Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Where do one person's rights end and another's begin

Teachers in San Leandro, who are of course school district employees and not free agents, are being forced to place in the class posters stating that the class is a safe place to be gay (lesbian, transgendered, bisexual, whatever). Five teachers have refused to do so:

Five teachers at San Leandro High School have refused to comply with a school district order to display a rainbow-flag poster in their classrooms that reads, 'This is a safe place to be who you are,' because they say homosexuality violates their religious beliefs, Principal Amy Furtado said. The high school's Gay-Straight Alliance designed the poster, which includes pink triangles and other symbols of gay pride. In December the school board approved a policy requiring all district teachers to hang the posters in their classrooms. District officials said the poster is an effort to comply with state laws requiring schools to ensure students' safety and curb discrimination and harassment. They say that too often teachers do not reprimand students who use derogatory slurs or refer to homosexuality in a negative way.
I completely agree with those five teachers, and it's not because I want to see increased violence against gays (lesbians, etc.), or because I think gays (lesbians, etc.) are evil, or whatever. It's because I think that a classroom is a place for teaching and civility. This means that it should be a safe place for everyone to learn what the teacher is teaching and to advance politely ideas relevant to the subject matter. In other words, a classroom should be a safe place for everyone to learn the subject matter. To force teachers to display what amounts to a gay flag in their classroom is an unreasonable elevation of a single group over all other groups that deserve precisely the same courtesies. It appears that the signs went up because students, on occasion, have used insulting language regarding homosexuals (and differently sexualed, etc.). That doesn't mean, though, that you turn classrooms into forums for advertising a special status for homosexuality. It means that you recognize that teenagers are rude, and that it is the job of a public school in a civil society to teach all teenagers that those expressions, whether directed at a religion, race, sexuality, sex, etc., are inappropriate means of discourse on the campus. The most threatening thing about the whole article to my mind is the principal's promise to create harmony:
Furtado said she is confident that every teacher eventually will comply with the district mandate. She said she intends to work with those teachers who have refused to ensure they comply with the order. "We work in a public school," she said. "I have no wish to change anyone's personal belief, but we want all kids to feel safe. That's where we have common ground."
Considering that you have a fairly stupid PC approach on one side, and five teachers' profoundly held value systems on the other side, I rather wonder what Ms. Furtado is going to do to force those teachers to abandon their beliefs. By the way, here's the poster: As Peter points out in the first comment to this post, "questioning" and "youth" seems to have been added to the roster of "lesbian, gay, bisexual," etc. It's easy to see where a teacher who believes homosexuality is a problematic lifestyle choice would baulk, not just at a poster generally, but at a poster that seems to imply that all young people are sexually confused. And I don't think I'm reading too much into the progression of labels on the poster. There is a legal doctrine holding that, when a statute enumerates a list of things, all items in the list are presumed to be part of a related class. [I'm too lazy to check out the formal Latin name of the doctrine, but I'm sure there are some lawyer readers who will be happy to fill in that blank.]