Three-year-olds learn to protest at pre-school
Educators at a community preschool have facilitated children as young as three to solicit signatures and lobby the government to fly the Aboriginal flag permanently on the Harbour Bridge.
But a child psychologist has warned the children have no idea of the issues at stake and are merely being used as pawns to achieve the political objectives of adults.
"These children do not even have the cognitive ability to understand what a petition is," child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg said.
"I think the idea of roping children into political campaigns seems to be in vogue. Children should not be used as props."
The three-to-five-year-olds at Kelly's Place Children's Centre in Crows Nest have now collected 10,000 signatures and presented them to approving Labor leader Jodi McKay during an excursion to NSW Parliament last month. Labor Early Childhood spokeswoman Jodie Harrison wrote on Facebook: "What a celebration it was today to finally have the petition tabled in parliament!"
A spokesman for the preschool said: "One of the children noticed there was no Aboriginal flag on the Harbour Bridge and said that was disrespectful.
"He was four-and-a-half at the time and came in and told the other children that was disrespectful," he said.
The children had been taught about respect of Aboriginal land during a campaign to get the council to put a bin on a nearby park that they were told was traditionally Cammeraygal land. "All of this began around the idea that there was an absence of respect," the spokesman said.
"As one child explained, 'We need to respect Cammeraygal Land, how we want to be respected'," the centre said in a press release. "They went through the process of learning who to speak to - and they achieved what they wanted," the spokesman said.
"They were incredibly empowered by their abilities."
He said the success with the bin inspired the children to seek further campaigns.
Once the four-year-old had raised the issue of the flag on the bridge the children were then told about advocate Cheree Toka's bid to get 10,000 signatures to have the issue raised in front of the Legislative Council. "The children said 'let's do something'," the spokesman said.
Visual cues such as reams of paper to show them how many signatures were needed.
"One child was at the station and said to his mother 'can you wait here' and walked up and down the platform asking for signatures," the spokesman said. "Another sat outside her unit block waiting for people to come home to sign the petition."
On the Centre's Facebook page children are seen writing a letter to Premier Gladys Berejiklian, describing themselves as "proud advocates".
The spokesman dismissed scepticism about the children's understanding of the issues and said that as educators "we listen to the children and ask them how they want to help."
That argument has been dismissed by educators who said the children under five would not know how to spell "advocate" let alone know what it means or comprehend 10,000 as a number.
"It's ridiculous, they are being manipulated," said one primary school teacher.
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said it was "deeply concerning to see three-year-olds politicised, regardless of the issue."
"Children this age should be engaging in play-based learning, not being co-opted into political games by the Opposition."
Aboriginal leader and politician Warren Mundine said the issue was not about the Aboriginal flag but what children were being taught.
"I always love seeing the Aboriginal flag flying, but preschoolers becoming activists … I just smiled," he said.
The Institute of Public Affairs executive director John Roskom said the children were "being manipulated by adults in positions of responsibility for the adults' own political purposes".
Petition organiser Ms Toka says Kelly's Place approached her initially. "Kids and schools speak numbers so I was happy for them to get involved," she said. "It is a good opportunity for kids at such a young age to learn about equality."