Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Radical Education Work at Jane Addam’s “Hull of a House” Museum

Last night’s forum, Anti-Gay Pledges and Teacher Education: A Dialogue About the Tensions Between Private Beliefs and the Public Good, was beautiful to behold. About 25 people participated in the event, which took place at the Jane Addams (pictured here with her life partner, Mary Rozet Smith) Hull House Museum on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago, but no “official” Wheaton reps showed up. They sent a letter that arrived four days before the forum, to say they wouldn’t be there since they hadn’t helped plan the forum. But that is exactly what they were invited to do, two months earlier; they just didn’t ever contact us. Too bad for them, though, because we aimed to “speak with the expectation that we would be heard, and listen with the possibility that we could change” and the chat was wide-ranging and lively.

A queer teacher who grew up in Wheaton (or, as she said they affectionately call it there, “the 9th circle of hell”) talked about the distance of Wheaton College faculty and administrators from the lives of the school’s students and grads; a Chicago public school teacher described how changes in employment structures and the ongoing weakening of the Chicago Teacher’s Union contract have made queer teachers even more vulnerable; an administrator reminded us that we have to press the state and professional organizations to change, because they shape what happens in our public schools—if they ignore sexual orientation and gender identity, you can bet most schools will, too. After hearing why people came to the forum and what they wanted to talk about, we broke into small groups and talked about these and other questions:

Private Practices, Public Educators
What are the consequences when a private agency (NCATE) sets standards for public education?

Should private colleges with discriminatory “covenants” be supported (accredited) by the state to produce teachers for public schools?

Why are non-normative sexual and gender identities considered “private” and not worth public protections?

The Profession
What is the responsibility of the education profession--teachers, teacher educators, professional organizations, administrators—to challenge discriminatory practices, even when these are embedded in private institutions?

If “multiculturalism” can’t be or at least, isn’t consistently used to include sexual and gender identity in schools, what frameworks can be?

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?
How is resistance to challenging and changing these policies connected to other movements for justice and equity for all, including LGBTQ, people?

What are the consequences of the distinction Wheaton makes between “acts” and “beliefs”—“love the sinner, hate the sin”?

Youth, Schools, Teachers
How do discriminatory policies—like Wheaton’s— contribute to the dehumanization of LGBTQ bodies in schools?

What effect could knowing their teachers believe they are condemned have on LGBT youth—would this knowledge be damaging emotionally, academically, or in other ways?

The forum ended with plans—we are only just starting this project, so join us. You can hear the large-group parts of our discussion online:

I mourn Matthew Shepard’s actual death, caused by the unimpeachably civil ‘we hate the sin, not the sinner’ hypocrisy of the religious right, much more than I mourn the lost chance to be civil with someone who does not consider me fully a citizen, nor fully human.
Tony Kushner, 1998

1 comment:

Sarah said...

The question posed that seemed to intrigue me was

"Should private colleges with discriminatory “covenants” be supported (accredited) by the state to produce teachers for public schools?"

At first I wanted to absolutely say that private schools should be able to hold onto their doctrine and still produce teachers. But I do see the dilemma that these teachers will go into a space where that doctrine will be highly problematic and actually dangerous to the well being of the students.

I wonder if education can be the leader on this issue, with the states still battling out the rights for the LGBT community it seems that schools are going to be headed into a battle they may not be equipped for. Is there presedence for public schools and teachers acting before even the local governments do on major issues like this? It seems that would be a great case study to lead us in this challenging time.