Home » Eve Pearlman

Eve Pearlman: Public schools and diversity

Submitted by on 1, December 11, 2009 – 6:00 am18 Comments

Photo by Jan Watten

As a Jewish person, or a person of Jewish ancestry, or a non-religious, Jewish-identified person – or however you like to describe me (and you would think I would have adopted an appropriate phrase after 39 years of life, but I have not) – I am not always, nor is my family’s life always, in sync with the public school community, its practices and structures.

“Why don’t we get school off for Hanukkah?” my son has asked. (This year, Hanukkah begins today, one week before the start of AUSD’s two-week ‘winter’ vacation.) I explain to my son: “We live in a nation that is primarily Christian, one where the vast majority of people’s family traditions come from Christianity” – because, of course, we have many friends who are not even slightly religious, but who celebrate Christmas with their families – with singing and Santa and cookies and gifts.

Being Jewish makes us one of many minority families in the Alameda Unified School District. And at school, because of our cultural heritage, many things that are said by other children or by teachers, many things made explicit or implicit in school lessons, are not in sync with our family values.

I tend to think that the majority of these disjunctions – though sometimes painful (”Why does Santa not visit the homes of Jewish kids?”) – are in fact good for my children. They’re points where thinking begins, where the most important lessons – those I hold dear above all others – begin. The world is not simple, the world is not the same for everyone, the world is not fair. But we do our best to live in that world, to make sense of that world, to bring kindness to that world. Because if civilization is going to persist, we must live with others who may be different from us. People who may sometimes believe we are less good, less worthy of love, less human.

While a lot of lip service is given to the value of diversity – especially in the recent, months-long brouhaha over Lesson 9, AUSD’s anti-gay-and-lesbian bullying curriculum – I think that face-to-face experience with people whose views are different than ours is essential to the strength of our public schools. Having our children sit in classrooms side by side with children of multiple religious faiths, different family structures, contrasting class backgrounds, varying national origins, demands that we know ourselves – and complicates ideas that we might otherwise take for granted.

This week I had a very long talk with an outspoken opponent of Lesson 9. I am quite sure I disagree with her in at least one fundamental way – I think it is normal and positive and good to build love or a family with another person of the same gender. But I am also, at core, quite sure she wants for her family what I want for mine: warmth, comfort, an ability to love, safety, feelings of purpose and connection. She and I are, I suspect, quite in sync in this way.

But I want to ask her, and others who subscribe to similar beliefs about gayness, to consider the implications of their judgments on gay families. Because despite our laws and protections, we still have plenty of violence against gay people in the world. And words like ‘sin’ or ‘unnatural’ stir that pot. I ask her to understand that these words embody potentially violent judgments.

Specifically, I ask S.E.R.V.E. Alameda – the organization working to recall the school board members who supported it – to excise conflict-building phrases like “homosexual sympathizers” and “activists [who] are poised to wage battle on natural systems that create family” and “card-carrying members of the militant Alameda Education Association” from their website. Rhetoric like this has no place in a community like ours where we pass each other and smile in the aisles at Safeway, where our children play together on the school yard, and where we can all certainly recognize that, at heart, we all want our lives to be peaceful.

If someone had a website that referred to “Jewish sympathizers” or suggested that the fact of my speaking out about my family and our needs meant I was “poised to wage battle on the natural systems that create family,” it would be darn near impossible not to take it personally. And I submit to S.E.R.V.E. that, given that we all live together, given that we want our children to coexist kindly and politely, that this sort of rhetoric, while part and parcel of the national debate, deserves no place in Alameda, or in our safe and inclusive public schools.


  • bob says:

    I was under the impression that hanukkah is not a high holiday and that’s why it’s not given the same accordance of Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah, when many people of the Jewish faith take off work and school. Not to mention that it lasts for a whole week and the start date changes each year, making it difficult for the school district to schedule around that time.

  • Eve says:

    Mine is not a complaint – and it is all very complicated – the amplification of Hanukah because it is the winter holiday nearest Christmas – it’s just a means to of highlighting how when we have a diverse student body the structures, ideas, philosophies and traditions do not match up with every child’s family system. We must instill in our children the beliefs we hold dear – which boil down, most of the time, to kindness, respect, responsibility – and we must keep harmful rhetoric at bay.

  • Michael Schmitz says:

    Well said Eve.

    Regardless of our background or beliefs, we all live together in this community. As adults, we need to model mature behavior to our children through practicing respect.

    Differences will always exist. It is how we handle them that really matters in the end.

  • Michael Williams says:

    Eve, I appreciate you expressing an a thoughtful, bridge-building way what many of us have been struggling with in a partisan way.

  • Jillian Saxty says:

    Thank you, Eve, for reminding us that ALL families who love and care for their children deserve at least understanding, and at best support, from our community. Even though I am, like you, agnostically inclined, I often ask myself “what would Jesus do?”. Surely there is no place for vitreol and hatred, or desire to exclude loving parents of any gender, in a Christ-based religion. Our world does not need religious extremism of any kind with all the difficult problems we need to solve together. I hope this holiday season offers everyone a chance to reflect on how to show real caring for others in our little island community. Happy Hanukkah!

  • Allan Mann says:

    As someone who is both Jewish and gay, I’ve dealt all my life with the feeling of “otherness” that you describe. I felt very comfortable moving to the Island until Lesson 9 brought the anti-gay sentiment to the surface. Because it came from Christian fundamentalists, the paranoia that I felt growing up Jewish has also been revived. What has sustained me, however, are the calm and comforting voices of people like you, Eve, and others who have stepped forward in the name of fairness. Thank you for your inspired words and Happy Hannukah.

  • Miriam says:

    In response to #1 from Bob, the start date for Chanukah does not change every year. It is always the same. It starts on the 25th day of Kislev.



  • valerie says:

    As a heterosexual Alamedan descended from white catholics, I thank you for writing this. Everyone without exception deserves inclusion and support.

  • David Gunderman says:

    Well said. Happy Hanukkah to you and your family.

  • bob says:

    @ Miriam… I meant it moves around on the Gregorian calendar used by non-hebrews

  • Audrey says:

    Well put, Eve. Children learn their behaviors from adults – whether that is parents, relatives, teachers, coaches,etc. The adults are the ones who complicate and confuse children. Maybe if we let them be, adults would learn inclusive, kind, and embracing behaviors. Who is modeling whom?

  • Former Island Resident says:

    The government needs to remove Thanksgiving and Christmas as official holidays. This will make a more secular society instead of endorsing religion.

  • Kelley Kelley says:

    Thanks Eve for such a well put statement. I wish you and all Alamedan’s a peaceful holiday season including those who haven’t seen the light on this issue of respect and understanding of all their fellow man.

  • Brian Harris says:

    Nice post Eve. Happy Hanukkah from one Jew to another.

  • Frances says:

    I would also appreciate it if the opponents of an anti-bullying curriculum that addresses bullying against gay people and children with gay parents (among other people) would stop claiming that their opposition is “moral” in that it is based on their religion. Whether they like it or not, gay people exist and bullying against them is not “moral” in any meaningful sense of the word. No legitimate religion can ever provide moral justification for the mistreatment of other human beings.

  • Jayne Smythe says:

    Bless you, Frances! Folks that believe in the Divine Being need to remember that the D.B. is the sole judge and arbiter! Morality is an invention of people in a group who want to keep “others” out of their social club!

  • Karen Kenney says:


    I, too, want to thank you for your balanced perspective and requst to SERVE. The musical South Pacific includes a song entitled “You Have to Be carefully Taught”. Are we really still in 1949?

    Happy Hanukkah,


    You’ve got to be taught
    To hate and fear
    You’ve got to be taught
    From year to Year
    It’s got to be drummed
    in your dear little ear
    You’ve got to be carefully taught

    You’ve got to be taught
    To be Afraid
    Of people whose eyes
    are oddly made
    And people whose skin
    Is a different shade
    You’ve got to be carefully taught

    You’ve got to be taught
    Before it’s too late
    Before you are 6 or 7 or 8
    To hate all the people
    your relatives hate
    You’ve got to be carefully taught

  • Nicky Tobin says:

    Thanks Eve. Very thoughtful and thought provoking. May a season of healing be upon us soon. Happy Hanukkah!

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