Various (updated): Lindfield Learning Village controversy

Tele: Lindfield Learning Village principal says sorry for offensive posters

THE embattled principal of north shore primary school Lindfield Learning Village where posters saying “stop killer cops” and “pigs out of the country” were on display has apologised to parents over the incident.

Principal Stephanie McConnell has also said sorry to NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller who has now been invited to visit the school.

“I am sorry for the offence this poster has caused people. We will be working with the Department to make sure something like this does not happen again,” she said in a letter to parents yesterday afternoon.

She said the posters referring to police were part of an activity aimed at identifying what Year 5 and 6 students already knew about contemporary Aboriginal history before they started studying the topic.

“As part of their critical thinking, students were asked to write down all the issues they

have heard from the mainstream news, other information sources or commentary. The

comments on the posters were not taught to students,” she said.

“On reflection the pre-learning exercise should have been handled differently.”

The “pre-learning” activity posters were created in February this year, mounted on cardboard and hung from the ceiling with string for months before they were taken down this week following inquiries from The Daily Telegraph.

Under questioning in the NSW Parliamentary Committee on Mark Latham’s parental rights bill, Department of Education Deputy Secretary Georgina Harrison said a thorough investigation into the incident would be launched.

“She has also written to the Commissioner of Police in NSW Mick Fuller to offer him an apology and to invite him to the school for a further conversation,” she said.

She said it was not surprising that young people might reflect back messages that they have heard and seen in the media and in the community — but said discussion in class must adhere to the Department’s Controversial Issues in Schools policy.

“I am not trying to blame the media, I am saying in the debate of current affairs issues … those narratives and discussions will inevitably come into the classroom for the young people in that setting,” she said.

“I don’t think we want to create an environment in our schools where we discourage respectful debate and exploration of issues. We do want to make sure the way that is done, the values and expectations of parents are factored into that debate.”

In a statement, an Education Department spokesman said the comments on the poster are in no way endorsed by the department or represent the department’s view of police “who do an indispensable job of keeping the community safe and secure.”

“The school has been reminded of the controversial issues in schools policy,” he said.

“At the request of the Minister, the Department is undertaking a review to see if any disciplinary action needs to be taken.”

In February, students in years 5 and 6 at Lindfield Learning Village, an unorthodox public school on Sydney’s upper north shore, began a history unit on freedom and rights in Australia. Their teacher asked them to create posters reflecting what they already knew – from the media, perhaps, or their parents – about some key moments in recent Indigenous history.

One created a Black Lives Matter poster. Another poster read ‘stop killer cops’, with ‘pigs out of the country’ written underneath. A picture of the posters, taken by a visitor, ran in The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday morning.

The posters have triggered a furore that reignited an age-old culture war in education: what constitutes politicised content in the classroom?

The NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliot slammed the actions of a Sydney primary school as pushing “left-wing ideologies” after students created posters features slogans from the Black Lives Matter movement.

They emerged the same day a United States jury found a police officer guilty of the murder that sparked the Black Lives Matter Protests. A furious response about the posters followed from Police Minister David Elliott, from the NSW Liberal centre-right faction, who said children were being brainwashed with anti-police propaganda by taxpayer-funded teachers.

It was also the same day that One Nation MP Mark Latham, who admitted to supplying the photos to the newspaper, was chairing a parliamentary inquiry into his own parental rights bill which aims to reinforce the primacy of the parent in forming their children’s values and prohibit teaching “ideologies” such as gender fluidity in schools.

Mr Latham described the posters as “disrespectful” and “utterly disgusting”. “Isn’t that evidence of the necessity of this bill, to remove political, ideological, hateful dogma out of our schools?” he asked the inquiry on Wednesday afternoon. “Haven’t we got a problem here, in the system, of breeding into young people hatred, disrespect and barbarism?”

When the story broke, Mr Elliott appeared on Ben Fordham’s 2GB morning show, Nine’s Today and Seven’s Sunrise, calling for the teacher responsible to be sacked and for the school principal to apologise. “They have completely let their student body down by indoctrinating and brainwashing them at a time when they really should be learning how to read and write,” Mr Elliott said. “We don’t have a race problem here in Australia.”

Commentator Ray Hadley agreed in a furious editorial. “Sack them, sack them,” he said. “Give that principal a written warning.”

Lindfield Learning Village, which teaches students from kindergarten to year 12, is controversial. Its approach to education is more reminiscent of a Montessori school than a conventional public one; there are no uniforms, no bells, and teachers are called by their first name. Students learn through discovery, guided by teachers. “[We have been] unlearning what school is, and shedding those assumptions that we bring as educators to what school has to have,” Principal Stephanie McConnell told the Herald last year.

Many in the education sector, and outside it, regard the school as experimental and argue its methods are untested. They include Mr Elliott and Mr Latham, who many believe would like to see it shut.

“I think the experiment at Lindfield should end and the school’s practices and teaching [should be] normalised,” Mr Latham toldthe Herald on Wednesday. “[This] says to me we’ve got it completely wrong with this particular school,” Mr Elliott told Sunrise.
But it is popular with parents; when it opened in 2019, on the site of the old UTS Ku-Ring-Gai campus, there were 3000 students on the waiting list for the then-350 places available. It has attracted families who want a different approach to education for their children, some of whom have left high-fee independent schools to sign up. It has also attracted students, especially from the older years, who have struggled in more traditional classrooms. “There are difficult kids,” said one insider.

As the school came under fire on Wednesday morning, WhatsApp groups fired up. Parents rallied around Lindfield’s principal and teaching staff with their support. P&C President Jason Wong said the school’s unconventional teaching methods meant it placed particular emphasis on empathy, understanding context and exploring multiple perspectives.

“I thought it was a bit ironic that the word ‘brainwashing’ was used. Because what I’ve seen in my children is they’re being encouraged to think about things,” Mr Wong said. “The overwhelming majority of parents I’ve met and spoken to during my time at the school have great news stories about how the school has transformed their children into passionate learners able to connect what they’re learning at school to what’s happening in their lives.

He said Mr Elliott’s comments and the Daily Telegraph story had been presented without context. “It’s astounding to think any school in NSW is going to talk negatively about NSW Police in general, let alone this school where they encourage empathy and understanding opinions.”

David Hope, president of the Northern Sydney district council of Parents & Citizens associations, said the situation was unfortunate. “The school is known for modern teaching methods. It’s always been a bit of a target of the people that don’t like change [and want to return to the 1950s]; that’s reflected in Mark Latham’s report,” he said.

A report from parliament’s education committee, which Mr Latham chairs, was released on Monday and raised particular concerns about political content in the curriculum. The One Nation MP referred to the polluting impact of “neo-Marxist propaganda” such as post-modernism, and the left-wing economic theory of 21st century capabilities. But his political opponents argued that there were examples of politicisation from the conservative side, too, such as the inclusion of Special Religious Education in the school timetable.

Soon-to-be acting secretary of the education department, Georgina Harrison, said a controversial issues policy was already in place “to ensure we can create an environment in our schools where a respectful dialogue can occur”. “It is not surprising that our young people might reflect back messages they hear in the media and the community,” she said. “External narratives and discussions will inevitably come into the classroom through the broad experiences of the young people in that setting.”
Former Australian curriculum general manager Phil Lambert said all curriculums went through a small political process in being developed, reviewed and approved by various stakeholder groups including politicians and teachers. When it comes to teaching non-factual matters in classroom, Dr Lambert said it was a teacher’s role to help young people understand a variety of perspectives.

“I agree, it’s not the role of a teacher to promote a particular political view on a matter that is outside of factual knowledge,” he said. “Where I think some people who make these statements … they themselves have a strong political view that they want promoted, and it’s in response to what might be alternative views.

“A particular teacher promoting a particular view is more the exception than the rule. And school principals pick up very quickly where that might be happening and, in my experience, they address that. Policies are very clear about that. Compliance is the same as anywhere else – people will point anecdotally to particular cases, but that shouldn’t be used to broad brush the whole profession.”

Principal Stephanie McConnell clarified that her students were not taught to fear or distrust police in a letter to parents on Wednesday afternoon. She has since invited Police Commissioner Mick Fuller to speak at the school. “We have a positive relationship with police, working with local police youth liaison officers regularly throughout the year,” Ms McConnell wrote.
“Posters referring to police were created in February this year as part of a pre-learning activity aimed at identifying what year 5 and 6 students knew before they started studying contemporary Aboriginal history. As part of their critical thinking, students were asked to write down all the issues they have heard from the mainstream news, other information sources or commentary. The comments on the posters were not taught to students.”

But she accepted Mr Elliott’s request, and apologised for the way the lesson was taught. “I am sorry for the offence this poster has caused people. We will be working with the Department to make sure something like this does not happen again.”


The Australian: Controversial Lindfield Learning Village to be investigated

Newsweek: Australia School Blasted for Having Students Make Anti-Police, White Supremacy Signs: ‘White Lives Matter Too Much’

Sky News/ The Kenny Show:
NSW Police Minister David Elliott has revealed there is “no doubt” government-paid school teachers are deliberately radicalising children against the police force. State Education Minister Lisa Mitchell ordered a review into a New South Wales primary school after it was found to be promoting anti-police propaganda to its students, including Black Lives Matter slogans. “We know there is an element in the teaching fraternity that wants to turn the kids in their care into radicals,” Minister Elliott said. “Two years in as the police minister, I’ve seen it time and time again and I have to call it out now. It would be immoral for me to sit and not speak out on behalf of the police family. “I note that the principal has apologised and the offending posters will come down but unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated case.” Mr Elliott said he wanted a commitment from the Department of Education it wouldn’t happen again and if any parents had concerns about teachers radicalising their children, it should be brought into the public domain.

2GB – Jim Wilson: Education Minister demands ‘activist’ teachers get out of the classroom

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