Saturday, January 06, 2007

Who Would Jesus Tattle On?

After our visit to Wheaton College for the big Illinois teacher education conference (see below for story and picture), Erica and I were "censured" by the school. What follows is their letter to us, followed by our response. Inspired by Starhawk's wonderful SF novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing, we've invited the teacher educators of Wheaton to join us "at the table." We hope they will.
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November 21, 2006

Dear Dr. Quinn,

It was quite distressing to learn that several weeks ago during the IACTE meeting held on our campus, fliers vilifying the Wheaton College Teacher Education Program were distributed with your contact information at the bottom. The title of this flyer, Accredit Love Not Condemnation, and its contents allege that our teacher preparation program and its candidates condemn individuals who choose to practice homosexual behavior. That information is both inflammatory, patently inaccurate, and appears to be based on a cursory reading of our Community Covenant and an ignoring of our Conceptual Framework. It seems that if the author of this flyer had a significant concern regarding our teacher preparation program, the appropriate action would have been to speak with us directly. The surreptitious distribution of the flyer was an unprofessional act that reflects poorly on the author of this flyer, you as signatory, your institution, and IACTE.

First, the Community Covenant is a statement of beliefs and behaviors to which participants in this voluntary community agree to adhere. As a Christian community, we do have moral standards that are entailed by our commitment to the historic Christian faith. Some of these are broadly shared (e.g., viewing theft, murder, and rape as immoral), while others, such as our stance on sexual morality, are not as widely shared. Our stance on sexual morality is to affirm “chastity among the unmarried and the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman,” and to recognize that scripture condemns “sexual immorality, such as the use of pornography, premarital sex, adultery, homosexual behavior and all other sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage between a man and a woman.” Individuals who choose to become a part of this community are expected to comply with this covenant. Those who do not agree with its tenets should have the integrity and fortitude to choose to affiliate themselves with another of the many fine universities and colleges available to them.

Second, the Community Covenant in no way condemns any individuals. Condemnation is a decision that only God can make, and any human being who is so presumptuous as to condemn another individual is not practicing true Christian humility. Our Community Covenant, among its other affirmations, calls on members of the Wheaton Community to manifest “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and supremely, love,” to “seek righteousness, mercy, and justice, particularly for the helpless and oppressed,” to “uphold the God-given worth of human beings,” and to “be people of integrity whose word can be fully trusted.” The Wheaton College Teacher Education Program, in its Conceptual Framework, clearly states, “that candidates learn to work effectively with all children and their families regardless of race, creed, religion, national origin, sexual preference (emphasis added), disabling condition, or capabilities.” Our commitment to the inherent worth of every individual is emphasized throughout our programs; and for the author of this flyer and you, as signatory, to imply otherwise, is a blatant misrepresentation of our principles.

Interestingly, the author of the flyer seems to hold precisely the biased behavior of which we are accused. By asserting that Christians who hold traditional Christian views should not be certified and that religious institutions that hold moral views should not be accredited, the author has shown a clear bias against traditional Christians and/or other religious organizations that hold views different than that of the author. By extension, the flyer then seems to imply that anyone who holds a belief different from that of a child he/she is teaching is not qualified to teach that child. For example, should only Muslim teachers be allowed to teach Muslim children; only atheistic teachers to teach atheistic children; only Christian teachers to teach Christian children; only GLBT teachers to teach GLBT children? Such a system would be both discriminatory and ridiculous.

We gladly affirm that “teachers need to be well prepared to teach all students.” We affirm with sadness that GLBT students and adults have been and are at time subject to reprehensible treatment. We affirm that all teachers, including our candidates, should respect GLBT students and GLBT family members. Our Christian belief that all individuals are created in the image and likeness of God requires no less. We also affirm that in our country, individuals, including Christians, have the right to hold and express religious views freely. We understand fully and support the fact that the public school classroom is not a forum for religious proselytization or religious instruction. The public school classroom should be a place of learning, safe for all individuals, and affirming of the worth of each and every child. That is how we prepare our teacher candidates.

In accordance with Biblical principles, we are first contacting you without notice to your respective superiors. We at Wheaton College would be more than willing to discuss this issue with your further. However, the clandestine distribution of inaccurate information is an act that cannot be ignored. We believe that you, as signatory, owe Wheaton College, IACTE, and your institution a written apology for this reckless behavior. We anxiously await your response.

On behalf of the Education Department and Wheaton College,

Andrew R. Brulle, Ed.D. Jillian N. Lederhouse, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair Associate Professor and Chair-Select
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December 21, 2006

Dear Drs. Brulle and Lederhouse:

We received your letter, dated November 21, 2006, and while we appreciate your communication, we disagree with your interpretations. Here, we respond to the points outlined in your letter and invite you and your students to an event where we propose to continue this dialogue.

For us, and the queer youth, teachers, parents, colleagues and allies we work alongside, the Accredit Love Not Condemnation action at the Illinois Association for Colleges with Teacher Education (IACTE) was a great success. We distributed love-centered flyers and pink teacher-power buttons. These, along with our positive queer presence, countered Wheaton College’s gay-excluding policies. As importantly, we raised questions about the appropriateness of Wheaton as a meeting place for the professional organization of teacher educators in Illinois, and the importance of sexual orientation and gender identity as key aspects of diversity. We believe that IACTE should not legitimize with its presence any institution that dehumanizes and devalues lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people.

Wheaton’s “Community Covenant,” which is part of the application for admission to the college, equates “theft, murder, and rape” with “homosexual behavior.” As lesbians, educators and as citizens, we find this an insulting and dangerous comparison, and the kind of assertion that lays the ground for violence against LGBTQ people. In addition, for queer youth, families and educators, the distinction you attempt to make between identities and acts is false and cruel. Sexuality is not divisible from other aspects of our lives as workers, parents, and students; no person should have to agree to forgo loving relationships in order to be safe from hateful characterizations.

It is hard for us to understand why you think the Accredit Love Not Condemnation project shows a “clear bias against traditional Christians.” It is inspired by and grounded in the traditions of critique and resistance exemplified by many Christians at the forefront of the profession of education including Margaret Haley, organizer of the first American teacher’s union in Chicago; Myles Horton, co-founder of the Highlander Folk School who played an integral role in the labor and civil rights movements; and Paulo Freire, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Outside this field, Christians have been central to worldwide movements against oppression. The list is nearly endless, but includes Harriet Tubman, John Brown, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Addams, Desmond Tutu, James Baldwin, ├ôscar A. Romero, Fannie Lou Hamer, Bayard Rustin, Cornel West, and Mel White. We claim their engaged faith traditions as our guides.

We disagree with your letter’s claim that our distribution of the Accredit Love flyers was “surreptitious.” In addition to writing our email addresses on the flyers, as your letter notes, we walked from table to table during the meeting breakfast, passing out and explaining the flyers; wore t-shirts with the same slogan; introduced ourselves to the conference and individuals; and passed out business cards. However, secrecy is a strategic tactic that is respectable and sometimes necessary—the Underground Railroad is a clear example of this—and one that should be familiar and acceptable to Wheaton, which highlights a rich history at the forefront of the abolitionist movement on its website. But, we didn’t choose secrecy for this campaign; we chose visibility to counter the shame and silencing that institutions like yours seem to prefer for queers.

We also reject your characterization of our distribution of the Accredit Love flyer as “unprofessional.” Sexual and gender minority youth are unremittingly subject to violence and hostility in public schools, and we believe it is our professional obligation to raise this issue and seek solutions with our colleagues in teacher education, despite the desire of some to suppress that dialogue. It is the responsibility of the profession of teacher education to affirm and advocate for all students, parents and teachers, including those who are queer. Advocacy requires that problems are made visible. And that is what we have attempted to do.

We regret that you found the Accredit Love Not Condemnation flyers and pledge “quite distressing.” However, imagine how we felt to discover that our profession held a meeting on a campus where every person has sworn that the expressed sexualities of LGBTQ people, including youth and teachers, are the moral equivalent of “rape and murder”? Distressed is the mildest way to describe our reactions: pain, fear, anger are more accurate. Public meetings should not be held at institutions that degrade and exclude entire classes of people.

Finally, we appreciate and accept your invitation to talk further and propose co-hosting a discussion about this topic—Tensions Between Private Beliefs and the Public Good in Teacher Education—in a public venue, with fellow teacher educators and students of education and members of LGBTQ communities. We’ve secured a site [on the campus of a public university] and a tentative date and time. We suggest that we work out other details together—who to invite, how to organize the dialogue, food or not—if you choose to participate. If not, we plan to hold the discussion anyway, and hope you will announce the event to your students and staff. In particular, we would like to invite your LGBTQ students, staff and faculty to attend.

Sincerely,

Erica Meiners Therese Quinn