Most parents have an agenda when it comes to their kids, and so they should. We are the ones with the biggest stake in how they turn out. But we’re not the only ones with an agenda, especially when it comes to what we teach our kids about sexuality. The homosexual lobby has one, and it revolves around achieving approval in the wider community for their lifestyle. Almost all the major religious groups in Canada have the opposite agenda—namely, preserving marriage as one woman, one man. When agendas don’t match, whose takes precedence in the schools?
In British Columbia increasingly it is not the parents’. This province has been home to Canada’s most high profile cases of clashes over homosexuality in education. The Supreme Court of Canada, when handing down its decision in the Surrey School Board case regarding the use of homosexual story books in kindergarten, said, “Parental views, however important, cannot override the imperative placed upon the British Columbia public schools to mirror the diversity of the community and teach tolerance and understanding of difference.”
Now most parents wholeheartedly embrace the goals of anti-bullying campaigns. What they don’t want is for their fundamental values to be undermined at the schools. To argue that one must accept all individuals and treat them with respect, for instance, is one thing; to argue that one must approve of all homosexual behaviour is to implicitly argue that one must disapprove of most traditional beliefs, thus picking one agenda over another. That isn’t tolerance, and it’s not “understanding of difference”.
I find this highly troubling, not least because it is so very unnecessary. All of us do share important common ground, after all. We believe that calling people names is wrong. Surely we can teach that without stepping on anyone’s toes. In my school board recently, though, outside speakers taught seventh and eighth graders that “this is a safe place for lesbian, gay, bisexual & trans people”. I’m not sure what a 12-year-old is supposed to make of that, but I don’t see why they couldn’t have just declared, “this is a safe place where we don’t insult or tease people.” That gives the same message, but it’s easier for kids to understand and doesn’t get into topics that most parents feel are inappropriate for the middle grades.
But as a practical matter, too, the whole strategy is strange. The assumption is that kids need to be taught not only to refrain from insults, but also what insults to refrain from. Does this mean we must teach them specifically not to insult other races, or other classes, or those who are ugly, or wear glasses, or who are learning disabled, or physically disabled if we hope to avoid bullying? That if we leave any group out we’re throwing them to the wolves? If kids can’t be taught that calling names—no matter what the name—is wrong, then we’ve lost already. We’ve created values that are situation-specific, and that’s scary.
There’s another aspect to the way homosexuality is approached in anti-bullying campaigns, and this one, I think, is far more dangerous. The British Columbia School Trustees Association (BCSTA) recently passed a motion encouraging each school district to come up with a comprehensive plan to reduce bullying of “LGBTQ” students (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning). Increasingly it seems that “questioning” youth are being lumped together in the homosexual category, and pointed to homosexual support groups.
But is this warranted? A study of almost 35,000 Minnesota youth by Gary Remafedi, published in the April 1992 edition of the journal Pediatrics, found that 25.9% of 12-year-olds were unsure of their sexual orientation. By age 17, though, only 5% were unsure. Since only 2-3% of adults self-identify as homosexual, over one fifth of teens could be erroneously pushed in that direction. Equating “questioning” with homosexuality, then, is intellectually dishonest, besides contravening most parental wishes.
Bullying is an increasing problem in the schools that certainly needs to be addressed. But the parental instinct to pass on values does not cause bullying. Bullying is caused by children’s disrespect, meanness and even viciousness. What needs to be changed is a culture which allows harassment, intimidation or name calling of any type, not parents’ rights to influence their children. Let’s unite on this common ground, rather than trying to influence things as critical as sexuality and fundamental values.