Tuesday, November 16, 2010

11/9 Addendum

In 11/9, I detail a dilemma that I encountered when I was confronted with anti-homosexual comments in a class.

In A Gay Teenager Stands Up for His Suspended Teacher, Hemant Mehta brings up a recent story about a teacher who did choose to address homophobia.

The overlaps and differences in our stories speak for themselves (and I have to finish this post and get to school), but I have one additional comment to make:  I don't think I would have asked a student to remove a confederate belt buckle, but I would have passed on to her a copy of the confederate constitution, with certain passages highlighted (including but not at all limited to the following, from Article IV, Section III, Paragraph 3).
In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress...
They weren't exactly an ethical group of people.


  1. (I was going to post this in the other thread, but I'll move it here.)

    I often feel that a more appropriate comparison might be "I would have liked it better without the Jewish guy... because I don't think people should be Jewish." At least, insofar as it preserves the ambiguity between the identity one is born into, and the behaviors that might be considered "chosen". Or perhaps it's not a better comparison; it depends on what different people think of Jews.

    As for Godless's comment on your previous post; I doubt it applies in this case. While students can't be compelled to certain types of speech, they can nonetheless be prohibited or discouraged from speaking in a manner which is needlessly disruptive or inimical to others. It's quite well established that students have diminished free speech rights while in class, in that respect. It's not so different from how you can't spread homophobic messages around many government offices. What's far more relevant to this case than the Constitution, is the support of your local school district. Which sadly, it sounds like you don't have.

    I can't tell you what you should do or should have done (honestly, I probably would have been sufficiently baffled in that situation to let it go just as you did). But I will mention two hypotheticals. One is that the "if I were gay" possibility you mentioned is one that does play out across the country, and it would likely be difficult for a gay person to keep order in a classroom where its constantly open season for criticism of their sexuality (ditto for blacks or religious minorities or women). This may not be a point you need convincing of, but I challenge anyone who doesn't think "keeping order" is a top priority in many classrooms to spend a day at my alma mater. And of course it's not always possible for a gay teacher to be closeted at school; there's the possibility of being outed, and the daily probability of being asked questions that would relate to one's partner or spouse.

    The other hypothetical is quite probable, which is that there is a gay person in the class who was either too under-motivated or too over-intimidated to challenge those comments. Having someone else who's willing to challenge them is a great relief. In fact, I'm willing to bet you would have found it easier to say something if one of your students had complained about that comment first so that you could step in as an arbitrator, and that you found it harder to say something after the second student agreed (he sounds like he would have said nothing on his own). When dealing with this sort of thing, knowing who has allies matters a lot to people. The first person to speak up for a particular viewpoint can make a big difference.

  2. As for the Confederate belt buckle, I would have had a lot of difficulty leaving that one alone. If for no other reason, I would be very uncomfortable with the idea of my black students going to school and having to see that sort of thing. Although the Confederate flag can at least pretend to not being a racist symbol.

    To put your dilemma into another arena, I'm thinking about an atheist student who says "I don't think people should be Christian." I actually would agree with that statement, and I may even have made a similar one in some circumstances (I'm a moderately confrontational atheist). But, in class, if that statement wasn't made in a rather qualified way, within the narrow arena of a conversation specifically about religion, I would at least want to tell that student that they were being rude and needed to keep that sentiment to themselves (certainly I would not support such a statement made in response to a mere portrayal or mention of a Christian in a class not about religion). It's not really about admiring or despising the content of the comment itself. It's about maintaining an atmosphere in which students can learn and not feel insulted or threatened by someone acting out of sheer hostility.