Thursday, September 10, 2015

Melbourne Schools Ending Bullying

Working everyday as a chaplain I get to see kids at their best and worst. Bullying is a consistent problem, primarily fueled by a lack of others-awareness.

Alongside chaplaincy, I also present a cultural awareness program for Cultural Infusion called the "Intercultural Citizenship Ambassador Program." The 8-week or 16-week ICAP program allows me to see the growth kids go through as they expand the borders of their identity from multicultural to intercultural.

And I'm noticing something. In classrooms where I teach ICAP, precursors to bullying (like interrupting, talking over the top of others, and emotional outbursts) are largely absent by the end of the program. Not because I'm making them better individuals but because they are realising (and fascinated by) the uniqueness of every other person in the room.

The primary message I repeat every week during ICAP is the difference between multicultural and intercultural. Any kid who has been through ICAP with me can tell you the difference. So what is it?

Multiculturalism is when people come from other countries and build little versions of 'home' in the new place - little China, little Italy, little England - where they can live, shop, interact and speak as if they are still in the old country.

Interculturalism is when people from various places come together for a common purpose and create a new culture to accomplish that goal as an inclusive group. I say to the kids, "Your class is a perfect example of intercultural citizenship. There are 30 of you from different cultures, religions and families and you all work together with the common goal of education."

And this is where it gets interesting. Bullying comes from the lack of a meaningful relationship.

While multiculturalism can raise awareness, it often raises preconceptions and stereotyping as well. If you see me from across the street, you don't know me but you will notice I look different, sound different and even act different than you. This can make it easy for you to make fun of me - laughing at me, imitating me, making cartoons about me. I'm only a caricature of myself in your eyes.

Interculturalism is only possible where a new culture is created. A place where nobody fits better than anyone else. Everyone is treated equally. And to solidify the culture, a shared purpose is required. This is what happens in a classroom. One school I just finished with had 27 different cultures represented in the combined year 5 class I was working with. That is intercultural citizenship!

Melbourne is a multicultural hotbed. There are people from all around the world who, within the past 3 or 4 generations, have made this their home. Some refugees are brand new. And our schools are the answer to why Australia is a country with an excellent future. The schools are intentionally taking the multicultural population of Melbourne and creating new cultures of intercultural kids one classroom at a time. Some of these students are now graduating and becoming the worlds workforce.

Perhaps Australia can lead the way in recreating workplaces as they have in classrooms. Working together with a common purpose bridges divides and has to potential to expunge bullying from our global mindset.

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