Balanced Debate

I was very impressed with the students’ presentations in this week’s High School assembly. Year 10 students prepared talks to illustrate both sides of the debate around the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum that has caused so much discussion in recent months.

It was a great opportunity for me to talk to the students about the responsibility they will enjoy as citizens when they reach the age of 18 and have the right to vote and to emphasise the importance of seriously considering the issues involved.

For me, voting is an important personal responsibility because people fought and suffered in order for me to have the right as a woman to vote. I shared with the students some of the dates in which different countries were first able to vote and some of the now strange criteria on which this was based (voting for women was apparently allowed in 1915 in Iceland, but only if they were over 40; Rhodesian women gained the vote in 1919 on the basis of their husband’s finances, for example).

But democracy involves much more than just voting. It’s about listening and understanding and making sure that you fully understand what you’re voting for and why. I urged the students to listen to all points of view so they could make up their mind in a logical manner. In a world where social media abounds, it’s challenging to keep an open mind and listen to all the arguments.

We listened to Year 10 students present arguments for and against the Indigenous Voice to Parliament as well as their critiques of each. Of course, the Voice to Parliament is not the equivalent of the suffragettes’ campaign, as indigenous people already have the right to vote. The referendum refers to whether indigenous people should have The Voice as an avenue to provide their thoughts to the Government in a different forum.

Many Carmel students are accomplished debaters and will be used to arguing for or against an issue regardless of their point of view. For the students listening to the presentation during the assembly, I know it caused much debate and discussion afterwards.

As a school, we are educators. Our role is to provide information and to encourage thinking. We’re not here to back one side of a political argument – we’re here to provoke discussion and to educate. Our job is to provide information on both sides of a debate and encourage debate so that our students develop high-level thinking skills and are able to make up their own minds. It was pleasing to hear both sides of the argument and even more pleasing that Carmel students are able to listen respectfully and genuinely consider differing points of view. As a school, we take very seriously our responsibility to develop Carmel graduates who will be good citizens equipped with the ability to consider all the evidence and vote based on their values and personal beliefs. Wednesday’s assembly was an excellent example of this in action.

Shabbat shalom.

 Julie Harris