|The NS5 Student Symposium was developed by Robin Chand, Deputy Principal at Killara High School in 2016.|
The Symposium provides students from across the NS5 to speak in a Ted-Talk style format on matters pertaining to their education and their futures. The students present their speeches to parents and members of the community at the Symposium afternoon, and also to all teaching staff from the NS5 schools at the Combined Schools Professional Development Day.
George B of St Ives High School presents her speech, "Young people: architects of social-mindedness...?" to 500 teachers from across the NS5 Partnership (July 2016)
Young people: architects of social-mindedness…?
by Georgia B, Year 9 Student at St Ives High School, 2016
Lemon chicken; this is one of the few meals that my Dad can actually cook. You may be surprised to hear me beginning my speech with a reference to lemon chicken, but hold on, I’ll come back to it later.
Members of the audience, recently I have been learning a multiplicity of interesting things at school. This ranges from the study of the Russian Revolution, to an in depth analysis of William Shakespeare’s timeless play Romeo and Juliet, to the rules of fractions. All of these things are fascinating, and I am very much enjoying learning about all of them. However the question is, long after I have left school, and lots of these things will have admittedly been forgotten, what will be the most important thing that I have learnt? What type of person will I have become as a consequence of my many years as part of Australia’s education system?
We live in a complex world, one that is plagued by serious problems. Major global issues such gender inequality, racial discrimination, LGBT+ related prejudices, war, genocide and human displacement are so prevalent within today’s society.
And even though I am thoroughly enjoying learning about the rules for multiplying indices, the story of Romeo and Juliet and the Russian Revolution, and although I found these to be really interesting intellectual pursuits, the question to ask is this; is my education adequately preparing me to be a socially minded citizen in the complex world of the future?
So, lemon chicken. Having spent time with my father, I’ve learnt a lot about making lemon chicken. In essence, you soak a lump of chicken in lemon juice. You then leave it in the fridge overnight, and wake up in the morning to find that it has become infused with the lemon. Even if you tip the juice away, you can still taste it. The chicken itself has fundamentally changed; it has become lemon chicken. So it is with social mindedness; we need to immerse young people in a culture that inspires them to become socially minded beings, rather than simply doing socially minded thinking. It needs to be at the core of their value systems and personal identities.
It is of crucial importance that the central purpose of education is to develop this disposition. It’s not enough just for students to engage in the odd gold coin donation day for refugees, or to have the occasional class discussion involving sexism. We need to take a dispositional approach, by surrounding them with these issues, so that they can become attuned to a new way of looking at the world.
Obviously this is a difficult situation, and I am not suggesting that I have a silver bullet to any of these problems, but today I plan to present a couple of ideas that will hopefully create some forward movement on both a macro and micro-level.
To discuss my ideas today for a macro-level plan, I think it’s important to firstly give you all some background information. So, the Australian Curriculum is founded on seven general capabilities, which are there to effectively give teachers ideas on how to teach their content. Some of these include literacy, critical and creative thinking, ethical understanding and intercultural understanding.
However, although they are fantastic, and are highly beneficial in helping teachers to enhance the education of their students, I don’t think that they focus enough of helping students to understand the big issues of the world. Although aspects of ethical understanding and multicultural understanding partially touch up of these problems, they are simply not broad enough to cover such a large scope of societal issues.
In light of this, my proposition today is for the development of a whole new general capability of social-mindedness; the idea is that teachers will then aim for every single subject area in every grade level to be taught partially with a focus on this concept.
To discuss this in a little more detail, I thought that I would link it back to two of the things that I am actually learning at school at the moment - the Russian Revolution and fractions, and explore how the general capability of social mindedness could possibly be incorporated into these topics.
My first example here is obviously in relation to history – studying the Russian Revolution recently has been fascinating, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the whole unit. However, what I am going to talk about today is how as a student, I think this topic could be further explored in order to foster a culture of social-mindedness. I believe that the best way in which teachers can do this is by looking at core ideas of a topic and linking them back to big issues evident within the modern world. For example, one possible insight emerging from the study of the Russian Revolution could arguably be how the oppression of people and the restriction of freedoms in general, rarely results in peace and often leads to social destabilisation. Teachers could then explore how this insight is reflected in a variety of contemporary regimes and societies. Ultimately, the material of the Russian Revolution needs to be learnt in service of learning about the socially minded idea.
My second example that I have here is in relation to maths. This really speaks to a difficult question; how might specific procedures in maths be relevant to social mindedness? The example that I always use here is the standard rule that if we perform one divided by any fraction, the answer can be found simply by flipping its numerator and denominator. Easy, right? However, by learning this process one thing that I noticed I didn’t quite understand was why. Why do we follow this rule in order to find the answer? To me, applying mathematical procedures to the real world is as simple as helping students to understand why the fraction is flipped, because encouraging young people to ask why things are the way they are is arguably the most important part of social mindedness, because when we question, is when we truly understand.
So ultimately, if teachers in all subject areas were to teach which this general capability in mind, they would be looking to make everything they teach, whether content or skills, be in service of developing social mindedness.
However, I don’t think the true impact of this proposition can be fully realised when the students aren’t acting and actually doing something about it.
So, now I just want to tell you a little story about me, four of my friends and an umbrella. So one time, the four of us were coming back to school from a Frisbee game. Anyway, we somehow got onto the topic of social justice, specifically in relation to major social issues such as sexism and racism. Time passed, and our conversation slowly got more and more heated. We were all so keen to discuss this topic, to share our ideas and to finally speak up about what was bothering us within society to the point that we came to the decision to use my friend’s umbrella as a talking stick, so that we would stop speaking over the top of one another. These issues really speak to our generation.
With this in mind, I propose the second part of my plan; the development of a North Shore Five student lead social justice group, which will act as a specific local project designed to turn awareness into action. The group will be built on a voluntary basis, where students are given the opportunity to get together a couple of times within the term, discuss the issues which they are passionate about, and come up with genuine ways which they can address them within the community.
Young people are catalysts for change. Much like the way in which we prepare lemon chicken, we need to structure education in a way that will immerse the youth of the future in a culture where they are asking the big questions, wondering why things are the way they are, and taking action to instigate long-lasting and beneficial change within our world. Let’s leverage education, and inspire them to become not just architects of social mindedness, but architects of their own futures.