Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Alchemy of Wheaton College


It turns freshmen into bigots.

Bigot:
A person who regards his own faith and views in matters of religion as unquestionably right, and any belief or opinion opposed to or differing from them as unreasonable or wicked. Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary.

A few young people might enter college with their “faith and views” fully formed, but it’s probably safe to say most do not—they come to school with some history and plenty of room to learn. College is for that.

Higher education invites us to stretch, to experience new things and to look at familiar things in new ways. We get a chance to expand and grow.

But Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, is different. It, like a number of other private religious colleges, requires students to demonstrate, even before they enter the school, that they are bigots. Wheaton does this by requiring applicants to sign a “Community Covenant” in agreement with a statement that condemns “homosexual behavior.” They may be trying to sidestep the implication that they are condemning any actual people (love the sinner, hate the sin!), but that’s crap—we are our sexualities, just as we are our genders and our ethnicities. We are more than those, of course; we can never be reduced to just those qualities, but we are also fully ALL those qualities.

Download an application to read the condemning statement yourself at:

http://www.wheaton.edu/admissions/UndGrad/applying/forms.php4#cas

It’s a shame that any college demands professions of bigotry from young people. A “dirty shame,” John Waters might say. It’s awful that a college requires students to prove their prejudice as a prerequisite to admission. Alchemists aimed to produce gold from base metal. Higher education should, too. But Wheaton engages in reverse alchemy—it produces condemnation, not kindness.

Most citizens could just ignore this situation, if Wheaton weren’t also in the business of producing teachers for our public schools. That’s right, the teachers Wheaton graduates—who have sworn that they condemn lesbian, gay, and bisexual children and families—can teach in public schools. Wheaton’s teacher education programs are accredited—legitimated—by the Illinois State Board of Education, which says teachers should be able to “help all students learn.” But how can teachers educate those they condemn?

If you read my last post you know that the population of gay students is large—as one example, in 2003, 6.3 % of high school students attending Chicago Public Schools identified their sexual orientation as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Schools are uncomfortable, even dangerous, for these students—64.3% of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students in 2005 reported feeling unsafe in their school because of their sexual orientation. And many teachers are part of the problem—40.5% of LGBT students in 2005 reported that teachers never intervened when hearing homophobic remarks. Schools are hard on LGBT young people. Colleges like Wheaton make the situation worse.

Wheaton is responsible for the suffering of LGBT youth in schools, and so is the Illinois State Board of Education, which accredits the College’s teacher education programs and certifies Wheaton’s teacher candidates, indicating that they are fit to teach in public schools. But they are not. Teachers who condemn their own students, or their students’ families, on the basis of sexual identity do not belong in public education.

The Illinois State Board of Education should stop accrediting the teacher education programs of colleges that require students to be bigots, and should stop certifying teachers who have agreed to condemn people they will inevitably teach. This isn’t a small problem; in Illinois alone there are several such schools. Greenville College is another example. Download its application and read the “Lifestyle Statement” which condemns homosexuals and dancing at:

http://www.greenville.edu/admissions/application/application.shtml

It’s a grim “lifestyle” outlined here, steeped in fear and privation. Yet, Greenville is accredited and its teachers are certified by the State. But these teachers are not fit for public schools. Wheaton and Greenville’s graduates can teach in private schools—they don’t need certification for that. Our public schools deserve teachers who pledge and demonstrate love and respect for all youth.

To that end, I’m offering every teacher educator and teacher candidate at Wheaton and Greenville (and any similar colleges, including Olivet Nazarene and Judson—you know who you are) a chance, here and now, to retract your vows of condemnation and offer a positive pledge of respect and responsibility, thereby “fitting” yourself for public school teaching. In fact, I invite everyone to take this pledge:

Teachers need to be well prepared to teach all students. Teacher education programs should support candidates by preparing them with the information and experiences they will need to teach and work with LGBT youth and family members. All teachers are responsible for gaining the education they need to teach and advocate for the well-being of LGBT students. All teachers should respect LGBT students, LGBT family members, and the identities and histories of LGBT people in classrooms and elsewhere. I pledge to do so myself. This retracts any earlier statements to the contrary. Sincerely,_____________

Email the signed retraction to the Chair of your Department or Program (at Wheaton, it’s Andrew Brulle at andrew.brulle@wheaton.edu; at Greenville it’s Edwin Blue at edblue@greenville.edu) and cc: it to me at tquinn@saic.edu.

10 comments:

JScottieA said...
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JScottieA said...

Therese-

I appreciate your candor concerning the Wheaton College faith statement. As a Wheaton College grad, I often wondered how others viewed the statement of faith and I was annoyed when I felt that others did not take us seriously enough to comment on what might seem radical or even offensive in this day in age.

It irks me, though, that you make comment on an entire school of people (not to mention all the other schools you referenced with similar statements) and don't see that your widespread condemnation of our faith agreements is just as bigoted (using your understanding of the term) as our signed statement of faith. Maybe you disagree with the content of that statement, but the fact is that the students that enter those schools enter with full knowledge of what it stands for and with the right to choose (or not choose) to sign their name to that agreement.

On top of that, for you to suggest that teachers from Wheaton would somehow violate the rights of a homesexual or bisexual student is a an assumption that borders on slander. Whether or not you agree with the whole "hate the sin, love the sinner" slogan, unless you have actual proof that Wheaton teachers are actively taking opportunities and rights from homosexual students, you really don't have a leg to stand on. What really frustrates me, though, is that you blindly suggest that a Wheaton educated teachers are unfit to teach in public schools based solely on their beliefs. If this is not bigoted, I do not know what is.

I was a sociology major at Wheaton, and while on campus I worked hard to address social justice issues such as race divisions, socioeconomic injustice, homelessness, and much more. I did this because I believe strongly in a God that loves justice and fights for the underdog. I am now in the human services field and continue to struggle with you to address inequality, but I cannot let you think you are helping one people group-one school of thought- by suggesting that another group should be denied a right-the right to work in the public school system. You are not fighting injustice if you do this.

Now if you would like to start your own private school where only people who think like you are invited to work, I would be more than happy to support you...

Jessica

Anonymous said...

Your whole premise is flawed. You begin by saying, A few young people might enter college with their “faith and views” fully formed, but it’s probably safe to say most do not—they come to school with some history and plenty of room to learn. College is for that.

Then you state definitive percentages of HS students (presumably this means children in 9th to 12th grade) that are gay, lesbian, bi and transgendered. Apparently, a person's faith and views of God and scripture can't be fully formed by the time of college matriculation but one's sexual identity and views can be set in stone years earlier? Uh, I don't think so.

Therese Quinn said...

Dear readers and responders:

Firt, to Jessica. Let's put it another way. Pretend I am a student seeking certification as a teacher and I also belong to a white supremacist organization that requires me to sign a pledge of condemnation of African Americans. After I graduate I seek a job in a PUBLIC school that has some African American students. Should I get the job? It's not just that I have odious private beliefs (that's my right), but that I am seeking de facto legitimation of those beliefs through employment in the public realm, paid for by public funds, working with a vast swath of the public and their children. So the answer is no--I should not get that publicly funded job. I can apply for a job at a school that promotes the same discriminatory ideas that I espouse.

To brave "anonymous": The study I cite doesn't say those 6.3% of HS students who call themselves LGBT will maintain that identity forever. That's not the point. Change and exploration is great, but not at the point of a knife (or a "hate the sin" teacher).

Anonymous said...

Therese,

I'm glad I stumbled upon your blog. I'm a Wheaton College grad, but I was granted my teaching credentials at another institution.

I hope that if you are ever in a position to consider my applilcation for a teaching post, you will not dismiss me upon realizing I'm a Wheaton alum. Please allow for the possibility that people change (as you wrote, that's the whole point of college). I hope that you would ask me if I stand by Wheaton's principles and commitments. You would find that I don't, and that I
am instead committed to making the school experiences of all children (including members of the LGBT community) better and to work for social justice in the broadest sense of the term.

People go to Wheaton for a variety of reasons. I can only claim ignorance and naivete. Thankfully, I left Wheaton (despite the instution's best efforts) a less bigoted, more open, and happier person than I arrived.

Anonymous said...

Therese,

Homosexual behavior and race our not comparable. One is an immutable characteristic, the other an action. The LGBT activist strategy of equating the two does not change that fact.

If you are homosexual you do not suffer from an alternative sexual 'orientation' but a particular sort of 'temptation' toward immorality. I have my own.

You might want to consult an older dictionary for a definition of the word bigot that has not been conveniently redefined to villify Christians.

The American College Dictionary 1955:

bigot -- person who is intolerantly convinced of a particular creed, opinion, practice, etc.

That would seem to apply to you, my dear, as you are clearly exhibiting an extremely intolerant opinion of Christians and Christian beliefs -- to the point of even denying them employment as teachers. -Teri

Anonymous said...
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PunditusMaximus said...

Heh, by Anon's definition, one can't be a bigot against Christians, as they can change their faith at whim -- as so many of them do.

In Medias Res said...

Therese,

I think you may misunderstand the actual mindset of most Wheaton students. I just graduated from Wheaton this past year and would like to give a glimpse inside the mind of one such student.

As a Christian, I do believe that homosexual behavior is sinful. However, I also fully realize that a homosexual or bisexual orientation is not chosen. I realize this because I have had a bisexual orientation since junior high. I have had to struggle against some very strong sexual temptations.

This does not mean that I hate myself. I fully accept myself, realize that I will probably always have some attraction towards men (which admittedly is easier, since I am also attracted to women), and do not consider my struggle to maintain sexual purity in same-sex friendships as an indicator that I am a worse person. After all, all Christians are called to discipline their sexual desires, whatever they may be.

In the process of coming to self-acceptance while maintaining my moral views, I broke unhealthy, uncontrollable sexual urges which pushed me into intense addictions to pornography and lack of self control in relationships. I also did experience significant reduction in the intensity of my attractions to other men. I got to that place of self-acceptance and self-control while at Wheaton. I think all of that was good.

This also does not mean that I don't sympathize with those in the LGBT community. I understand the treatment they received in school (I received it). I understand the intensity and unchanging nature of their desires. I know that I could only discipline my desires through the grace of God. As such, I do support gay civil unions and am considering supporting gay marriage (although I do not support churches blessing same-sex partnerships). I also currently have homosexual and bisexual friends (both some who are attempting to live against their orientation and those who are seeking homosexual relationships). I may not agree with their choices, but I love them as people.

Although I was not an education student, I have worked in educational jobs. I would NEVER condemn a kid for their sexual desires. I would NEVER support any sort of teasing of gay kids. My mind is haunted by memories of just such treatment. I would ALWAYS want to be a safe listening ear. I wouldn't tell a kid that they were definitely gay and should just accept it. I wouldn't tell a kid that they should sexually experiment and find out for sure. I also wouldn't tell them that they could just change their sexuality easily. I would encourage them to not let their sexuality keep them from forming close friendships with kids of both sexes. Honestly, from my experience at Wheaton, I think that most students would act very similarly to me. Certainly, my friends never condemned me for my desires, and though they would have been worried for me, I know that they would not have stopped being friends with me if I had decided to live out my homosexual desires.

It is possible to love others and yourself while not thinking that everything which they or you want to do (even on something as basic as sexuality) would be right to act upon.