Today the Minister for Education, Jeremy Rockliff, should make a brief addition to his official CV: ‘anti-government student organiser.’
A week or two ago the parents of the public school my two children attend were informed that the teachers had called a two-hour stop-work meeting for today to discuss the implications of proposed cuts in public school funding.
For my kids’ school the proposed budget cuts would mean either larger class sizes, cuts to key support for kids needing extra assistance with early reading, literacy and numeracy or fewer resources for various education programs. None of these are desirable.
While starting school late on the day of the stop work meeting was going to be a little inconvenient, my work is sufficiently flexible to make up the time elsewhere.
Then, just two days ago, Rockliff directed that all public schools would close for the entire day.
For me that changed the parenting equation profoundly: my partner is away for the whole week for work. Wednesday and Thursday are my peak work days with deadlines with only so much wiggle room. On top of all that is the reality of finding things for two active kids to do at the same time at short notice is never easy.
So as soon as I was told that the school would be shut all day Thursday I explained to my kids what the options were: I would have to do some work in the morning and we’d all be at home. After that, we might be able to organise a play date at one of their friends, but at short notice I couldn’t promise anything. Or maybe if the weather was nice, after lunch we could go do something special like a bike ride or a walk or go to a park.
I also mentioned to them that some of the parents from the school were organising a protest at Parliament House about the cuts to education funding, so if they wanted we could go to that.
At first they were a little ambivalent. One was inclined to sort out a play date, the other undecided.
My seven year old son wanted to know what budgets cuts were, what it would mean for the school and what it would mean for him. He wanted to know why the government wanted to cut the funding, what the teachers thought and what I thought.
I outlined as fairly as possible all the different issues and perspectives and said it was up to them what we did. There was, after all, a pragmatic aspect to the exercise too: as any parent knows, trying to take kids anywhere they don’t want to go is only going to end in tears for everyone.
By Wednesday morning they had confirmed that they wanted to go to the protest and then have a play with one of their friends if possible.
Come bedtime last night, my son decided that he had to do some signs on some sheets of paper first. No amount of trying to persuade him that we could do them in the morning was going to work. He was on a mission.
I got him some sheets of paper, some pens and sticky tape. He set himself up on the kitchen bench and, when asked, I helped him with the spelling for his little signs. Then it was off to bed.
Fifteen minutes after lights out though, he was back: ‘What if it’s just us?,’ he asked.
I explained to him that I didn’t think that was likely, but even if we were the only people there, that was still okay.
I explained to him that many great changes in our society had started from people who had the courage to stand up for what they believed even when it was deeply unpopular. I also explained to him that most times when people went to protests they discovered that there were far more people who shared their beliefs than they previously thought and came away elated.
As it will be his first rally, he wasn’t quite persuaded but agreed to head on back to bed.
As I looked across to the two signs my son had left on the kitchen bench, I realised that I owe Jeremy Rockliff a sincere thank you for educating my seven year old son about politics in a way I am sure he and Will Hodgman and his political strategists never intended.
Parents, students and teachers will be rallying in front of Parliament House at 12:30 Thursday 27th November.