The Anoka-Hennepin Independent School District 11, located just north of Minneapolis, changed its policy of neutrality regarding questions of sexual orientation in favour of active affirmation of the dignity of all students regardless of their race, disability, or sexual orientation. The New York Times reports:
In response to conflicting pressures, Anoka-Hennepin officials had devised an unusual policy, directing teachers to remain neutral on any questions involving sexual orientation. But some teachers said that this hampered their ability to support gay students and that the overall climate was still hostile. Last month, the district rescinded the neutrality policy in favor of a requirement to “affirm the dignity and self-worth of students” regardless of race, sexual orientation, disabilities or other factors. In addition, according to the new agreement, the district will strengthen measures to prevent, detect and punish bullying based on gender or sexual orientation, hire a full-time “harassment-prevention” official, bolster mental health counseling and identify harassment “hot spots” on the campuses of middle and high schools.
However, the Anoka-Hennepin Parents Action League (see their website here) complained that “[m]aking schools safe for ‘gay’ kids means indoctrinating impressionable, young minds with homosexual propaganda” (see The New York Times). The Parents Action League website states that
Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations.
Two things are quite striking here and both are examples of narrow-minded groups making students worse off by making themselves vocal. First, and most obviously, the reported statement that “[m]aking schools safe for ‘gay’ kids means indoctrinating impressionable, young minds with homosexual propaganda” is outrageous in itself especially since it implies that what I take to mean the majority (that is, the heterosexual kids) are better served if ‘gay’ kids are not protected from bullying. I am not sure whether the parents who agreed on such a formulation in their e-mail were appealing to some seriously misguided utilitarian calculation or whether they were just expressing their support for bullying based on sexual orientation? Either way, the statement represents an unusually ugly thought!
Second, the statement on the Parents Action League website is a further testament to the dangers of giving narrow minded and aggressively fearful groups power over the education of future generations. Statements like: “[t]eaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations” is reminiscent of burning the “Satanic” Harry Potter Books (see the 2001 BBC News Story). All such practices will do (practices of withdrawing educational content from the curriculum and relegating it to the home), and I imagine that this is the hope of the Parents Action League, is to perpetuate discrimination based on sexual orientation precisely because homophobic parents seem to want to shield their children from any statements that confer dignity and self-worth upon homosexual students.
Parents should certainly play a greater supportive role in their children’s education. Having had teaching experience at the secondary education level, I have seen my share of too much resentment toward teachers for the low achievement of their child and too little active participation in the child’s education. Of course, this is not descriptive of all, or even most, parents. However, participation in a child’s education should not come in the form of lobbying to truncate the educational experience of students. If schools are to teach only the core subjects (math, social, science, and english), and remain silent (since being neutral in this context just means staying silent) on all other issues, then the quality of citizens leaving the school system will be poor indeed.
Fortunately, the Anoka-Hennepin Independent School District 11 went ahead with its new policy. Perhaps once they eradicate bullying based on sexual orientation in their hallways, they will start to fight the source of bullying, namely the opinions and beliefs of homophobic parents!