Thursday, February 08, 2007

Addressing Homosexuality With Elementary Students

I remember reading about David Parker, whose kindergarten son brought home a schoolbook depicting a gay family. He went to the school to complain--and here the story gets murky--but he ended up being arrested for refusing to leave the school when school officials wouldn't give in to his demands.

Parker and the parents of a 2nd grader have filed suit, saying the school has usurped their role in providing what they consider to be appropriate role models for their children. The parents consider information relating to homosexuality to be propaganda against their religious beliefs, while the school says that individual parents can't dictate what ideas their children are exposed to in a public school.

School district officials have asked a federal judge to dismiss the case. On what grounds, I wonder?

I can see that both sides in this case have legitimate interests, concerns, and even arguments. Would a book showing a mixed-race couple have (reasonably) spawned a lawsuit in the late 60s? While some don't see the gay rights/civil rights parallel, I certainly do. Yet I also wonder whether the school has a legitimate claim to be able to teach whatever it wants as long as the topic is legal. Throw in an added wrinkle--gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts, so why can't the schools acknowledge that it exists?

I'm all about tolerance. Tolerance doesn't mean acceptance; to me, tolerance is a live and let live philosophy. Homosexuality is still a touchy enough topic in our culture that I don't think it presents an undue burden on schools to postpone talking about it until students are older and better able to understand the difficulties involved. I don't know where the age line should be, but I'm convinced that kindergarteners and 2nd graders are well on the wrong side of that age line. I recall having some rudimentary "sex ed" in 6th grade; would that be a more appropriate age to talk about (searching around for an inoffensive term here) non-standard families?

I welcome comments.

Update, 2/10/07: Sometimes the heterosexual parenting leaves a little to be desired. Or perhaps the child knows a bit too much about desire. Or something. The headline:

Couple Charged With Having Intercourse In Front of 9-Year-Old Daughter to Teach Her About Sex


Ellen K said...

Here's the deal. I have worked in the advertising and design industry which is full of people who have alternative lovelives. I didn't mind it because it NEVER CAME INTO THE CONVERSATION. I don't discuss my private life with outsiders and I don't see why anyone else has to burden me or my family with their kinky little secrets. And that's what has bothered me for awhile. Why is it ever an issue if someone is gay so long as they aren't propositioning people inappropriately? Likewise, why should the subject of sexual orientation even come up in the average elementary classroom? It certainly isn't on the list of topics being tested. And it has nothing to do with achievement. What it does have to do with is just another political/social group trying to insinuate themselves into the fabric of society by indoctrinating children. That is wrong whether we are talking "The Children's Hour" and communism or the rise of Hitler Youth or the suggestion that children must be introduced to behavior that is outside the norm. I can understand the parents' views, I would have been just as angry. But the bottom line is that this is a topic that has no place in a classroom at this grade level.

Darren said...

What if the homosexual elementary school teacher has a picture of his/her significant other on the desk?

Sandy said...

>>Yet I also wonder whether the school has a legitimate claim to be able to teach whatever it wants as long as the topic is legal.<<

That's the real question, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals answered it by ruling that parents have no say in what the public schools teach their children (which doesn't bode well for the Parker family). When schools become more concerned with ideological control (teaching children what to believe, often at the expense of parental values) than with academic achievement, they shouldn't be surprised when parents begin looking for other options. As you mention, there are times when values should be challenged, but those debates should take place within the adult community, not in the schoolroom. Until change takes place on that level, teachers should have a responsibility to respect rather than subvert parental authority.

Darren said...

Sandy, while I agree with your closing comment, let me play lawyer here (rather than on tv). Since Parker, et. al., are in Massachusetts, I don't think the rulings of the 9th Circuit apply there--except perhaps as precedent for that appeals court to pay some deference to.

Denever said...

"why should the subject of sexual orientation even come up in the average elementary classroom?"

It comes up every time a child refers to his mother and father - test tubes aside, children usually get here as a result of sexual activity of a hetero nature. It also comes up every time a teacher of either sex refers, even in passing, to his or her spouse.

Just because heterosexuality is the default doesn't mean that talking about husbands and wives isn't "bringing up the subject of sexual orientation." The subject is inescapable in ordinary social life.

That doesn't mean that sex is being discussed. I refer to my husband all the time - that doesn't mean I ever talk to others about what we do in bed. The only reason people don't complain about me bringing up my sexual orientation every time I mention him is that I happen to be straight.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately Darren, because I recognize that there are some fantastic people like you and some of my past teachers in our public school system that I would love my kids to be taught by, this is why I plan to homeschool.

I don't want to have to argue with a monolithic institution about what social view who gets to teach them.

I'd like to indoctrinate them my own self.

Anonymous said...

I do agree with denever who said the topic does come up whenever a teacher talks about his/her life. It is impossible to not mention your home life AT ALL. I know a teacher who has been in relationships with both men and women and she recently decided to end a same-sex relationship when her partner was adament that they have a child and she (the teacher) would have to carry it (due to medical reasons of the partner). It's not that she doesn't want to be a mother--she does. She just doesn't know how to explain to her students, their parents, her co-workers, etc. how and why she is pregnant and unmarried. She is not open about her relationship.

Ellen K said...

Just because the subject of how kids come into the world comes up doesn't mean that you have to go into a detailed analysis. This reminds me of a joke. A seven year old goes to his father and asks "Where did I come from?" His father, wanting to be the perfect parent gave a detailed, anatomically correct explanation with drawings and diagrams. After this long winded explanation, the seven year sat down, looked at his dad and said, "My friend Jimmy comes from Chicago." Badaboom!

Ellen K said...

Wow...on the euwww factor this rates pretty high. I would imagine that these same parents also would consider a wide variety of pornography as educational. One can only wonder whether they are truly nuts or if this is an example of grooming a child for abuse. I hope CPS is all over this one. Talk about inappropriate.

Anonymous said...

Whoa there buckaroos! A heterosexual teacher talking about their spouse does not remotely equate to discussing homosexuality in the lower elementary grades. When kids ask about my wife, I will provide appropriate information, but nothing I say will in any way illuminate our sexual preferences or practices.

This is one of those boundary issues that crop up from time to time because some teachers see their positions not solely as educators dedicated to the competent and effective profession of their disciplines, but as moral/ethical crusades to enlighten and indoctrinate students into their kind of "truth."

Any teacher who believes that they can defend teaching sexuality, of any kind, to 9 year olds is displaying an astonishing lack of understanding of the emotional and intellectual development of those children and is also alerting their administrator to their incredible lack of common sense and professional ethics.

You have a student who is having trouble coming to terms with their two homosexual "parents?" Fine. That's why we hire counselors. That's not a justification for exposure of every child in school to those issues.

And I'm afraid that these, fortunately, isolated incidents do not provide justification for homeschooling. They are noteworthy primarily because of their rarity. Besides, why should one who wishes to homeschool need any justification other than their own desire to see it done?

Anonymous said...

"And I'm afraid that these, fortunately, isolated incidents do not provide justification for homeschooling."

In my area they are neighter isolated nor infrequent, and the school system deciding they have more moral authority than a child's parents is definitely a justification for homeschooling.

Actually, the best justification is to ensure my children receive a classical education, which doesn't seem to exist anywhere anymore.

Anonymous said...

As far as a child having to come to terms with having parents in a same-sex relationship and saying that a counselor is the option isn't realistic. Many students in this situation aren't having to come to terms with it- they're fine with it. It's their classmates that have the problem.

As a camp counselor, one of my campers was being raised by a lesbian couple. As we were sitting around coloring, she said, "I have two moms." Based on some of the comments I've read here, if this happened at school some of these teachers would intervene right there. I chose not to and waited to see where the conversation went. Another student then said she had two dads, referring to her dad and stepdad. Other girls chimed in with their family structures. This conversations turned out to be enlightening for the girls as they learned about each other.

Also, sexuality is being discussed all the time by the students. 'Gay' and 'fag' are used often by elementary students as put-downs. This needs to be addressed. It needs to be treated more on the level of racial slurs than just "bad language." As students learn that homosexuals are just people too, horrible use of these words will start to decrease.

Finally, I want to relate a story of an elementary (1st grade) teacher. She personally feels that homosexuality is wrong and there should not be same-sex marriage. However, in her book collection/unit on families, she makes sure that at least one book has a family with same-sex parents. (I'm guessing she also makes sure a divorced family is represented.) She does this because she knows that if children see their own lives reflected in the curriculum, they are going to be more involved and she wants ALL her children to receive the best education possible and be motivated. She wants them ALL to see that school is relevant to them and their lives.

Anonymous said...

Mike,any time you mention a female spouse, nothing happens. It's the norm. That's the point. If a lesbian teacher mentions a female spouse, then suddenly we have Issues - because gosh darn, homosexuality is too dirty to talk about until the sixth grade. The fact that the woman in the same-sex relationship felt she had to end it because of the societal pressure she would feel from her students, parents, co-workers, etc is the reason those immature 9-year olds 'need' counciling to understand their loving, caring parents! By 9-years old kids have picked up the term 'gay' as an insult to be thrown around the playground, which is exactly the reason these morals/ethics are taught in schools. (And if you don't believe morals/ethics of the "normal" judeo-christian variety are taught in schools, you need to investigate a little eety bit further into incidents such as this:

Anonymous said...

One can only hope that the suit would be dismissed followed by the administration and faculty!!

Are test scores so high and children achieving at such a level of excellence that this discussion is even needed?? When will public schools learn that they are in existence to SERVE the educational needs of children and families, not to determine those needs and ram them down others throats.

Shame on you for having this book available in your classroom. Shame on the administrator who did not say that the parents concerns were correct and remove the book from the school.

A very wise man told me when I first assumed the principalship that" arguing with a parent about their child is like teaching a pig to sing. It only wastes your time and annoys the pig!"

Go get them parents.