Andyouinvitedmein’s Weblog

Archive for October 2008

I’ve been a guest blogger for Practically Paradise with the School Library Journal. Here is the link: http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/blog/830000283.html Or you can read it here:

Providing a Safe Environment for All Students to Learn

 

This past summer I was teaching a class of non-white students. It was a marvelous mix of cultures. As we got to know one another, the kids asked the girl from Vietnam if she did nails. Immediately, I realized she was being stereotyped. How many times do we put people into a box? All white people like country music, or all African Americans are good basketball players, or all Hispanics do lawns. The word “all” or “them” implies that someone isn’t part of our group.

 

One of the more controversial social issues in our American society is the conservative vs. gay community. On parent night we may feel uncomfortable greeting two moms or two dads. Our time-honored ideas are being challenged, and as adults we might immediately think: them. But realize children of these parents come under ridicule from other students; traditional families may not want their children associating with these kids. Yet, it goes beyond simply after-school friendship. Kids may believe this gives them liberty to do things that are harmful, either physically or emotionally.

 

One day during a guidance lesson on personal safety, a student remarked “it’s okay to hit a gay person.” You can understand from this statement that gay, lesbian and questioning students (or those who feel they are living in a body that isn’t their real gender) are at risk for harassment or bullying. As school professionals we have a commitment to maintain a safe environment for all our students, and be the catalyst for acceptance by their peers.

 

Sunday, October 12, 2008 marks the 10th anniversary of the crime committed against Matthew Shepard. For those who cannot remember him, he was beaten, tied to a wooden fence and left for dead in a freezing Wyoming pasture—a crime motivated, in part, because Shepard was gay. FBI stats show there are about 1200 hate crimes committed a year against people based on sexual orientation—that’s 16% of the total of all hate crimes. That figure is the actual crime and doesn’t account for countless incidents of bullying and harassment.

 

We have the opportunity to educate our students against prejudice in any form, and help end tragedies like the one that happened to Matthew Shepard and countless others like him. Be proactive to protect valuable children who cry when they are teased and bleed when they are hit—they are not a “them” but students with worth and value. They need your watchful eye, your voice and your concern. Select opportunities such as books, stories, and current news to be proactive.

 

 

Part 2:

School bullying is an epidemic, and to ignore it is to ignore the single common thread among all the school shootings in America. We school professionals have the power and ability to (metaphorically) strong-arm the oppressor by our position. This “strong arm” is to teach our students to respect and value each other in our differences. By doing this we will probably save a life.

 

I experienced being bullied when I was a kid, but it doesn’t compare to the pain of seeing my child being bullied by a group of mean girls in the 4th grade. They stomped her coat and kicked it across the classroom floor (among other things). We told the teacher, but she chose to do nothing. In January we decided to home school because every Sunday night she would become physically ill and would cry herself to sleep. Our beautiful, intelligent daughter felt ugly and stupid, and it took years for the damage of those few months to be put behind her.

 

How can we not see the bullying happen? You know that student who is being tormented: it’s the child who might use any excuse to not be in class. Or one who won’t make eye contact with certain peers. If you can’t see “the bullied,” you can at least see “the bully.” That would be the mean girl who has a little smile when you tell her she’s upsetting someone. It’s the boy who makes fun of and/or calls other boys “gay.”

 

Earlier this year California middle-school student Lawrence King was killed because he was gay (link: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/23/us/23oxnard.html). The statistics about harassment of gay students are astounding. According to a comprehensive national study, 86.2% of GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) students report being verbally harassed, 44.1% physically harassed, and 22.1% have been physically assaulted at school. Grades are lower and the drop-out rate is high for these students. How can we not see these things happening?

 In a wealthy and liberal school district in California, researchers found that GLBT students are bullied and harassed more than overweight or disabled students. Anti-gay bullying has only gotten worse in schools. Teachers generally will only recommend a student shouldn’t say that about their peer. That lack of force further suggests that being gay is wrong. Here are some facts taken from the Palo Alto (CA) High School Online School Journal (link: http://voice.paly.net/view_story.php?id=437):

 

  • 78% of the total student body has witnessed harassment of gay student;
  • 93% report hearing gay epithets (such as “a fag” or “that’s so queer”);
  • 51% report hearing anti-homosexual slurs daily;
  • One-third of these (GLBT) students are harassed due to their orientation;
  • One out of six is beaten where (s)he requires medical attention;
  • Gay kids are four times more likely to be threatened with a weapon at school.
  • Because 40% of all students at some time experience a degree of same-sex attraction, there is a tendency to over-compensation by striking out against gay students as a means of not being perceived as gay. 

 

 

Part 3:

Before I focus on literature I wanted to spend a non-academic moment to address the issue of our belief system. Amid our convictions, we possess prejudices—even if it’s prejudice against prejudiced people. It’s easy to vilify people who don’t believe like we do. For example last night someone stomped the Presidential candidate sign we have in our yard. It is all too easy to get into a “we-them” mentality, because what we believe seems so right.

 

Here’s a far out analogy that takes it from the thought into experience: I’m left-hand, and the first leftie born in the 20th century. My grandfather was the only leftie born in the 19th century. When my aunts taught me how to knit, it was difficult because they could only see it from the way they had done it all their life. They couldn’t identify with my “difference”—but for me it wasn’t a handicap because it was me.

 

The issue of protecting gay students might be offensive to you and cut across the core of your fundamental beliefs. Therefore, it is quite okay to tell a student you don’t understand, but you’re there for them if they need you. See this issue through the lens of protecting a child from being harmed physically or emotionally; certainly that’s on the radar of everyone’s value system. Making school safe for everyone is part of the mandate from your school system, and probably in the mission statement for your school.

 

What if someone comes to you for Heather Has Two Mommies? This child will get comfort from the book because there’s at least one other someone out there who has two moms. His situation is normalized as he turns the pages, even though his name is Joe and not Heather. Undoubtedly there’s no difference than when you give a child a book dealing with any other issue you don’t find “in common” in school. Think about those books: the parent in prison, a mom who is bipolar or a dad who is a gambler; in elementary school you don’t read a book to a class about the dad who drinks, but you certainly have the book tucked away for the child who needs it.

 

Gay teens state they live their life wearing a mask, and they’re in need of a caring adult. Students will look to school librarians to help them find answers. Here is a list of websites and literature you might find helpful (there is a range of literature in here, and some schools and school districts may not permit you accessing it):

  • Gay-Straight Alliance Network (www.gsanetwork.org)
  • GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queer and Questioning Teens by Kelly Huegel (7th grade and up).
  • Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
  • Rainbow Road by Alex Sanchez, a trilogy for 9th grade up.
  • Gay Christian Network (www.gaychristian.net) is a website for conservative gay Christians. They present both the side for remaining celibate, or to date and find a life partner.
  • For parents who come to you, they may be interested in PFLAG (www.pflag.org). This is a group for families and friends of persons who are gay.
  • GLSEN (www.glsen.org) stands for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
  • Exodus International is a group for people who want to live a heterosexual life (www.exodusinternational.org). My note: This is a faith-based group and the research that supports their claims of same-gender attraction change has been questioned, however many students will ask about this program. 
  • The Advocate (www.advocate.com) is a national, award-winning gay and lesbian e-zine.
  • Tolerance.org (www.tolerance.org) is a project created by the Southern Poverty Law Center. A free Teaching Tolerance Newsletter that is available to educators who are interested in anti-bias issues and new educational materials.
  • Open Lives: Safe Schools a book published by Phi Delta Kappa and edited by Donovan R. Walling. It addresses gay and lesbian issues in education.

This week has been prolific with news about gay students. We started the week with the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death, then there was the information about the school in Chicago for GLBT teens, and finally actress Hillary Duff has started a new advertising campaign to help stamp out gay slurs. Here’s a link to the CNN video:

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/living/2008/10/16/phillips.gay.ad.campaign.cnn

 

My book—And You Invited Me In—began fifteen years ago when I saw that my nationally-known conservative church was not available when our landlord, and fellow church member, died of AIDS. While I’m conservative, I also strongly believe that no matter what the issue, the law of grace trumps everything. That’s the kind of love we possess when we shield our students from a shooter. Everyday there are “word shooters” in our classes. The words might be a look or a sound but they all say the same thing. Don’t let that happen. Be the change agent in your school. Make a difference and you’ll save a child.