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A Student-led Renaissance Studies Showcase

The confidence to speak in public and engage an audience is of obvious intrinsic value. At their recent showcase, ably facilitated by Amelie and Grace, Year 10 students spoke eloquently and passionately about issues they care about.

As political events continue to remind us, good oratory that appeals not only to our rational side, but our emotional side too, is important. Following on from a recent student-led Renaissance Studies on cults, Renaissance Studies Coordinator, Ms Poole decided to give Year 10 students the agency to organise their own end-of-term Renaissance Studies Showcase in the Independent Theatre. And they didn’t disappoint. Amelie and Grace took on the role of facilitators, coordinating the event confidently and capably. And students chose three very different topics. All were informative and all provoked discussion.

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It won’t be long before our Year 10 students will be able to cast their own votes in an election, so Ally, Zoe and Alex decided the time was ripe to shine a light on the Australian political system with their Dummies Guide to Australian Politics.

As they acknowledged, the mere mention of politics is normally a sure-fire way to make teenagers yawn, so they resorted to bribery and corruption. They took to the stage with lollies, which they promised to distribute to anyone who asked an intelligent question. We’re all ears, said Year 10, instantly engaged!

As young people, we all share a concern for the future, said Ally, Zoe and Alex. We’re worried about issues that will affect our lives like climate change, employment opportunities and affordable housing. And if we want change and if we want a better world, we need to know who to vote for to help us achieve that.

Okay, said Year 10, but how do we know which political party will best represent our interests? After all, it’s not really something we discuss in detail in our social circles, and often the most exposure we get is via social media, which is not exactly the most reliable source of information. And how can we bring our voices to the political arena when it’s all so confusing? Isn’t it easier to simply vote the way our parents do?

Absolutely not, said Ally, Zoe and Alex. Listen up because we’re going to explain the nuts and bolts of the leading parties, their philosophy and their policies in a way that we hope is interesting and easy to understand.

Please explain, said Year 10.

So, they did. They talked about the political compass and how there isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to politics. They explained left wing versus right wing and authoritarian versus libertarian. They outlined what the Labor, Liberal, Green and National parties stand for and why there’s a Liberal–National Coalition…sensibly avoiding any discussion about cuddly koalas!

It was then time to put Year 10’s political knowledge to the test. They knew which party Tony Abbott belonged to. They knew how much Clive Palmer had spent on advertising in the last election and that he’d failed to get a seat. And they even knew who’d tightened the gun laws in Australia and why. But best of all, they were all able to finish off this quote, “I will not be lectured about….” High five Year 10! You are not political dummies!

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Next up was Jess and Zahra who spoke powerfully about the plight of the Uyghur people in China, one of the most persecuted Muslim minorities in China’s autonomous Xinjiang region. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Uyghurs have autonomy and self-governance, they said. But nothing could be further from the truth because like Tibet, Xinjiang is a tightly controlled region of China.

As Jess and Zahra explained, China’s President Xi Jinping has overseen an increasingly hardline approach towards the Uyghurs, casting them as a terrorist collective. This has allowed Beijing to justify its transformation of Xianjiang into a surveillance state, installing sophisticated surveillance technology across the region, including face and voice recognition, iris scanners, DNA sampling and 3D identification imagery of Uyghurs.

Jess and Zahra also showed a video of detention facilities or ‘vocational training centres’ as they are euphemistically called. An estimated 260 such facilities have been built in recent years, and around one million Uyghurs have been detained in these centres, with growing evidence of human rights violations, deaths in custody and forced labour.

Jess and Zahra asked Year 10 what the signs of genocide are. Well, categorising groups of people according to their race, ethnicity and religion, they said. And discriminating against groups of people by using laws, customs or political power to deny their rights. And don’t forget dehumanising them by diminishing their value through propaganda and using propaganda to polarise and amplify the differences between groups of people. Correct, said Jess and Zahra. And there is also evidence of brainwashing here, with China attempting to re-educate Uyghur children by separating them from their parents and sending them to orphanages/boarding schools in order to wipe out their language, traditions and culture, and in doing so, essentially assassinate their Uyghur identity.

It was all eye-opening stuff for Year 10. The world cannot continue to look away while this is happening, they said. But what can we do? Well, we can use our voices to speak out for people like the Uyghurs, who currently don’t have a voice. We can sign petitions, we can raise awareness and we can boycott goods and services. And we can also donate to organisations that support the Uyghurs or lend our support to those who are advocating for change.

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Finally, Darcy took to the stage to talk about slurs, which she explained, could be defined as an insulting or disparaging remark or innuendo designed to shame, degrade or insult a person or a group of people.

Specifically, she focused on the F-slur, the N-slur and the R-slur. As she explained, the F-slur was traditionally used to describe a bundle of sticks but it’s meaning has evolved to become a homophobic slur.

As Darcy said, it can be hard to understand how a word that was so innocuous in its other context became an insult. But words evolve and their meanings shift. It’s important therefore to be mindful of our word choices as some words can be highly offensive to other people.

This led Year 10 to discuss how groups of people might reclaim a word as a point of pride or use it self-referentially as a celebration of difference. But as Darcy pointed out, language is forged through history and sometimes negative connotations that have become ingrained generationally cannot be easily willed away.

This led Year 10 to the N-slur, which, as they acknowledged, has been reclaimed by the black community in recent years, but is still very much considered a racist slur when uttered by anyone else. Year 10 decided that while a black person might feel a sense of agency or empowerment in using the N-slur, this does not give others the right to use it. And while policing the words that people use to identify themselves doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t feel right to judge or dismiss the concerns of others who have a negative response to a word either.

This led Darcy to discuss the R-slur, a word that she personally objects to. The R-slur is often used to describe someone who is stupid. But what constitutes a funny joke within one friendship group might easily cause pain or offence in another. She has personally experienced the effect of the R-slur as a member of her own family has learning difficulties. By voicing the emotional distress this word has had on her family member, Darcy really made Year 10 reflect on the power of words and their capacity to hurt other people.

Amelie and Grace wrapped up the Year 10 Showcase, thanking all the students for stepping up and speaking out. As they said, it takes courage to get up on stage and speak openly about a topic students care about or are interested in. But speaking out is also a great way for students to be a force for social change.

Bravo Ms Poole and bravo Year 10!