Cultural illiteracy was brought into the public sphere last week after six students from Mount Alexander Shire took part in the YMCA’s 30th year of Youth Parliament.
They were six of 120 young people across Victoria to sit at State Parliament for the week.
Given the platform, they chose to address an issue they, and many others in society, believe to be important after they noticed a lack of understanding when people were confronted with different cultures.
Their bill, which would enforce compulsory cultural literacy education as a portion of the Victorian school curriculum, was tabled last Tuesday.
“The reality is: we live in a multicultural society. We have to know how to function and know about that society. And at the moment, people don’t,” participant Owen Shooter said.
They argued against a ‘culture of racism’ in Australia. They dislike how a multicultural society sometimes comes hand-in-hand with the acts of discrimination and “casual racism”, which they have observed.
The term, ‘casual racism’ has emerged in the past decade as a result of people casually using racist slang and discriminatory language, often unintentionally.
“There is nothing we can change except the culture, and how do we do that? This bill,” a youth parliamentarian said during debate.
They wanted to focus on the racism and bigotry in communities all over Australia, so they targeted young people.
They said education will be key to stamp out racism.
When their bill was introduced, the team said: “Children will never learn prejudice. They will never learn hate.”
According to 2011 census figures, more than one in every four Victorians are born overseas and from more than 200 countries. This almost doubles if you include those with parents born overseas.
With such a diverse community, the students argued it makes sense that these cultures be taught to our children.
They say it would address the misconceptions that often occur about different cultures and religions from around the world.
“If people understand from a young age, then you’ll raise a generation of voters that will know about the issues being discussed, rather than blind faith,” one of the students said.
Their bill states from grades three to nine, students would be taught the topics: Indigenous culture and history, major religions, global cultures and the influence of cultures in the development of society.
It would give students a chance to become culturally aware and accepting as the bill aims to develop their “awareness of the world around them”, as well as to be informed young citizens who participate in and explore the conversation surrounding multiculturalism.
Damian O’Keefe, from Reconciliation Victoria, said something does need to be done within education to build more understanding when it comes to Indigenous Australian culture.
“It’s not just about the symbolic stuff, but it’s important that we learn the real picture of Australian history,” Mr O’Keefe said.
He said although their institution isn’t directly involved in the education sector, education is one way in which change can and has been made.
“There’s quite a lot of focus on supporting aboriginal kids in school, which is great, but there should also be focus on non-aboriginal kids,” he said.
The Youth Parliament students’ bill aligned with this idea. They want to educate all students, from all backgrounds and under all belief systems.
During the debate at Youth Parliament, the students echoed Mr O’Keefe’s sentiments and said: “This bill is not just for Indigenous students, but is for all Australian students.”
The bill passed, voted 35 to 19, in the Legislate Council of Youth Parliament.
While the opposing arguments were against the specifics of the bill, most of the young people were ultimately for change.
In journalist Stan Grant’s highly publicised speech for the IQ2 Racism Debate in 2015, he touched on the inherent racism in Australia’s settled history.
“We’re better than this,” he said multiple times during his speech.
Mr Grant also brought up when AFL footballer Adam Goodes was controversially booed at games, which left a lasting effect on many Australians.
The “casual racism” he spoke about gave way to many Australians realising that this is part of our society, and is something that needs to change.
From educating Indigenous and non-Indigenous students within Australia, to teaching religious and non-religious students, the idea of the bill is to create the safe environment, and to continue the conversation Stan Grant started.
In the scope of the world’s cultures, it is an important issue to be addressed everywhere. And the students’ propositions need to be addressed further.
Pakistan’s fierce education activist Malala Yousafzai famously said: “There should be no discrimination against languages people speak, skin colour or religion.”
With voices like Malala’s, Stan Grant’s and the young students within our communities, cultural diversity and the communication between cultures is perhaps a dream that may come to exist.
And perhaps the racism and hate could be killed before it has begun, just like the six young Victorians hoped by introducing their bill.
Perhaps we could be better, as Stan Grant said we were.
Either way, six young people from Victoria have come forward, brought their ideas and their hopes, leaving State Parliament with their bill in the hands of Minister for Youth Affairs Jenny Mikakos.
Comments by Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson are frequently in the news, so it’s refreshing to see these young people with empathy and understanding on such a touchy topic for some people.
They have already made an impact on society, proving wrong the perception that young people are politically disengaged.