The recent hateful rant by Representative Sally Kern hit home with me, not because of the more widespread comparison she made between gay folks and terrorists, disgusting as it is, but because of her continued rant about the public schools “indoctrinating” children as young as two years old with “the homosexual lifestyle is an acceptable lifestyle.” As a 19-year veteran public school teacher, and an Oklahoma educator at that, where do I begin?
First of all, I’d like to let Representative Kern know that even though I contribute voluntarily to a pro-gay site, I’ve yet to receive my official copy of “the homosexual agenda.” Does that thing come in the mail? If so, mine is lost and I can scarcely think or conduct myself regarding these issues without such a document. In all seriousness, I’m not naive enough to say that I don’t operate from an agenda. Anyone with a couple of synapses making connections does, in fact, function based on one. I like to think of mine as a “love your neighbor as yourself” agenda. I do not base my agenda on sexuality, gay or straight, and the educators I know, even the ones who teach two-year-olds, are with me on that.
I’d venture to say that every public school in our country, and likely some private schools, are now teaching some form of character education. This has to be what Representative Kern is referring to in her rant because I know of no other curriculum that is widespread and could even begin to hint at the “indoctrination” to which she repeatedly refers. A simple search reveals that character ed programs are as prevalent in today’s schools as the soybean burger, though hopefully more tastefully produced.
Every such program I’ve read or taught focuses on teaching character traits, or more appropriately stated, making students aware of character traits. The core vocabulary of these curricula are words like respect, dignity, cooperation, fairness, trustworthiness, and tolerance. Bingo! We have a winner with tolerance. I’d venture a guess that Representative Kern’s biggest beef, or should I say soy, with public education is mangled up somewhere within the word tolerance. Take a seat Representative Kern because yes, we do teach students that they should be tolerant of people who are different, even if they are *gasp* gay. And while it’s not nearly as controversial, we also teach tolerance of people who might be Muslim, Iranian, Iraqi, or Canadian.
You see, Representative Kern, were we to determine undeniably that little Johnny were the spawn of Bin Laden, we would teach the other children to treat him as they want to be treated. I think I read that in the Bible somewhere, the one you read as you conjure up your visions of God. Furthermore, if little Johnny had two dads, we’d treat little Johnny and his dads as we want to be treated and we’d expect the other children to do so as well.
As to the more specific issue of teaching about homosexuality in schools, earlier this month the battle over the sex education curriculum in Montgomery County, Maryland officially ended as the three groups, including PFOX, who had sued the school district, declined to appeal the most recent court ruling. Montgomery County schools are now undeterred from teaching the current curriculum (PDF). I find it to be very straightforward and fair in its treatment of the subject at hand. It states that some people are homosexual or transgender, we don’t know for sure why that is, and we should treat everyone the way we want to be treated.
While I have no reason to formally link Representative Kern with PFOX, the mindset is the same. The Montgomery County sex education curriculum is considered “indoctrination” in that view because it doesn’t teach kids that homosexuality causes AIDS, depression, suicide, and a host of other conditions leading to death. Ignoring the fact that the conditions listed are not respecters of gender or sexuality, those like Kern and PFOX are less tolerant than the evil diseases they seem to fear. That’s because it’s not the diseases they see as evil, but some of the people affected by them. If they were really concerned about people dying from AIDS or suffering from depression and attempted suicide, they’d focus on efforts to find cures and help for those diseases, rather than attempting to prove that gay folks are evil because they sometimes endure suffering. It’s like blaming a female rape victim for having breasts.
Indoctrination is the process of inculcating ideas, attitudes, cognitive strategies or a professional methodology. It is often distinguished from education by the fact that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned.
In the character education curricula I’ve taught as well as the sex education curriculum in place in Montgomery County, students are encouraged repeatedly to question and critically examine what is being presented. Clearly, indoctrination is not the aim. My goal as an educator is for students to think through and come to their own conclusions about why character is vital to their experience as human beings in this world. Indoctrination sounds eerily more like the opinions and attitudes expressed by Representative Kern. I choose to question her attempt at indoctrination and form my own opinion about gay folks, threats to my country, and how to treat others as I wish to be treated.