April 09, 2020

I have often written about the importance of Equality for Women and the need to continue pushing and breaking down barriers which prevent equal opportunities for women.

MLC was founded on the principles of equality and social justice.  The urgent need to provide an education for young women which matched the education that was provided for young men was fundamental to our establishment in 1882.  

The various movements which continue to drive for equal representation for women are predicated on the fact that to ignore women is to ignore the views, opinions and contributions of 50% of the population worldwide.

So too racial equality. To ignore or overlook the contribution that everyone can make to our world, regardless of their racial heritage, quite apart from being collectively abhorrent and illegal in most democracies, is ultimately to the detriment of international progress.

The tragic death of George Floyd has sparked a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement worldwide, whilst prompting a renewed urgency to review Australia’s approach to equality and justice for indigenous people.  

The 2020 Reconciliation theme ‘In this together’ could not be more apt.  We all need to work together to make progress.  To quote from the website www.reconciliation.org.au, “As always, we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and Australians now benefit from the efforts and contributions of people committed to reconciliation in the past.”.

Whilst this quote refers to the valuable contributions of those who are committed to reconciliation, however unpalatable the stories of the past may be, it is unhelpful to try and eradicate history.  We are where we are because of the decisions and the actions of our forebears worldwide and we need to understand history and the many mistakes that have been made, in order to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated.

There is currently a petition in the UK to develop a more inclusive curriculum for primary and secondary students and include topics such as Britain’s role in colonisation and the transatlantic slave trade. I fully support the role that education can play as we strive for equality. 

I was taught history by a passionate Irishwoman. We learned about the British Empire mainly from the viewpoint of Ireland – the Irish Famine, the Black and Tans, the oppression of Catholics through education and housing policies in Northern Ireland in the 1960s, as well as the scandal surrounding the treatment of many of the ‘Windrush generation’. I can recall the shock of being shown a poster from a hotel in the 1950s ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No dogs’.  We were also exposed to the brutality of the transatlantic Slave Trade and the role of William Wilberforce in calling for this inhumanity to end, which ultimately led to the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.  The history that we learnt acknowledged both the positive and the negative and these insights into the horrors of the past certainly instilled in me the need for social justice.

Understanding the truth of history helps us understand the progress that has been made, but also throws into relief what still needs to be addressed.  As protestors deface and topple statues worldwide, we need to avoid ‘mob rule’, beware the pitfalls of ‘virtue signalling’ and engage constructively in discussion about what needs to be achieved here and now.  

Education has a key role to play in developing critical thinking skills, in encouraging and enabling current and future generations to appreciate different perspectives and to arrive at an informed view.  There are usually many sides to every story, which would all benefit from further interrogation.  Very rarely are issues as unequivocal as they might first present, particularly when passions are aroused and clear thinking is challenged.  

We need to take collective and individual responsibility to inform ourselves and contribute to redress the ills of our world.  This is all the more important at a time when the world seems to be becoming increasingly polarised.  In order to move forward together, we need to escape our comfort zones and the safe havens that risk reflecting rather than informing our views.  

Education is critical. As individuals, we have a responsibility to inform ourselves fully to ensure we have a full understanding of the decisions made throughout the history of the world, their subsequent impact and the current situation, before we engage in the debate and take action ourselves.  

Learning and engaging as a member of a diverse school population supports a deeper understanding of the challenges faced worldwide. MLC prides itself on having a history which has long embraced diversity amongst the student body.  The founding Principal, Dr Fitchett, successfully attracted international students to increase the diversity of the student population. Later, Principal Dr Wood specifically encouraged enrolments from Asian and Jewish students, a reflection of the issues of this era during his tenure from 1939 to 1966.  

Quite apart from providing excellent preparation for ‘life’, both Principals recognised the value of learning from and alongside others who might have a very different perspective.  MLC continues to provide scholarships to students who would not otherwise be able to attend MLC through the Principal’s Scholarships.  MLC’s first Indigenous scholar joined the College in 2005, through a Melbourne University scholarship program and in 2015, we introduced the MLC Principal’s Indigenous Scholarship program, to provide pathways for students with whom we can share stories and through whom we can help contribute to a fairer world. 

Education plays an essential role in both informing us all, as well as providing opportunities for all, to try and help redress the imbalance worldwide and strive for equality across humankind.

Ms Diana Vernon, Principal of MLC

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