The UK Rocks, but will we Heed the Wake-up Call?

As I indicated in a previous blog post, the riots and looting in London and beyond are a wake-up call for us all (see “The UK Rocks, but for all the Wrong Reasons”).

Who says that it could not happen here in Australia? Yes, it can be argued that the UK is in a different place politically than is Australia (or other countries for that matter). For example, there was the social brutality of the Margaret Thatcher era, followed by the growth of the welfare state under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and more recently, the impact of the Global Financial Crisis seems to have hit heavily in that country.

But that’s where the similarity ends.

Australia, it is argued here, is looking down the barrel of similar riots and unrest. The other cocktail of factors are simmering, and could well explode.

So, what do we need to do to take control of a “sick society?”

It needs to be said quite clearly though, that the time is past for band-aid solutions and patch up remedies.  With the society as troubled as it is, this is no time for cosmetic surgery. There is no option now, except radical surgery.  If we really wish to save our community, then we need to act, act boldly, and act now.

Of course, it will hurt and it will not be popular. It never is when radical procedures are necessary.

Further, we can no longer rely on the “conscience” of society to remedy itself, or rely on the good graces of people generally to seek to remedy this societal situation. The time for that has passed. Besides the situation is now bigger that any of us and requires a community intervention to seek to turn it around. We need external intervention and generally speaking, when that occurs, people do not like it and tend to push back. Hence, it will behove government to step up and show some leadership irrespective of the “pushback” that they will no doubt receive. The sad reality though, is that governments rarely show leadership. They follow and they follow the opinion polls.

Irrespective, what can we do?  Consider the following options.

  1. Provide mandatory parenting classes for partners who wish to bring children into the world. As I have argued elsewhere (see “Growing Up Children” http://www.growingupchildren.com/children/index.htm or purchase a hard copy from amazon.com), being able to biologically reproduce does not also mean that you are a good parent.

Parenting is hard work and is a skill that needs to be learned. In this country, if it is mandatory to take lessons and get a license before one is allowed to drive a car, then it certainly ought to be good enough to have lessons in order to raise a family who are our citizens of tomorrow.

Alexander Downer, the former foreign minister in the Liberal Government asserted recently in a newspaper article (“The Advertiser, August 15, 2011, Page 21) that expectant parents could be told their child benefits will be dependent on them being able to demonstrate that they have attended parenting classes before the birth of a baby.

  1. Downer also asserts that we need to change the mindset in relation to welfare. Welfare, he argues, should be a trampoline, not a safety net. He states, “There shouldn’t be handouts for nothing. They should be used as a vehicle to rebuild people’s lives. And welfare should be linked to responsibility; it shouldn’t just be an entitlement. With welfare should come certain obligations. We also need to define the obligations we demand for the payment of welfare. If there is a family of young dependents under 18, then those young dependents need to go to school and prove they’ve been to school or TAFE. No school, no welfare.” Furthermore, he argues that although we already require a work test for people on unemployment benefits, the work for the dole schemes should be expanded substantially.
  1. Provide mandatory baby and child support classes for parents (and mothers in particular) who struggle with parenting and the endless issues that child rearing seems to present especially for parents with a firstborn. It could well be for example, that parents are required to attend that least 6 sessions every year before school age in order to receive their ongoing child welfare benefits.
  1. Provide effective early intervention in schools with increased early childhood educators resourcing every school. Research that I conducted back in the late 1980s with Dr Phillip Slee (Cross, D.G., Slee, P.T. (1990). A comparative study of Mother and Child Characteristics in Families of Normal and Behaviour Problem Children.  Australian Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 15, (4), 36-40) showed that kindergarten and primary school teachers were clearly able to identify children at risk and children in need of intervention and help. Early intervention is a key. What’s the point of allowing the horse to bolt and society paying dearly for the rest of that individual’s life?
  1. Incorporate effective early intervention assessment for students in Years 1-4 as a way of determining their learning style and particularly being alert for common disorders such as dyslexia. The research shows quite clearly that around 10% students have a learning disability of some kind. Failure to pick up this kind of problem means that the student goes through school continually failing which inevitably destroys their self-esteem and severely limits their opportunities in life. Sadly, in our enlightened day and age, there are far too many students, who remain undetected and who end up being personal casualties of an archaic education system. I used to see them in the last years of secondary school, depressed and hopeless where they would say that they’ll “never amount to anything.” Psychometric testing would typically reveal a learning disorder where the child was at least average or above average in intelligence, but had a specific learning block. The identification of the dyslexia at times brought relief (“finally there is a word for what I’ve got”), but sometimes rage and anger especially on the part of parents who felt let down by an education system who either failed to recognise the symptoms or who pushed such symptoms aside as a “phase the child was going through.”
  1. Provide withdrawal centres for disruptive students in all schools. The major issue for teachers and schools alike on a daily basis is dealing with behaviour problems which generally speaking, are related to the one or two problem students in every classroom. How can teachers be expected to teach when they are grappling constantly with behavioural issues. These disruptive students who are often violent and aggressive need particular care and intensive supervision. Withdrawal centres away from the main classroom blocks and perhaps built on the edge of the school or nearby, would incorporate a higher staff student ratio as well as be staffed by trained social workers, psychologists, family counsellors and special educators. Intervention would involve not only the child, but the parents, and the classroom teacher. The child may remain in the withdrawal centre as long as it took for their behaviour to become more appropriate. This model was used in South Australia in the 1970-1980s in a joint project between the Departments of Health and Education and it was highly successful. Politics closed it down. Shame.
  1. Provide direct education for students and parents in primary school in relation to cyber bullying. Children need to understand how they can feel safe and also need to understand the repercussions of bullying via the mobile phone or the computer and the repercussions for example, of uploading photos of any kind. Parents who have typically been afraid of such technology need to be educated quickly to come up to speed with what their children are doing. Cyber bullying and sexting is a problem out of control in our community (see the Federal Government report released in June 2011 titled “High Wire Act: Cybersafety and the Young”). I have also devoted a website solely to educating parents and teachers (see cybersafetydoctor.com.au ) on this matter.
  1. Scrap Year 9 and devote the year to life skills and survival skills. Year 9 is one of those unfortunate years when the hormones seem to kick in, and educationally it’s really a kind of nothing year and a lull before the storm in Years 10-12. Ask any teacher or parent and they will tell you so. Dr Tim Hawkes, the headmaster of The Kings School in Paramatta, New South Wales has written an expose on the kinds of skills necessary for any individual to be successful in life (see the article by Dr Hawkes under DrDarryl.com/Resources/Articles and click on “Education Gets an “F” Grade”).
  1. Provide in Year 10, follow up personal leadership courses such as the ones offered by Youth Opportunities (see youthopportunties.com.au) where students over a 10-week program learn the skills associated for example, with effective communication, goal-setting and decision-making. Testimonials from students who have undertaken this kind of course are overwhelming in the ability to turn around young peoples’ lives.
  1. Provide an experience for teens to serve others especially those less fortunate than themselves. There is no doubt that volunteering in some sort of capacity gives one a better sense of who they are as well as an appreciation of what they have already.  It also allows students to understand that it’s not all about them. Some schools are already arranging this kind of experience, but sadly, it is typically only for a selected few. Whether it is working nearby in a soup kitchen, or travelling overseas to work in an orphanage, such experiences are powerful and enriching.
  1. Provide direct intervention and action in proven cases of cyber bullying. This is a problem out of control. There are so many policies particularly in schools that are toothless tigers. While some of our youth haemorrhage through the onslaught of bullying, the adults in their lives mouth platitudes and niceties. The Commonwealth Communications Act already allows for people to be charged if there are death threats or threats to injure. It is appalling that the police for example are loath to intervene in these cases. The time for policies is over. The time fraction is here. Our youth need protection.
  1. Get rid of an archaic education system that was designed for the industrial era and move more with technology and into this century. A wonderful example of how to reinvent education is provided by Salman Khan on TED.com (see http://blog.ted.com/2011/03/09/lets-use-video-to-reinvent-education-salman-khan-on-ted-com).
  1. Provide an effective secondary education that is really engaging and not a system that is simply dictated by the university system intent on getting students with a high grade point average in Year 12. Not everyone needs to do Year 12. Not everyone learns out of a book. Some people are very good “see and do” learners and are highly skilled in the technical areas.  Not everyone needs to do maths one and two, physics and chemistry.  It is laughable that the only way that we are able to get students to remain at school is to legislate that they have to remain there until 17 years. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to ask what we need to do to actually engage students?
  1. Provide effective career guidance to students with full-time career counsellors in school because life is about more about than just getting Year 12 or a high score. Yes, the school might have Student Counsellors, but we are talking here about Career Counsellors. There is a difference. A big difference. We spend so much time educating our children, and getting them through school, but we do little to prepare them for life after school.  It is tragic that many schools do not have a career counsellor at all, while others have only part-time career counsellors who are trying to juggle other subjects and duties. We are supposed to be a clever country, but there is a huge emotional, psychological and financial waste with so many students entering courses for which they are not suited and getting into careers which do not fit for them. The lack of adequate career guidance in schools is a blight on this country. I know, I see the casualties in my office for career guidance on a weekly basis.
  1. Provide effective counselling services in schools that are really confidential and professional. Unfortunately, such services are not always confidential with school staff talking freely amongst themselves. The students know it, and steer well clear of the counsellor. Furthermore, some school counsellors are not well trained, and although they may be well-intentioned and have the care of the student at heart, they lack the expertise and experience to effectively intervene.
  1. Provide Community Centres with one-stop shop care for teenagers. Adolescents are currently struggling in this country and these community centres need to be staffed by doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and pharmacists as well as other professionals in the allied healthcare.
  1. Provide acute mental health centres and hospitals where individuals with severe mental health problems can be accommodated and cared for. The push by governments to close mental health hospitals and provide services in the community is simply cost-cutting and short-sighted. This so-called new advancement in mental health care has been a dismal failure. Mental health patients have been left to largely fend for themselves without adequate backup and support with the lack of case managers to assist.  Moreover, the general public has felt unsafe with these people in their midst and more particularly, family and friends of the patients have been at their wits end trying to cope. Mental health specialists have termed this push back into the community, the “Recovery Model,” but anecdotally, there is ambiguity about what it actually involves and more importantly, there is a lack of evidence that it has been at all successful. Mental health patients deserve somewhere to go where they can be looked after and adequately cared for.
  1. Provide for school chaplaincy services in our schools. It has already been argued that originally our society was based on sound Christian principles which were the hallmark of what a community stood for (See the article “The UK Rocks – But for all the Wrong Reasons”). Strong values. Strong ethics. Love one another as though you are the other. At least we knew what we stood for. Now, as a community we’re all at sea. As I’ve said before, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. And we have fallen for anything. Over the decades, the political correctness and the subtle social engineering has eroded our values, slowly but surely. Has it been by design? Who knows. But the erosion still continues as we see the Sydney Morning Herald on August 10, 2011 lead with the heading “It’s Time to Dispel the Myths about School Chaplains” (see http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/its-time-to-dispel-the-myths-about-school-chaplains-20110810-1imdl.html) where there is now a High Court challenge to having school chaplains in schools. If we do not as a society adhere to a set of values that define how we act and behave, then yes, we are headed for anarchy.

Maybe we can add to this list. Certainly this list is not exhaustive, but it is a start.

I often remind people in my workshops of the definition of stupidity, namely, doing the same thing day after day and expecting a different result.

The London riots are a wake-up call to us all.  We need to start to do something different.