Tuesday, October 23, 2012

When politics and religion spill over into the classroom

It's conference week in my district and just a few short weeks away from voting day. I have been hemming and hawing whether to post my personal views on politics on Facebook, on my blog, in my yard, on my car, in the classroom, or wherever... because honestly, how often do you really change someone's mind? I would think by now that you know who you're voting for. I am hoping not to have any political conversations with parents at conferences either. We are here to talk about your KIDS. Not your own political views on the economy, foreign policy and the unemployment rate. 

I don't go stomping down into parents' offices or homes, and tell them how to be better parents (although I have plenty of suggestions for some, being a parent myself). I don't tromp down to the political headquarters of whatever party is currently in power, and tell them how better to spend my tax dollars... though maybe I should do that too... like LESS CAMPAIGNING! Especially hurtful and misleading campaigns that do nothing but confuse and anger the populace. How about you politicians just take 10 or 20% off the top of your campaigns, across the board, and give THAT to education? Because, let me tell you, us teachers have plenty of ideas of how we'd like to spend YOUR money... 

Like filling our students' accounts with enough money to eat a decent breakfast and lunch. Like adding extracurricular bus routes so the low income students and kids from single-parent families can actually stay after school to get homework help without having to wait around until 6 for a ride home. Like adding more computers and Smart boards to classrooms so students can interact with curriculum and get quicker feedback on their performance. Like funds to hire more educational assistants to help needy students in mainstream classrooms be more successful. But enough of that topic.

There are more important issues that do, truly, spill over into the classroom. That happen to be on the voter's ballot in Minnesota this year. So I'm just going to say it: Homosexuality. I have known several students, parents and close personal friends all through my life who have "come out" at various stages of their lives. They are some of the hardest workers in the classroom, the truest of friends, and the most devout Christians that I have ever met. 

I don't know how anyone who personally knows a gay person, can morally stand by and say "you don't deserve to say 'forever' to someone someday", or "I shouldn't subsidize your health care and benefits with my tax money because you live in sin".  Gay individuals and couples are normal, functional, productive members of society (or at least as normal as us nutty heterosexuals, as we sometimes claim to be). The only difference is in their bedroom habits; which, frankly, are none of your damn business.

The bottom line is, being gay is NOT A CHOICE. I could quote plenty of studies with recent research to support this, but many will never believe it until they have come to know LGBT individuals for themselves. We as teachers are often the first to notice behaviors that might be considered "effeminate" or "sensitive" or whatever word you want to call it when girls are really good at sports. For some reason, it's frowned upon to call someone the N-word, or poor, or a slut, but students think it's still totally okay to call people "gay". When said students eventually "come out" later in life, as they inevitably do, we as their former teachers are rarely surprised.

These students, whether they have declared themselves LGBT or not, (or aren't sure yet, as many teens aren't) are some of the most victimized individuals in the educational system. They are bullied in classrooms; as much as we try to stop it, there are still whispered comments, inappropriate looks and gestures, and notes that pass behind our backs that we don't always catch. There is pushing and shoving and name-calling and touching in the lunch line, in the hallway, at the lockers, in the gym locker room and on buses... and all the bully prevention in the world isn't going to stop a teen from taking advantage of those few precious seconds when an adult isn't watching out for the victim(s). And it is NOT OKAY.

What is even more NOT OKAY, is for conservative individuals and groups to be forcing their religious views about marriage on the CONSTITUTION either of any state or of the country as a whole. The United States of America was founded on the SEPARATION of CHURCH and STATE. I am not telling you what to believe; I am telling you not to tell ME what I should be believe. Because it's not your business. The state of marriage is a CIVIL union that is recognized in LAW that is reinforced by the CONSTITUTION that is NOT a RELIGIOUS document in any way shape or form. 

If individuals want their definition of "marriage" to be between "one man and one woman", then that is THEIR business. But it is NOT their business to decide where their tax dollars are spent; whether they be on heterosexual or homosexual couples' health care benefits, or their death benefits, or any other benefits that should be UNIVERSAL to EVERYONE ANYWAY. If people want to deny benefits to subgroups of "sinners" so badly, then you minus well throw in the 60% or more of Americans who get divorces in their lives. And to those who abuse children and animals. And to anyone who commits a crime or cheats on their spouses. Or steals money on Wall Street. Where do you stop??

It's just another form of discrimination that is being perpetuated in the same way that slavery and women's rights were. Because there are Biblical quotes and verses to back up just about whatever you feel you want to believe anyway.

To those of you who have read this far, you either agree with me, or you're undecided. So let me put it to you this way. If you're going to literally interpret the Bible to say "marriage is between one man and one woman", then here are some other things you must ALSO literally agree to:

(These were originally posted by Cindy Scott, originally on christiangays.com)

Proposed Constitutional Amendment codifying marriage entirely on biblical principles:
  • Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. (Gen 29:17-28; II Sam 3:2-5; Matthew 25:1)
  • Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives. (II Sam 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chron11:21)
  • A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed. (Deut 22:13-21)
  • Marriage of a believer and a non-believer shall be forbidden. (Gen 24:3; Num 25:1-9; Ezra 9:12; Neh 10:30)
  • Since marriage is for life, neither this Constitution nor the constitution of any state, nor any state or federal law, shall be construed to permit divorce. (Deut 22:19; Mark 10:9)
  • If a married man dies without children, his brother shall marry the widow. If he refuses to marry his brother's widow or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law. (Gen. 38:6-10; Deut 25:5-10)
And here are some more Biblical contradictions on Marriage (same source):
  • He who finds a wife finds a good thing. (Proverbs 18:22)
  • It is good for a man not to touch a woman. (1 Corinthians 7:1)
  • A man shall marry his brother’s widow. (Deuteronomy 25:5)
  • A marriage between a man and his brother’s widow is unclean. (Leviticus 20:21)
  • It is better to be unmarried and a virgin, and live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. (Paul -- 1 Corinthians 7:32-35)

So back to the classroom issue. If I could talk to my students (and everyone else) about this, which I dare not, I would say:

Think for yourselves! The Bible is a guide and clearly not meant to be taken literally. We live in modern times and we need to change with the times. Gay people are not a threat to you. They are not trying to push any agenda on you or convert you to their alternative lifestyle. They just want the same rights and responsibilities as any other American citizen to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". And I would add "love" to that list. Because, what is life, if one hath not love? And what is love, if you cannot have your happily ever after, forever?

And if all else fails, go out and meet a gay person! Get to know them. Ask them questions. Get informed. And only THEN you have earned the right to form your own opinion.