Friday, March 7, 2008
Well, the day started with a woman handing me a flyer about a proposed GLBT curriculum, and it ended with my comments at a public forum being part of the lead story on our local news tonight. I've received several emails wondering whether I am being too quick to embrace these new lessons, so I'll clarify my earlier post by pointing out reasons to be cautious, which are the same points I shared at the public forum tonight.
My earlier post focused on whether I should be objecting to the substantive values being taught by the proposed curriculum, not on the means by which they are being taught. To be clear, there are very troubling paths by which schools might be tempted to engage these issues. I support the inclusion of positive portrayals of non-traditional families within the school curriculum, which will (hopefully) help overcome harmful stereotypes by casting the members of such families in a more familiar light. They are not the threatening, unknown "other" -- they are our neighbors, friends, and classmates. However, to the extent that schools take a more aggressive stance in pushing students to affirmatively embrace certain conclusions about other family arrangements and reject their previous beliefs about family, there is a two-fold risk. First, if the school directly criticizes traditional teachings about family, the student (especially young students) are led to question not only the validity of that particular teaching, but the credibility of the authority figures responsible for that teaching. Second, by portraying other views as illegitimate in comparison to the "truth" espoused by this curriculum, students are led to view the school as the source of moral truth.
Admittedly, these risks will always be present to some degree when the school enters the debate over contested moral issues, but a stance of moral humility (not moral agnosticism or apathy) can lessen the risk. The school principal tonight reported that, out of 62 incidents of bullying this year, 30 have involved name-calling and harassment over (perceived) sexual orientation issues. There is a problem, and public schools cannot remain neutral. But they should remain humble.
For those who disagree, what stance should the public schools take on these issues? Should schools be neutral? (And what does neutrality look like in this context?) Should they remain silent? Should they teach that families headed by same-sex couples are not legitimate? not ideal? Or are these questions moot given that Christian famllies, to paraphrase James Dobson, should have fled the public schools by now?