Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Alchemy of Wheaton College

It turns freshmen into bigots.

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:


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:


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.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Missing Schools: Riis, 2006

This near west-side Chicago school--Jacob A. Riis Elementary, named after the photojournalist of tenements--was recently shut down.

Discussion about this and other school closings wasn't encouraged by Chicago Public School officials, but citizens speak, anyway.

Riis was a casualty of the city's "Renaissance 2010" plan to close 100 public community schools (CT union) and open 100 performance (CT union), charter (non-CT union), and contract schools (non-CT union). While remaking neighborhoods (Ren 2010 boosts real estate profits--it's a gentrification project), the city is also re-making the labor of education; the good middle-class teaching job, once something to hold onto, is morphing into a temp-job model. Today teachers hop from school to school; charters have high turnover rates and often burnt-out staffs (without a union, the work-day is as long as the principal--or CEO--says it is). It's a sad condition for what was once a strong union town, where workers fought and died to gain the eight hour day.