I thought I might as well tell you why my boss and I butted heads the other day, heck I tell you all everything. We have a news show that comes into our classrooms every morning geared toward middle and high schoolers. A few weeks ago we had a story from Arizona.
I explained that a law had been passed in Arizona allowing companies that felt homosexuality was against their religious belief could refuse to provide services to gay people if they so chose. The ultimate question was, would the governor sign the law or veto it.
Many students nodded and voiced support of this law. I told them I could definitely understand their feelings, after all if a person owned a company shouldn’t then have the right to choose with whom they worked.
Then I asked how they would feel if the next group of people to be singled out were people who had been divorced. What if a company said that divorce was against their religious belief and wouldn’t allow divorced people in their establishment. Some students seemed to realize that this could affect their families and it didn’t seem quite as cut and dry.
I explained that laws dealing with the rights of gay people would be in the news for most of their growing up years and eventually they would be the ones voting on them. I told them to look to their parents as their first, and best source of information on this and any topic, but that they were getting to the age when they would be exposed to different opinions and it was good to know what the different opinions were. Listening to someone with opinions different from yours didn’t mean you needed to change your views, but only that you were mature enough to respect that others could have a different opinion. You were free to respectfully disagree – perhaps you will change them to your way of thinking, maybe something they say will change an opinion you hold. Listening to different opinions showed your maturity and willingness to grow in your understanding.
I ended this roughly ten-minute discussion by saying than I had my own opinions because my son was gay and I thought he was one of the finest men I knew.
The next afternoon, the boss came to my room to say he had received an angry phone call from a parent saying that the discussion was inappropriate for a 6th grade class. He told me he was supportive of me to the parent and told the parent he would look into the details.
I told him I would be happy to talk to any parent with a problem and I assured him I would be polite and respectful. He told me that was not my place.
I explained this had come up because of the news story that the school had broadcast into my room and that as a social studies teacher I felt that occasionally discussing current events was part of what I should be teaching. The boss told me current events were NOT to be discussed in class because that was not part of the curriculum.
I was stunned to hear that a teacher, especially as social studies teacher, was never to mention current events or anything in class that was not specifically mentioned in the common core standards. He seemed to have no concept of a teachable moment.
When finding out the story had come in on the school network he indicated that no more stories that contained any mention of homosexuality/gay right would be shown on Channel one – his direct quote was “That won’t happen again.” Was he indicating he would engage in censorship?
He ended by saying, “We won’t fight this ‘fight’ at our school. I wasn’t sure which ‘fight’ he was speaking of:
- Insisting on tolerances for all
He said students should receive any information on this topic from their parents only.
The following is the letter I wrote him.
I appreciate you coming to me Thursday afternoon with your concerns about the phone call you received. I thank you for being so professional and I will do as you ask and refrain from this topic to the best of my ability.
I do wish, however, to point out a few things that have floated through my mind since. Although it’s not in the common core curriculum for sixth grade, we are always encouraged to discuss 9-11 each September. It’s an event that concerns all Americans. Near Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday I also touch on the civil rights movement, mentioning Rosa Parks and the college students who dared to sit at the lunch counter in Greensboro, again it concerns all Americans. I speak of tolerance and acceptance of people different from ‘us’. Yet if a parent had called you complaining that, “We don’t agree with blacks being able to sit at the front of the bus or drink from our water fountains or eat in our restaurants.” I doubt you would have asked me to never mention again that people of color should be afforded the same rights as whites.
I feel that you would want your teachers to stand and occasionally speak for the rights of Hispanic, or black students because they are part of our school and we should state loud and clear they should be treated with dignity and respect. We also have gay students at our school, we have students with gay parents at our school, yet you ask that I remain silent when a news story depicts prejudice against them and pretend that this form of prejudice does not exist.
You said, this isn’t a something you would ‘fight’ at our school. I know you’d like to ignore it because it is such a hot topic and there are such strong feelings on both sides. I will do as you ask, but I need you to understand how this makes me feel. If a parent called and told you they didn’t believe in adoption, and they didn’t like you going around telling everyone your son was adopted, how would you feel?
You don’t give lectures on adoption, but if someone has a question or it comes up in conversation you would never hide the fact that your wonderful little boy is adopted. To deny this would be the same as saying you were ashamed of the fact. Your son had no say in the fact that two loving parents adopted him. My son had no say in the fact that he was born gay. Would you allow a child at our school to be bullied because he was adopted with out saying to the bully, “My son is adopted and he’s the finest boy I know”? Would you expect me to say less if one of my students is being bullied by being called gay?
I appreciate you taking the time to read my thoughts and concerns.