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Monday, March 25, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage and Public Education

 Update:  new article from Ed Week sheds more light on this subject.

What does one thing have to do with the other?  According to this article in Ed Week, a lot.

It is certainly going to be interesting to see how gingerly districts may have to step in the future to remain "neutral" on this issue.

Here in Washington State, same-sex marriage is now legal and this week, in two separate cases, the United States Supreme Court will consider the issue.   (The two cases are Hollingsworth v Perry that challenges California's limitations on marriage as just for a man and a woman under the equal-protection clause of the Constitution and United States v Windsor that will consider the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 known as DOMA.)

Thoughts what those in public education might have to consider from the Ed Week article:

  • Among the scores of briefs filed by parties and "friends of the court" on different sides of those cases are several that address same-sex marriage and the schools. The issues include schools' treatment of same-sex parents and their children, the impact of the debate on gay students and on those who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds, and the influence of the trend on the curriculum.
  • Almost one-fifth of same-sex couples are raising children—more than 125,000 households, with a total of 220,000 children under age 18, according to U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by Mr. Gates, a supporter of same-sex marriage.
  • "These are rapidly changing times for educators," Ms. Perry said. Public schools should let parents teach their children their own beliefs about same-sex marriage, she said, "but it is a good thing for students to have their families validated in school."
  • In the official voters' guides for the ballot initiative (in California), sponsors said, among other points, that the measure was "simple and straightforward. … It protects our children from being taught in public schools that 'same-sex marriage' is the same as traditional marriage." 
  • Lynn D. Wardle, a law professor at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, said the 9th Circuit court was perhaps naive to think that the legalization of same-sex marriage would not filter its way into school curricula.
    "It is unavoidable," he said. "Whether [in lessons] about sex education, or relationships, or institutions in society, marriage pops up pervasively throughout the curriculum."
    Education groups that have filed briefs on the side of supporters of same-sex marriage say their concern is for how the debate will affect gay students and the children of same-sex couples.
  • "The idea of what a family is has evolved enormously over the past several decades in this country," said Emily Hecht-McGowan, the public-policy director of the Family Equality Council, which advocates for gay parents. "Many children do not come from intact families with a biological father and mother. They're being raised by grandparents, stepparents, and same-sex parents."
    "The job of educators is to make sure all of those children feel validated and accepted," she said.

    The crux of the issue seems to be:

    Public schools should let parents teach their children their own beliefs about same-sex marriage, she said, "but it is a good thing for students to have their families validated in school."

    A school and its staff needs to make all students and their families feel welcome without endorsing any particular way of life as "okay" so as not to upset those who have other beliefs on the issue (even if the issue has been decided legally).  
You could say that beliefs based on religion don't belong in a public school but we allow children out of class to pray so it's already happening.

Teachers, how do you handle a discussion that brings in beliefs that students have as a result of their upbringing?  Do you just say, "that's Johnny's opinion" and leave it at that or should you remind Johnny that his opinion contradicts the law?

How does a school validate all families while trying to not look like they are endorsing any particular lifestyle? 

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

How do we validate everyone while not endorsing any?

"People can have successful, fulfilling relationships in lots of different ways. The important thing is what is right for them." Or, as my daughter said at about age 6 when my wife was prepping her for visiting gay friends, "As long as they love each other, what's the problem?"

Eric B said...

Sorry, that first one was me.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Eric, I get that as well. But the issue is what the school does.

Should they have an LGBT dinner night?

If one child says something about another child's parent (and their relationship), I would think a teacher would have to tread a very fine line to tell the first child, "we don't criticize other people's lives" and that child tells his parents and they tell the teacher "you can't tell my kid he has to endorse that lifestyle."

Naturally, the teacher can say, "I'm not endorsing anything; we just don't allow name-calling based on any issue" and the parent challenges the teacher on it.

I don't have the answers but I see the challenges for schools.

Eric B said...

It's definitely challenging, and there are fine lines to be walked, but I don't see how a LGBT dinner is different from Black History Month in the grander scheme of things. Those who choose to be offended by other people living their lives will find something to be offended by. I also think this is far less of a problem in Seattle than in Moses Lake.

IMHO, it's less about the parents than preventing bullying/promoting respect among the students. The schools already have to deal with kids telling other kids that they and their parents don't believe in [insert deity here], so they're going to hell (remember the Good News Clubs?). This is another file to put in the same folder.

Anonymous said...

There always have been and will always be people who don't accept ideas or beliefs that differ from their own. We live in a diverse, multicultural society, and by enrolling your child in the public school system, you are accepting exposure to this society because everything in society is represented by the kids attending school (and their parents/caregivers).

There are facts, and there are beliefs, and I think it's incumbent upon the schools to deal in facts. The fact is that gay people exist, and like all people, they fall in love and sometimes have children. It is also a fact that in at least Washington and a handful of other states, it is legal for same-sex couples to marry. There may be people who deny that gay people exist, or that they shouldn't have the right to marry, or that they shouldn't be recognized as having the same rights (and responsibilities) of anyone else in America, but these are beliefs that run counter to the facts.

Other facts around love and marriage:

- People fall and love, get married, fall out of love and get divorced.

- People never marry (or are single) but give birth to or adopt children.

- Some children don't have parents in their lives, but have other adults who take care of them.

- Some children have brothers and sisters who don't look like them (different skin color, etc.), and they may also not look like their parents or caregivers.

All of these situations, and the 10 I didn't write about, provide excellent opportunities for teaching kids about the facts of the world and the way people love each other and the kids they're responsible for. And the more kids see themselves in the things they're learning about, the better.

- More/Better

word said...

Perhaps if we had better science education in Washington state we could discuss the many animal model and human studies implicating prenatal endocrine activity in influencing sexual orientation. These studies and the many twin and familial studies firmly implicate a biological basis for sexual orientation. It just remains for the mechanistic details to be worked out. As Eric B. suggests, this puts criticism of sexual orientation firmly in the realm of bullying. That we citizens allow the existence of formal institutions that are comfortable bullying people for their physiology is beyond the path of reason.

For an up to date review on the status of research on the physiology and endocrinology (rather than the psychology - which you should approach with caution) of sexual orientation try: Front. End. vol. 2 p5 (2011).

For those not interested in a short course on endocrinology, More/Better stated the facts perfectly.

I'm a biologist and I have no trouble discussing the physiology and hypotheses surrounding sexual orientation with my kids. What I have trouble explaining to my kids is why our society allows groups of people to vilify gay people. Now THATs an awkward conversation.

ew said...

Eric B said: It's definitely challenging, and there are fine lines to be walked, but I don't see how a LGBT dinner is different from Black History Month in the grander scheme of things.

Eric, those are very different events simply because of the nature of the conversations. Black History Month is 100% appropriate topic for all ages of children. An LGBT dinner, on the other hand, might be reasonable at a High School, but it would be inappropriate at an elementary school. That has nothing to do with prejudice for or against any group of people, it's just that sexuality in general is not something that should be thrust upon an 7 year old. Even at age 11, sex-ed is administered very carefully.

Seeing same sex couples, of which our family knows two, doesn't have to raise difficult or objectionable questions for most young kids, because it's not a sexual thing, they're "just parents"! But an event that highlights sexuality of any nature is different. "Mommy, what does bi-sexual mean?"

Hope this makes some sense without sounding negatively prejudiced. It's a matter of age-appropriateness.

hschinske said...

Oh, please. Something isn't "sexual" in the bumping-bits sense just because it has "sexual" in the name. It's a potluck, not an orgy.

Bisexual people can fall in love with either men or women. That's not such a tough concept for a kid. I'm pretty sure my kids knew that concept in elementary school.

Helen Schinske

Chris S. said...

Possibly because the anti-gay position has been staked out by the religious right, I'm looking to religion in public schools for a precedent. For a real example, what if a first grader pronounces "Jesus Christ is the Son of God!" to a class including "openly" Jewish children? In reality, the teacher didn't notice, but I would think you'd deal with it by saying "Different people have different beliefs - let's be careful not to hurt/exclude Timmy if he doesn't share your perspective."

(Hilarously, my dd later took it on the chin from proselytizing child for "outing" Santa Claus.)

Long John said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms said...

"An LGBT dinner, on the other hand, might be reasonable at a High School, but it would be inappropriate at an elementary school. That has nothing to do with prejudice for or against any group of people, it's just that sexuality in general is not something that should be thrust upon an 7 year old. Even at age 11, sex-ed is administered very carefully."

Oh please. My children have had classmates with gay and lesbian parents since kindergarden. For kids, it is just information.

Anonymous said...

Same-sex marriage is legal in Washington. It's being debated right now in the Supreme Court. So kinda hard for older kids to not know. Frankly, this is where having Courageous Conversation platform to discuss potentially controversial topic be helpful. You can extend such conversation to many topics like bullying, sexuality, drug use, peer pressure, etc. Then again, schools can duck and avoid it all together and just let it simmer in the background.

When the kids were young, I love how their teachers illustrated the many variations of what constituted a "family" and did so in a nonjudgemental way. The kids came in with their family tree (and they had all kinds drawn up, pixs and all) and they presented that to their classmates. It was all very matter of fact and without much fanfare.

parent

Teacher said...

In my classroom, it has always been that families are people who love each other. End of story.

These days, kids may live with mom, dad, mom and dad, mom and mom, dad and dad, grandma and grandpa, aunt and uncle, mom and stepdad, dad and stepmom. They may live with siblings or foster families, or they may live with several generations under the same roof. They may have half-siblings or step-siblings, or no siblings at all. One of my families had a neighbor boy living with them when his home situation got unbearable. My student referred to him as his choice-brother.
My 2 best volunteers were 2 dads I had about 14 years ago - nicest couple ever - and not a single one of my students ever questioned why that child had two dads. They were her parents, they were her family. These days, the only people I ever see having issues with this topic are the adults. The kids already know - they're family.