Socialists, Laggards, Perverts, and Baby-Killers

Why does everybody these days thank soldiers for their “service?” Even when the soldiers themselves don’t like it? At least in part, it must be a hangover from Vietnam-War-era culture-war battles, when soldiers were reviled as “baby-killers.” Here’s my question for SAGLRROILYBYGTH: When will teachers get thanked for their service? After all, for decades, teachers have been called names at least as bad as “baby-killers.”

As I described in my recent book, conservative activists have always accused teachers of terrible crimes and treasons. Teachers fill kids’ heads with lies about evolution, atheism, and communism. Teachers subject innocent young kids to mistruths and calumnies about American history and sex. Such accusations were a standard part of culture-war scripts from the 1920s through the 1980s.

Warning!  Commie Teachers!

Warning! Commie Teachers!

In the 1980s, for instance, Mel and Norma Gabler warned that the ranks of the teaching profession were full of “practicing homosexuals” who hoped to attract young children to their ranks. Such teachers pushed for more sex ed because they suffered from a perverted desire to lure children down the path to sexual sin and depravity.

There’s nothing new about this sort of no-holds-barred accusation against America’s teaching force. Back in 1923, anti-evolution activist T.T. Martin warned audiences about the sinister nature of public-school faculties:

under the cowardly sissy plea of ‘Academic freedom,’ [teachers] demand that we, with our taxes, pay their salaries, while they poison our children against the Bible as God’s real Word, and the Saviour as God’s Son who died for our sins to redeem us from all iniquity and send our children out into Eternity without real redemption; hence, to hell.

This week, I’m reading Natalia Mehlman Petrzela’s terrific new book Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture. Petrzela looks at the ways the fights over sex ed and bilingual ed played out in California between 1960 and 1990. Not surprisingly, she found that teachers were subjected to vicious, unrestrained attacks.

One parent, for instance, excoriated his local school’s teachers, saying they “fill schools with dope and filth and sex” and “teach [students] to make babies so they can kill them” (pg. 123).

Ouch.

As Petrzela relates, however, such extreme accusations were par for the course in culture-war battles over education in California.

So, dear readers, here’s my question for you: When will progressive types begin to thank teachers ostentatiously for their service? After all, it was backlash against the “baby-killer” accusations that led people to start thanking soldiers. Won’t there soon be a similar surge of support for beleaguered teachers? Or is there already and I’m just the last to notice?

We can see some glimmers of it. Progressive bloggers and scholars such as Diane Ravitch, Mercedes Schneider, and Peter Greene make a fetish of valorizing public-school teachers. Will it soon become an article of faith among progressives that teachers are America’s real heroes? Or has it already?

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Kids: You’re Not Really Gay

What should conservatives tell gay kids?  One writer suggests that kids should learn that they’re not really gay.  But that writer, Michael Hannon, also wants us to tell non-gay kids that they’re not really straight.

Hannon’s original argument suggested that the construction of the notion of sexual identities in the nineteenth century doomed conservative Christians to a double danger.  First, it led some people to identify as homosexuals.  According to Hannon, such an identity enshrines sinful behavior as the core of a person’s identity.  To Hannon, anyway, it seems there is no moral way to have sex as a homosexual, since gay marriage is not for him a moral possibility and sex outside of marriage is immoral.

But heterosexuality is just as bad.  By allowing conservatives who identify as heterosexuals to rest satisfied that they had the “right” sexual identity, heterosexuality left people clueless about the abundant dangers of the entire idea of sexual identity.

In other words, if I understand him correctly, Hannon hoped religious conservatives would take their argument up one level.  Instead of suggesting that homosexuality was sinful and heterosexuality was not, Hannon wants us to recognize that the concept of a sexual identity—any sexual identity—was deeply problematic.  As he elaborated in a recent follow-up, Hannon argued that the real goal of religious people must not be Hollywood’s marriage-as-happy-ending, but a more complicated goal of spiritual friendship.

This is not the usual semi-hysterical “homosexual agenda” talk we hear from some religious pundits.  Over and over, conservative activists have warned that “sneaky” homosexuals are using public schools to infect young minds with gayness.  Hannon is making a much more subtle argument.

To be clear, Hannon does indeed think that homosexuality tends to promote sinful behavior.  As he put it,

Self-describing as a “homosexual” tends to multiply occasions of sin for those who adopt the label. . . .  Whereas the infusion of the theological virtues sets the Christian free, identifying as homosexual only further enslaves the sinner. It intensifies lust, a sad distortion of love, by amplifying the apparent significance of concupiscent desires. It fosters a despairing self-pity, harming hope, which is meant to motivate moral virtues. And it encourages a strong sense of entitlement, which often undermines the obedience of faith by demanding the overthrow of doctrines that seem to repress “who I really am.”

But this is not the only problem of sexual identities.  Too many conservatives, Hannon charges, accept heterosexuality as a healthy sexual identity.  They yearn for boy-meets-girl and scorn boy-meets-boy or girl-meets-girl, but in essence such conservatives miss the point.  Encouraging young people to understand themselves as primarily sexual beings—gay or straight—puts too much emphasis on sexual identities entirely.

What should young people hear about sexual identities?  Neither that they are inherently gay nor straight, Hannon says.  Rather, that sex is part of humanity, but never should make up the core of a person’s identity.

Critic John Corvino doesn’t buy it. According to Corvino, Hannon seems to be

asking for something much more difficult for us moderns to imagine: a world without sexual orientation as we understand it. Yet it’s hard to see how to avoid the closet as a necessary first step toward this goal. Worse, one worries that aiming for this goal would at most achieve a disastrous middle ground: a world where orientation categories were still salient but where the taboo against voicing them would leave those with same-sex desires lonely and miserable.

How about you?  Do you think Hannon’s argument has legs?  Can religious conservatives get out of their culture-war pickle by moving away from a condemnation of homosexuality and instead to a broader distaste for sexual identities as a whole?

 

 

Religion? Or Discrimination?

What if I think my religion condemns homosexuality?

The US Constitution says the government must not interfere with my right freely to practice my religion.  Does that mean I have a right to discriminate against homosexuals?

Thanks to liberal watchdog Texas Freedom Network, we see a case from San Antonio that forces us to confront this dilemma.

According to the San Antonio Business Journal, the Texas-based Liberty Institute has complained about a proposed city ordinance in San Antonio.  The proposed ordinance would extend the city council’s non-discrimination rule to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Conservative Christians have complained that this expanded rule would effectively prohibit them from the free practice of their religion.

Such issues often wend their way through education debates.  For instance, religious conservatives in America have warned against the “homosexual agenda” in public education.  In this CitizenLink video, for example, conservative Christian commentators explain the “sneaky” nature of pro-homosexual ideology in America’s schools.  Conservatives have repeatedly scoured their school libraries and classrooms for books that cram a “gay is okay” message down the throats of unsuspecting schoolkids.

Thinking conservatives have complained that sexual orientation and gender identity are not simply the newest civil-rights issue.  In cities with an anti-discrimination rule, would conservative opposition to homosexuality become illegal?  Would conservative Christians find themselves forced to choose between the free practice of their religion and their observation of the law?

The San Antonio City Council has found itself in the thick of this dilemma.  By proposing a ban on anti-gay discrimination, are they unintentionally proposing a ban on many conservative Christians?  Are they trampling conservative constitutional rights in an effort to protect the rights of homosexuals?

 

Lesbians and Libraries: We’re All Victims Now

The recent fuss over Patricia Polacco’s In Our Mothers’ House has followed a familiar pattern.  First, a mother from conservative Davis County, just north of Salt Lake City, complained when her daughter brought the book home from her school’s library.  The book celebrates a family with two mothers and three children.  Next, the school district decided to keep the book, but put it behind the library counter.  Students would need a parent’s permission to check out the book.  Finally, the American Civil Liberties Union sued, claiming the book must be freely available for all students.

In this case as in so many others, both sides rushed to insist on their own victimhood.

Both sides make the customary arguments.  The ACLU fights for First Amendment freedom.  In the words of one ACLU blogger,

“Removing library books because they ‘normalize a lifestyle that parents don’t agree with’ or contain positive portrayals of LGBT protagonists violates the First Amendment rights of all students to access ideas in a school library on a viewpoint-neutral basis.” 

Conservative Christians claim the books are part of a widespread conspiracy—the “homosexual agenda”—to teach children in public schools that all sexual lifestyles are equally valid.  In this case, opponents of the book cite Utah law, which they say forbids school curricula that promote homosexual lifestyles.

Just as predictably, both sides depicted themselves as the victims.  Consider the author’s defense.  Polacco, writing on the ACLU’s blog, told the story of the book’s origins:

“One year I was visiting a fourth grade class and the teacher had arranged for me to hear essays that her students had written entitled: ‘My Family.’ . . . one little girl stood up and began to read. She was immediately asked to take her seat by an aide. The aide said scornfully, ‘No dear…you don’t come from a real family…sit down!’

“This child came from a family of two mothers and two adopted siblings. I was so appalled and insulted on that child’s behalf that I immediately, after school that day, went back to my hotel room and wrote, In Our Mothers’ House.”

From the other side, one commenter on a conservative Christian website asked, “Does the ACLU also require that Bibles be on the shelves!”  Another lamented, “Law suit by law suit [the ACLU] are coarsening the moral fabric of America, and our children are the victims!”  A third chimed in, “I don’t hate these people [i.e. homosexuals] & if they want to live this way that’s their business but don’t try to push it on the rest of us!! God help them!!”

Clearly both sides in this school-library dispute focus on their own victimhood.  The ACLU insists that hiding such books behind library desks hurts families.  Polacco argues that treating some families as illegitimate hurts children.  Conservative Christians, for their part, worry about the creeping influence of the ACLU.  Conservatives fret that they have no voice in public institutions.  Their books, most notably the Bible, have been “kicked out,” while books that denigrate traditional lifestyles and morals are promoted.

Neither side publicly notices their own strengths.  We will not hear conservative Christians gloating over the Christian-friendly policies of this Utah school district.  Nor will we hear ACLU types celebrating the power and influence of their national watchdog presence.

Does the rush to victimhood matter?  Only in the sense that a cornered animal fights the fiercest.  By reassuring ourselves that we are the true victims, we condone any escalation in culture-war rhetoric or strategy as a matter of simple self-defense.  If we are all victims, we all have the moral high ground; we all have license to fight dirty.

Cross-Dressing for Kindergartners: A Fundamentalist Cause?

Are there fundamentalist activists out there who promote what they call the “radical homosexual agenda?”  It doesn’t seem to fit, but a survey released recently by the fundamentalist activist organization Concerned Women for America raises some puzzling questions. 

The organization claims to be the largest public policy women’s organization in the United States.  Its founder, Beverly LaHaye, tells the story of the day she decided to start her own fundamentalist women’s organization.  She was watching Betty Friedan on TV with her husband, the prolific fundamentalist author Tim LaHaye.  It was the late 1970s, and Friedan promised to keep working until American had embraced “humanist” values.  LaHaye remembers jumping up and exclaiming, “Well, Betty, I’m going to spend the rest of my life seeing that American doesn’t become a humanist nation.”

The organization that resulted from that resolution has become a leading voice in favor of traditionalist family structures, Biblical values in the public square, and other fundamentalist causes.  CWA now claims 500,000 members who have joined LaHaye’s fight for the values of fundamentalist women.  One of the most influential has been Michele Bachmann, who attributed her start in conservative politics to the influence of LaHaye and CWA

So when this leading fundamentalist women’s activist organization released the results of a poll of its members recently, it is not surprising that overwhelming  majorities of CWA’s members oppose what they call the “homosexual agenda” in public schools.  What is surprising is that there are a significant minority of CWA members who seem either ambivalent or even supportive of homosexuality as part of public-school curriculum. 

For those of us outsiders who are trying to understand what we’re calling Fundamentalist America, the results of this survey are truly perplexing. 

For instance, consider this question.  The CWA claimed to have “uncovered proof that children in grades as early as kindergarten are being taught that cross-dressing is an acceptable practice and may be encouraged.”  The CWA asked its membership what kind of impact this would have on children.  Not surprisingly, 84.6% of CWA thought this would have a negative effect on kids.  But here’s the stumper: 6.2% of CWA members answered that this would have a positive effect. 

Here’s another example: the CWA asserted, “The overriding interest of the radical homosexual agenda is to change the moral character of our young people and the moral landscape of our nation through the schools.”  When the CWA asked its members what effect this “radical homosexual agenda” will have “on our nation and the next generation leading it,” almost all CWA members (91.4%) said “negative.”  No surprise there.  But again, a puzzling 5.2% of CWA members answered that the “homosexual agenda” will have a positive impact!

What are we to make of these results?  Is it possible that roughly 1 in 20 CWA members–for a total of roughly 25,000 nationwide–support the homosexual agenda in public schools?  Who think that teaching cross-dressing to kindergarteners is a good thing?  That just doesn’t seem possible.  After all, the CWA’s self-declared reason for existing is to “bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policies.” 

But then how are we to understand these survey results?  A few possibilities spring to mind.  The first is that this survey is simply fake.  The CWA could have simply added in a few minority voices to make their survey results seem more credible.  They might have wanted to project an image as a diverse organization.  But such a fake seems far too obvious.  After all, who could believe that a full 5% of CWA members think that “sexual activity between minors and adults” will have a positive impact on children?  I wouldn’t think that 5%–or even 0.01%–of the American public as a whole could support such things.

Could it be that some CWA respondents did not understand the questions they were being asked?  They might have thought that they were being asked different questions, such as, ‘do you think a fight against cross-dressing curriculum will have a positive impact?’ 

The most difficult of all to believe is that there are a sizeable minority of CWA members who support what the CWA calls the “radical homosexual agenda” in public schools.  That would confound our understanding of what fundamentalists want in American culture, politics, and education. 

 

 

In the News: Gay Rights, Bullying, and the “Homosexual Agenda”

Thanks again to Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center for drawing our attention to Missouri’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

This bill, Missouri House Bill 2051, would prohibit teachers in public schools from discussing homosexuality with their students.

The impetus for the bill comes from a widespread belief in Fundamentalist America that public schools push what Fundamentalists call a “homosexual agenda.”

Understandably, non-fundamentalists see bills like this as an attempt to limit rights for gay people.  One Missouri activist called this bill “a desperate tactic by frightened, bigoted, cynical individuals who are terrified at the advancement the LGBT community has made.”  Other interweb voices blasted the move as “moronic legislation” by the “elected bullies” in the Missouri legislature.

I agree with the sentiment expressed by these anti-2051 activists.  This Missouri bill, like other bills that seek to control teachers’ ideological performance, promotes a poisonous educational atmosphere in which the best teachers are forced into cynicism or subversion.  Meanwhile, the bulk of public school teachers trudge along in a bland mediocrity, avoiding any topic that might have potential interest or relevance in students’ real lives.

But I wonder if opponents of the Missouri bill understand that the polemic strategy they use actually reinforces the notions of their Fundamentalist opponents.  Here’s what I mean:  The most common defense of discussing sexual orientation openly and frankly in public schools is that such discussions can help limit bullying.  Defenders of the rights of gay people, especially of gay students in schools, point to the dangerous and even fatal bullying of gay students as the threat of gag rules like HB 2051.  To attack HB 2051, gay-rights activists wrap their assertion of rights for homosexuals in the language of a wider, faddish anti-bullying campaign.

In doing so, they confirm the suspicion of anti-gay activists from Fundamentalist America.  Such activists warn of a creeping “homosexual agenda.”  Such an agenda, Fundamentalists warn, focuses on using public schools to promote an idea that all sexual orientations must be considered equal.  A central trait of this “homosexual agenda” in public schools, as this CitizenLink (an offshoot of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family) video emphasizes, is that the homosexual agenda is “sneaky.”  [This video is just under ten minutes long, but well worth the time for those who hope to understand the thinking of Fundamentalist America.]

Fundamentalists warn that homosexual activists will wrap their true agenda in other causes.  And, when gay-rights activists point to bullying as the main reason to oppose 2051, they add more legitimacy to this Fundamentalist claim.

Let me be clear here: I am not in support of 2051.  But arguing that this is a bullying issue, instead of a gay-rights issue, is exactly what Fundamentalist America expects of gay-rights activists.  I suspect a better understanding of Fundamentalist America would allow gay-rights activists to avoid playing into Fundamentalists’ hands in this way.  Using the broader issue of bullying to promote fuller equality in public schools ends up strengthening Fundamentalist arguments, not weakening them.  Equality should be enough.  That is, gay-rights activists and others should keep it simple: Public schools must be places where every student, teacher, parent, staff member, and administrator feels welcomed and valued.  Regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or other distinction.  This is sufficient reason to oppose Missouri’s 2051 and similar bills.  Saying that gay students must have equal rights only because they might otherwise be bullied muddies the issue.  It fuels Fundamentalist fears that a “homosexual agenda” is being foisted on public schools, hidden in common anti-bullying campaigns.