.

Sue Gaffney:

While working with disadvantaged children (who now fall into the “young people” demographic) it was interesting to see how many lack adult mentors - and the plethora of attention seeking behaviours they employed to engage with people.

Modern society seems to not understand the need for community to raise children to become responsible, active adults. The demands of adults to children for unquestioning obedient behaviour, to simply do as instructed (despite logic and example) is confounding.

Perhaps poor behaviours and substance abuse are the results of a lack of positive relationships causing an individual’s failure to develop the skills to succeed?

Kathryn Daley

Really good point, Sue. There’s a strong (and growing) body of work highlighting that these groups of children and young people benefit immensely from having a positive, healthy relationship with and adult. While all young people benefit from such a relationship, those without it benefit the most. It’s likely that this is true because such a relationship was absent in the first instance.

Young people can recover from immense trauma if given the right care and support.


Anti-discrimination law exemptions don’t strike the right balance between rights and freedoms

On July 30, Cristy Clark explained religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws and how they effect LGBTI teachers and students:

These exemptions allow religious organisations to discriminate in a range of ways. This includes discrimination against a person on the basis of their sexuality in relation to the employment of teaching staff, and the provision of education and training. This is provided that the discrimination is in:

… good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.

The justification most often provided for these exemptions is the need to protect freedom of religion, which is provided for under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

However, this freedom is not absolute and must be balanced against other rights and freedoms – particularly the right to equality, which is protected under Articles 2 and 26 of the ICCPR.

Jim Hanna posted a comment, explaining his time working in Catholic education and the roles the exemptions play from that perspective.

Jim Hanna:

As somebody who works in Catholic education and who has fought against discrimination all my life, I need to respond to this piece.

The exemptions that exist for faith-based organisations (let’s call them FBOs) are not a licence to discriminate, but rather a protection that enables FBOs to employ people who will support (or at least, not work against) their values and purpose. Nobody expects a (publicly funded) Greens MP to hire a speech writer who did not believe climate change was real, for example.

The statement that faith-based schools give “the church enormous influence in Australian society, empowering it to impose its value judgements on people who do not share them” makes no sense. Faith-based schools are not compulsory; parents would only enrol their child in a school that reflects their values. It might surprise you to know that almost 30% of students enrolled in Catholic schools are NOT Catholic (so much for our supposed discrimination).

I’m not aware of any instances where a teacher or student has been refused employment or dismissed from a Catholic organisation because of their sexuality or marital status. Catholic employees are entitled to their private views and behaviour. Church employers generally don’t ask. It only becomes an issue when a person (and this includes heterosexual employees) actively and publicly opposes Catholic teaching. This is when the exemptions would be used. Again, to use the political example, nobody expects a party to continue employing somebody who is openly at odds with its values and stated policies.

The author is correct, however, when she says conflicting rights must be accommodated (I prefer to call them ‘overlapping’ rights). In practice, I would argue the current arrangements work well and should be left alone. There has been no spate of sackings that suggests the exemptions are being abused by religious employers.


A focus on economics (the dismal science) has produced a dismal election debate

The 2016 campaign has supposedly been about Australia’s economic prosperity, said John Wanna in his article, but it hasn’t captured the imagination of the public:

Both sides of politics have three word slogans framing the economy as central to their electoral prospects – the Coalition with “Jobs and growth” and Labor with “Jobs, Medicare, Education.” For an election ostensibly about economic matters, the various messages of the major players has not managed to capture the hearts and minds of voters.

This has led to the politicians moving on from the discussion:

Due to the inordinate length of the campaign, the main parties have become somewhat bored with dull economic pronouncements and been distracted with other issues that they feel may have more ‘bite’ for them.

His article goes on to to discuss the negative gearing, superannuation and tax policies discussed by the major parties (and some minor ones). In the comments, Alice Hitchcock discussed the economic ideas underpinning the current economic ideas on display from polticians.

Alice Hitchcock:

Fundamentally – in my view - world bankers / economists have misinterpreted the writings of Keynes, the father of ‘modern’ economic methodology, and this has resulted in the current economic crises.

I don’t believe that Keynes ever even dreamed of terrorising variable interest rate loans, or worse, of applying such loans to homes.

In my view, his concepts were for the business cycle only, not for 20 -30 year home loans, and what he envisaged was FIXED interest rate business loans of ‘reasonable return on investment’ durations.

To illustrate the point…

If CBA offered an electronics business a 1% fixed interest rate loan for 5 years to invest in a robot making electronic chips from patented designs with a known market, would the company consider it?

If they offered the same company a 1% variable interest rate loan for the same investment, would they consider it?

During a recession, low FIXED interest rate loans would/should lure entrepreneurs (back) into the business market.

Similarly during a boom, high FIXED interest rate loans would/should discourage investment to slow down the business cycle.

Supplying variable interest rate loans of 20 to 30 years duration to home buyers is expecting them to outperform businesses in second guessing the market and is, in effect, financial terrorism.

The more (loan) money available, the higher home prices rise and heaven knows what the future holds.

Anyway – these are my current thoughts on the situation.

Worth mentioning is that a way of hiding the resulting carnage is to allow prices to increase yet in effect to reduce the value of money – to in effect create an illusion of wealth.

For example, a lovely couple we know of bought a beach side tiny home for about AUD 40 000 about 30 years ago. That same cottage today would likely cost up to AUD 400 000, TEN TIMES MORE.

Does this mean that the fortunate couple have made a AUD 360 000 profit (also for capital gains tax purposes)?

Not really – what it means is that the value of money is ten times less than 30 years ago, remembering that the home is now 30 years older as well.

This is why capital gains tax as currently practiced is institutionalised theft.

What we need more of in politics is a wider spectrum of independents who have a profession other than law.

Perhaps then there would be much more sense emanating from Canberra…


If democratic citizenship is a universal right, how can we so neglect citizenship education?

James Weinberg explained the purpose of democracy and the role education plays in it, arguing that citizenship education is an important part of a functional democracy:

Today, while direct democracy may be the nostalgic dream of academics, some of the basic premises behind civic education remain. Even in our modern representative democracy, citizens need a basic understanding of how political processes function and affect them. They need this knowledge to critique democracy and correct its malfunctions, and to face outwards into society with a truly participatory mindset.

In the comments, Alan Britton and James discussed the varying states of citizen education in the United Kingdom.

Alan Britton:

Thanks for this article; it certainly provides a fair summary of the origins of, and the uneven progress towards, citizenship education in the context of England. The author’s use of “UK” is very misleading, and somewhat ironic in the context of the promotion of political literacy. There is no UK education system, nor is there a UK National Curriculum. These elements have been devolved to the constituent parts of the UK since 1999.

One practical outcome of this is that distinctive pathways towards ‘citizenship education’ were followed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. in Scotland, for example, ‘Education for Citizenship’ is seen as a cross-curricular yet core competence that permeates, or at least ought to permeate, every aspect of school organisation, educational values, as well as teaching and learning. There has been renewed emphasis on the nurturing in Scottish schools of both political literacy and global citizenship in recent years.

Together with the distinctive Scottish approach to enfranchising 16-17 year olds for the Independence referendum in 2014 and Scottish Parliament elections, there is at least some cautious optimism that here at least the attempt to improve young people’s political engagement might bear fruit.

James Weinberg:

Many thanks for the comment Alan; you’re spot on! I’m afraid this is one of those errors that has crept in as nuance was sacrificed for brevity (and word limits). The greater autonomy afforded to schools and teachers in Scotland and Wales, the less exam-oriented curricula, and the close ties between schools and communities (than in England on both counts) does enhance the chance of experiential learning in the manner of active and participatory citizenship. However there is always the worry there that citizenship passes as a cursory and ghostly element of all lessons, and doesn’t receive the discrete attention it needs to be effective. There is also the issue of how to assess the impact. Kisby and Sloam wrote an excellent article on this in 2012 titled ‘Towards a Common Framework for Citizenship Lessons’

Alan Britton:

Thanks for responding. I sympathise having written for the Conversation I know it’s hard to convey everything you want to in the word limits!

I agree that the Scottish citizenship strategy of ‘permeation’ is vulnerable to limited or non-existent implementation in reality; that has been borne out in some of my own research over the years. However I think that the distinctive context and practice of educational policymaking in Scotland necessitated this approach.

Interestingly there may be a more robust and accountable approach in future, not least due to the likelihood that PISA will begin to measure civic and global competences in the near future.


Hopefully you find these comments a worthwhile addition to your ongoing citizen education.

See you next week.

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