Friday, May 16, 2008

Final Thoughts Defending the Day of Silence

A troubling article in this week’s SnoValley Star [] quotes the local pastor who led a demonstration during this year’s Day of Silence, promising more protests during next year’s Day of Silence at this tiny rural Washington State high school.

The Safe Schools Coalition is proud of the brave gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning students at Mt. Si and their wonderful straight classmates who stand up for them every year on the Day of Silence. And at almost every other high school in the region. And we will keep turning out in their defense for as long as Rev. Hutcherson continues to turn out crowds to express disapproval of them.

These courageous students have the same right to safe passage to, from and during school, every day of the year, as does Rev. Hutcherson’s daughter. And their liking someone of their own sex or their not being as masculine or as feminine as someone thinks they should be ought to have absolutely no bearing on their access to an education. They shouldn’t have to pretend and they shouldn’t be made invisible. And they have every right to the civil disobedience of being silent one day out of the year! For Pete’s sake, give everybody writing assignments that day; encourage reading, athletics and arts. Teachers can find a bazillion perfectly appropriate teaching methodologies that don’t require verbal discourse for one day!

As for Mr. Potratz’ analogy … the teacher was obviously just trying to say that children’s free speech doesn’t end at the school house door, no matter how odious their beliefs might be.

That said, comparing forms of oppression is dicey. Gay and transgender young people do get murdered on a regular basis — about one every two months in the U.S. (see — as did middle schooler Larry King this past February. But their numbers pale relative to the generations of African Americans beaten to death during slavery and lynched since abolition. We appreciate people’s sensitivity about analogies to horrific things like slavery.

The point is, nevertheless, that it’s tragic for schools to ignore racism, homophobia, misogyny, classism or xenophobia. When schools abdicate, students learn anyway. They learn from media and older peers. They learn prejudices and misinformation about people different from themsleves.

The Day of Silence is a protest against teachers’ silence in the face of anti-gay bullying and disrespect. Adults in every school need to do a better job of stopping ALL harassment and of teaching about ALL kinds of diversity.

Hear, hear for teachers like Mr. Potratz and Ms. McCormick who stand up for students, even if the particular words Mr. P used may have been too easily misconstrued. He tried. Besides, some folks may intentionally misconstrue others' words for their own reasons. How many other teachers stand by, afraid to say anything, while students like the boy who killed Larry hurl words and fists and, eventually, bullets.

Let's stand by teachers who care.

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