Comment: A lesson
This fall, the school district and school board are slated to undertake the likely-to-be-controversial task of finalizing and approving curriculum to address sexual orientation and gender identity, which will extend down to the kindergarten level. District officials say they’re doing this to give teachers the tools they need to address anti-gay slurs and bullying and to help comply with state laws outlawing harassment of students based on race, religion, sexual orientation and other factors. They say it’s part of a wider curriculum already in place to teach problem-solving and life skills. But some parents – including some at Franklin School, which recently hosted a session on transgender issues on behalf of a student there – are questioning whether the lessons their children will learn will be age-appropriate and if they need to be specifically targeted toward one group, while others have voiced concerns that the district is advocating values they don’t personally agree with. And they are unlikely to be heartened by the fact that since what’s being taught is not sex ed, there won’t be an opt-out. We’ve talked to people on all sides of this issue over the past few weeks, and this is how we see it: We feel the district’s goal of curbing anti-gay bullying and supporting same-sex families and gay and transgender students is a worthy and necessary one. And we agree with advocates who say that the lessons need to be specific, because the name-calling and bullying is specific, as are the results: Kids who face such bullying are less likely to learn, and have a good chance of coming to some kind of harm. We know from experience that children learn to tease based on what they may see as behavior that isn’t gender “appropriate” (like boys wearing pink shirts) long before kindergarten. By the time they hit middle school, as shown in a recently aired documentary, kids have absorbed a litany of ridiculous stereotypes about what it is to be gay from TV and other media – stereotypes that, if applied to people based on race, religion or any other characteristic, would be swiftly addressed, without question. That said, we are hopeful the district, the school board and advocates of this curriculum won’t be dismissive of concerned parents and will be willing to have a constructive dialogue with them about what will be presented in the classroom (assistant schools chief Debbie Wong said it will center at the elementary level around family diversity and combating slurs and bullying; she said the district’s curriculum team is looking at model curriculum and lessons developed by other districts, including San Francisco, San Leandro and Berkeley). And we feel that labeling all parents who voice questions or concerns as close-minded or bigoted is counterproductive at best, and that such name-calling negates the lesson of tolerance the district is trying to teach. Pressing an information packet, perhaps, into the hands of every parent – something that, from what we understand, apparently did not happen at Franklin (Principal Gail Rossiter could not be reached for comment) – could be critical to allaying some parents’ concerns about what will be presented and could also be a vital tool for extending the lesson the district is trying to teach into students’ homes. The district is hosting two community meetings in the fall to talk with parents about the curriculum it is developing, and we feel that this is a good step. In the meantime, if you want to know more, we’ve got our previously written item on the curriculum team’s presentation to the school board here, a dozen pages from the district outlining the issues around this with an evolving FAQ here, and information on the umbrella curriculum that this lesson would fall under, called Caring School Community, here.