Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Day of Silence

I find Chuck Norris' animadversions against the annual Day of Silence, where people unite to protest the bullying and harassment of gays, sadly misplaced and intellectually vacuous.

When has the solution to any contemporary problem been found by merely referencing something from the past?

Surely we can learn from the past, but to invoke the Founding Fathers to justify attitudes based in religion and cultural experience is wrong. We appreciate the Founders for having established a successful political system that works to protect individual rights, not for their disparate religious views. By and large, the Founders where children of the Enlightenment, the recognition that human beings possessed rights, and that such rights superseded, as a moral principle, all other principles. They recognized that man's rights were a means of subordinating government to moral law.

Whatever one's particular objection to something that is going on in the public schools, whether it is teaching teenagers to respect differences in sexual orientation, or to understand the role of biological evolution in the science curriculum, there is a solution that is consistent with the politics and lives of a free people.

Compulsory public education, by definition, works to indoctrinate pupils into what the public authorities believe children should learn. Such a system would work reasonably well IF all parents shared the same beliefs. Since they do not, the result is a constant jostling for control of the curriculum, especially on any subject having implications for a student's character development or for his religious views.

Here in Florida we have the spectacle of controversy whether to include fundamentalist Biblical Christianity into the science curriculum under the false equation of "creationism" and "evolution". One would have hoped that particular controversy was settled during the Scopes' Monkey Trial in the 1920's. Clearly such a reversion to antique belief would be hailed by the strictures of Norris' article.

The only way I can see that these bitter public controversies be stilled is for a reversion to private education where parents could choose which school and in what beliefs they would have their children taught. Parents who believed that evolution is a myth could go to fundamentalist Christian schools. Arguments could be made that such behavior would do harm to the intellectual development of Christian children, but so long as such children can not be legally stoned for disobedience, they would be safe to consider other views as they got older.

Day of Silence threatens those parents who believe in fundamentalist religion because they believe any public acknowledgment of gay people works to encourage public acceptance of homosexuality.

That is a demonstrably false belief. I have no problem, as an adult gay man, recognizing the existence of fundamentalist Christians and of learning to respect their right to exist and to speak their minds in public places. Unfortunately, if Norris' article is any measure, fundamentalists are not prepared to recognize my right to exist and to take my place in public life: as a gay man I am to remain hidden, so that fundamentalists can pretend I don't exist.

The facts of the public school situation are these: many pupils are bullied, humiliated, disparaged, and made to feel they do not have an equal right to shine, to show forth their unique talents and abilities. It is a fact that such bullies attack gay pupils disproportionately. It is a fact that fundamentalist beliefs denigrate homosexuality and, by an easy slide into barbarity, homosexuals themselves.

Whatever one's views about what should be taught, the public schools have the fundamental charge to faciliate the education of ALL children, not just straight children, or fundamentalist children. If that means fundamentalists must tolerate the equal rights of gays in the public school situation, then that is something they must learn, in order that we may live in a civilized society that celebrates ALL people, regardless of their beliefs, the color of their skin, or their sexual orientation.

Tom Anderson
March 2008

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