Today began with me expressing frustration about students wasting time in choir. Mrs. D seemed to agree and announced some moderate rule changes. I hope they work.
Theory surprised me today by sparking a stressful philosophical dilemma in my mind, though I should ultimately recognize my role in sparking the spark...
I played a video clip from Glee for them to discuss (with an emphasis on the song, of course). One of the responses I received was, "I would have liked it better without the gay guy......because I don't think people should be gay." Another student immediately said, "Nice, someone who agrees with me." I was downright stupefied, and without another glance starting rambling about the production of the a capella tuning in the song. My mind, however, immediately reached a conflict...
When does a subject become more political than ethical, thus rendering it inappropriate for classroom conversation or teacher input? Where is the line between culturally standard ethical viewpoints (which teachers are expected to uphold) and something controversial enough to be either political or religious (which teachers are expected to avoid)? I think I can elaborate by describing two short [and true] stories that have happened recently...
1. A student said, in a conversation with another, "That's retarded!" I interjected with the requisite seriousness and explained that using a word that legitimately describes an inherent characteristic of certain people as an insult is very disrespectful and insulting towards those who the speaker didn't intend to target. The student (and those nearby) seemed to understand what I was saying, and I didn't hear it from anyone in the class again.
2. A student said, in a conversation with another, "That's so gay!" I interjected with the requisite seriousness and explained that using a word that legitimately describes an inherent characteristic of certain people as an insult is very disrespectful and insulting towards those who the speaker didn't intend to target. The student (and those nearby) seemed to understand what I was saying, and I didn't hear it from anyone in the class again.
In both of the above situations, someone made a comment that is, by my understanding of our culture, ethically incorrect, and as a teacher I was completely within my responsibilities to point this out and thus help the student develop into a more upstanding citizen. However, as in today's event, when a student makes a direct statement about not liking homosexuality, I am caught in a position where I am expected not to address the comment since the student's perspective is religiously (and perhaps politically) motivated. That almost seems like a logical place to "draw the line", but, quite seriously, what if the student had said, "I would have liked it better without the retarded guy......because I don't think people should be retarded," instead?
I know, I can hear the arguments, the most likely being, "That analogy is no good because no one thinks that retarded people choose to be retarded, whereas some people do think that people can choose to be gay." My rebuttal: it doesn't matter what group of people I used as analogous to homosexuals, the speaker is still declaring an illogical and insulting attitude toward a group of people, and isn't that something that our educators should battle against?
I have learned to be even more careful in my selection of materials, because, evidently, some high school students are prohibited by their parents from watching such things as Glee (on the other hand, these students have also told me about the controversial readings they've done in English class (is controversial material only fair game for English teachers?)). I have also learned that the "line" that I'm looking for is a squiggly one. My ethics hurt.
We worked with just the boys in MS choir today. Not all of them showed up, and the ones that did were so constantly distracted that it was more difficult to keep them quiet than my rowdiest class.
(Since I would typically link to my Theory selection here, I'll tell you instead that revealing the exact clip that I played for theory would distract from everything above, so I'm keeping it secret.)
What if I were gay? I'd have to keep my mouth shut, at least in this district. As a student teacher, schools have no legal pressure to keep me around. Also important, however, is that before tenure, schools cannot dismiss teachers in discriminatory ways, but they also don't have to provide a reason for not offering a teacher a new contract after their current one ends. As a non-tenured teacher in this area, I would probably have to silently endure comments like that (even tenured teachers often keep silent, because there are indirect ways to lose one's job for having a characteristic that a community disapproves of). If I were open to everyone else about my orientation, the school in which I teach would be the final place of necessary secrecy.
I know of no one who feels the need to flaunt their orientation (except for some extreme homophobes), because nobody should care — but the idea that one would (and many do) have to resist standing up for themselves in order to keep their job is appalling.