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It's Elementary My Dear Watson

michelle.lee's picture

Setting the Scene

In my past web event, I addressed the issue of change specific to the context of a situation.  In my case, I looked into homosexuality in the context of Christianity and South Korea.  This stemmed from my desire to reframe anti-gay rhetoric at my high school.  For my final web event, I want to expand on this idea and investigate what queering education would look like not just at my own school but just on a general level.  What does homosexuality look like in schools across the US today and how is affecting students and society?  Why should this be addressed?  Why is there resistance?   


The Other Side

Those who oppose this movement are in an unfortunate situation.  They are often put into the light as bigoted and close minded in the more liberal-public.  While religion is often a source of contention, reasons such as government intervention and parental responsibility are just as prominent. They argue that it is not the responsibility of school to teach this kind of material and that it is taking away the responsibility of the parent to teach their children issues of morals.  There are also those who are afraid that by promoting homosexuality, it is condoning a homosexual lifestyle.  Legitimating or prohibiting homosexuality is not something everyone is comfortable with, which is understandable and is a sentiment that should also be respected.  Opponents also argue that is is unfair that only a specific group of people should get this attention.  


Why should it be included?

Those who are for the inclusion of LGBTQIA issues in school do so on the basis that homophobia affects everyone, not just the queer population.  "Homophobia affects children who grow up to be straight or gay.  it results in discrimination, bot subtle and overt.  Homophobia restricts interactions between, between women and between men and women" (Letts & Sears 41).  The whole idea of homophobia is connected with traditional gender roles and heterosexism.  It limits the interactions between all genders because certain actions, interactions, mannerisms, lifestyles have been appropriated for certain genders.  No one wants to be socially perceived as something that they are not.  This can often produce prejudice, both overt and covert, as a form of self defense.  By pointing out and perhaps even criticizing someone who deviates from traditional gender roles, you are strengthening and reaffirming your own gender role and place in the patriarchal hierarchy.  LGBTQIA issues are generally feared because they "threatens one's understanding of self and society and jeopardizes one's position in the power hierarchy of gender" (Lipkin 3-4).  It goes against the patriarchy and many are not happy with that.  


Why School?

It's just not enough that there are certain days that are devoted to spreading awareness.  It's not enough to have campaigns and the Trevor Project.  these paradigms need to be changed.  They need to be reconstructed and need to be taken apart and changed into something else.  Heterosexism and homophobia aren't ideas that people are born with.  They are a socially constructed phenomenon and it's time that it be deconstructed.  And the one place that seems the most appropriate for the deconstruction of social structure is school.  School is a representation of larger society.  School is where, traditionally, habits are formed and where people begin self-identification in relation to the environment they are in.

One way or another, children are going to learn about these issues even if it is not directly from a teacher.  I think it is better that it is correctly addressed instead of learning from peers or media.  Information can often be very perverted or skewed through peers or the media and it would be a lot healthier and safer if LGBTQIA issues were addressed head on and not just silenced and left to fester.  


Elementary My Dear Watson

While LGTBTQIA issues are more openly addressed in college and even in high school, I wanted to look specifically into how these issues could be introduced even at a elementary school level.  I think we forget and make the assumption that everyone goes to college especially since we're all in college right now.  If these issues are only addressed in college, there is a large group people who are left uninformed.  

Some argue that it is inappropriate to teach children about these issues because it will sexualize them.  However, addressing LGBTQIA issues does not necessarily mean you are talking about sex.  When teachers are talking about moms and dads that does not mean they are talking about sex.  It goes both ways.  What people don't realize is children are already sexualized.  It is just so ingrained it is hard to notice.  Even if children do not need to understand sexuality, they will understand the concept of difference and respecting that difference.

Even at a young age, children are learning to appropriate gender traits. During s.yaeger's & dear.abby's scene setting, it was discussed how even at a young age, children are already asserting gender on things as inane as puppets and cartoon characters.  There was a lot of controversy that sparked when it was revealed that Blue was a girl in the TV series Blue's Clues.   Society acts as though all children are heterosexual until proven otherwise.  That is essentially asserting a certain sexuality onto children which, ironically, is an argument that opponents often use to not introduce LGBTQIA issues into primary education.  


What Would This Look Like?

Firstly, it is important to make all policies specific to LGBTQIA and not just "all people."  While opponents have argued that it is unfair to focus on a specific group of people, "history has shown…that unless protected classes are spelled out in policies and lows, saying 'all people' is not sufficient" (Macgillivray 119).  Specificity makes it a more legitimate movement.  It helps to make it more serious and address issues more head on instead of just circling around it.  


The film, It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School, does a good job outlining simple steps that educators could take to introduce LGBTQIA issues into a classroom setting.


Five Ways to address Gay issues in the classroom

1. use the words

2. be prepared for teachable moments

3. draw on current events

4. acknowledge the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people whom the children already know

5. be conscious of the sexual orientation of characters in your classroom literature


The use of words will help with proper use of certain terms.  There is often a lot of misuse of words which leads to slurs and hurtful language.  

Being prepared for teachable moments just means teachers should take opportunities to teach students when they are perhaps using incorrect terminology or answer questions that students have.  A student can learn a lot more from what a teacher doesn't say and doesn't answer and it is usually not in a positive light.  It also sets a forbidden aspect to the issue and therefore set a precedent that it is wrong or immoral.  If a student asks about LGBTQIA issues, the teacher should be able to respond in a manner that doesn't support or reject it but inform the student.  That will help to break the paradigm that LGBTQIA are a dirty secret.  

Drawing on current events is just a good tool in general to inform students of what is going on in their world.  The world is so much more globalized and will continue to do so.  

Acknowledging people and figures who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender who are already present in the lives of children is an excellent way to normalize the situation.  It will eliminate the mystery of the situation and speculation can be eliminated.  More often than not, imaginations run a lot wilder than what is the actual truth.  

What kinds of stories are presented in a classroom can be reviewed.  If stories such as the ones that were brought up in dchin's and epeck's scene setting, it would be an excellent way to introduce the ideas of different styles of parenthood to a class.  A milder alternative would be to include books that are not as hetero/gender-normative.  This can allow for traditional gender roles to be deconstructed and allow for more freedom to all students.  


Where Now?

LGBTQIA has always been a politically charged issue which is possibly one of the reasons why it is so difficult to address.  It is also a very new issue.  There is still so much debate about it on a general level, its inclusion in education is at rudimentary stages.  Nancy Faust Sizer says "Homophobia is, these days, the most ingrained American prejudice.  Yet the more education a person has, the less likely he or she is to be homophobic.  Schools are also places where different people meet and learn about each other.  It seems sensible, then, to work on these issues deeply and carefully while still at school."  I agree with this, but I also think it needs to wait a bit.  I think the inclusion of LGBTQIA issues in all education would be ideal but there are a lot of road blocks.  I think there needs to be awareness made that these issues affect everyone and not just those who are queer.  I think forceful inclusion would just be counterproductive.  It's very disheartening knowing how it could be implemented, and it has been implemented on a small scale in many different schools, but not knowing how to introduce even the idea of introducing LGBTQIA issues.  


Works Cited

Chasnoff, Debra. It's Elementary: Talking about Gay Issues in School. New Day Films, 2009. Print.

Letts, William J., and James T. Sears. Queering Elementary Education: Advancing the Dialogue about Sexualities and Schooling. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999. Print.

Lipkin, Arthur. Beyond Diversity Day: A Q & A on Gay and Lesbian Issues in Schools. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. Print.

Macgillivray, Ian K. Sexual Orientation and School Policy: A Practical Guide for Teachers, Administrators, and Community Activists. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. Print.

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