Something alarming occurred in Hobart earlier this week. I mean, truly shocking. Foundations of decency were shaken to the core and frankly I am surprised that the world did not end. What cataclysm, you ask? What dreadful earth-shattering drama could I possibly be referring to?
Postcards. That’s right. The horror.
Postcards endorsed by The Greens, and Senator Bob Brown, were found at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) and in, apparently, a couple of Hobart’s government schools. The postcards feature an illustration by Reg Mombassa, of a Tasmanian Devil and an Orangutan, with the phrase: ‘The animals are worried…Ta Ann destroying ancient forests.’ Shadow Minister for ‘Education’ Michael Ferguson got up in parliament and demanded that these postcards be removed from the aforementioned institutions; the Premier agreed with him, and the postcards were duly removed from TMAG. When the schools were contacted, no one could apparently find any of the cards in question.
To put it bluntly, I was incensed by this. I include the transcript of an exchange between myself and Michael Ferguson, conducted on his Facebook page on Thursday March 8th.
As a former teacher, Michael, please explain why the so-called ‘propganda’ postcards should not be available in schools.Thursday at 05:54 · Like
Michael FergusonNothing to do with censorship. This argument (now passed) was about respecting the proper function of government schools, which are the trusted choice of parents who vote in different ways. Schools are not the place for party political campaign cards authorised by, in this case, a Green senator. The Premier did the right thing and pulled them out of the public museum.Thursday at 09:57 · Like
Cameron HindrumForestry Tasmania has been disseminating information in schools for a long time, Mr Ferguson. While this information is not ‘party-political’ it represents their agenda, with the support (presumably) of the government of the day. It is a POSTCARD, Mr Ferguson. People are free, surely, to ignore it if they wish. If schools are a microcosm of their community, then democracy belongs in schools also. This is an issue of free speech–and your attempts to undermine it in this case. It is censorship. How will students decide who they should vote for in an election? They may well decide not to vote Green if they see this postcard as they will disagree with its message. But who are you, Sir, to remove their right to do so?Thursday at 15:35 · Like
Michael Ferguson Only polite way for me to respond is “wrong again”. Nothing to do with freedom of speech… perhaps more to do with “freedom from party political brainwashing in schools”. Parents understand that, so should you. So please, Sir, no more acrimony. We understand each other.
- Cameron Hindrum
I apologise for the acrimony, Michael. I don’t apologise for being passionate about protecting the rights of students To Know. I have an interest in the educational value of controversy. Your use of a term like ‘brainwashing’, however, is alarming. I’ll close on this point, and it will be my last word: if postcards like this one should not available in schools, then neither should chaplains. Good luck at the next election.
I’ve spent some time since this exchange reflecting on why I was so angry. At the core of it, yet another assumption was made (it seems to me) about adolescents–that not only are they not capable of making up their own minds, but they should deprived of the information from one side of the debate. Five minutes on the internet will provide them with plenty of information for the other side of the argument; Ta Ann have vigourously refuted the claim that this postcard makes. (As they would, I’m tempted to say.) It is possible that Ferguson can dismiss claims of censorship, because there are as yet no votes to be found in our high schools–and yet, today’s students are perhaps one election away from turning 18. One hopes they will be inform themselves of the issues before entering the polling booth. Perhaps some of them will take this cue from their parents–nothing wrong with that. But the Freirean notion of education, which I refer to above, as a liberating force is completely undermined by the attitude that lead to the ‘censorship’ in schools of these postcards.
This attitude, essentially, is a patronising one. There are strong arguments to suggest that schools are a microcosm of society; if this is so, how has this incident prepared our students for what they should expect once they enter the world? Badly, in my opinion.
Needless to say, there was no response to my jibe about chaplains; I am aware that Ferguson is a committed Christian. But I see very little difference between ‘party-political advertising’ in schools, and the presence of a chaplain. If, as Ferguson seems to suggest, schools should be politically neutral, then they should be completely secular as well.
To take action that prevents a portion of the population seeing what some don’t want them to see is censorship–and perhaps, if he is serious about his portfolio, Mr Ferguson should invest in a decent dictionary.