Thursday, March 6, 2008

Teaching Youth Not to Hate

News today that the American Family Association has announced a boycott of the April 25 “Day of Silence” being promoted by GLSEN—Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (see GLSEN organizes this event each year to enhance awareness in American classrooms of the prejudice endured by those who are gay and lesbian.

One of GLSEN’s primary objectives is to address the deeply troubling phenomenon of bullying of LGBT youth in American schools. This year’s Day of Silence observance is being organized in memory of fifteen-year old Lawrence King.

As the murder of this gay youth illustrates in the starkest way possible, it is imperative that schools educate our children not to hate. As a video just released by Fight Out Loud—“Hate in 2008 = A Call to Action”—concludes, in 2008, LGBT people are being murdered in the U.S. at the rate of one person every eight days (see And those are only the murders about which we know . . . .

The American Family Association identifies GLSEN as “an activist homosexual group,” despite the fact that, by AFA’s own admission, the GLSEN-sponsored Day of Silence is now observed in thousands of schools around the nation, and despite GLSEN’s status as an organization of highly regarded professional educators from many backgrounds, whose goal is to address school bullying. Shockingly, one of AFA’s action points vs. the Day of Silence is an appeal to supporters to “encourage your church leadership to follow the bold example of Pastor Ken Hutcherson who is vocally opposing ‘Day of Silence’ in his community in Redmond, Washington.”

It was Pastor Hutcherson who stated recently (as a previous posting of mine on this blog recounts) that if another man opened the door for him, he’d rip the man’s arm off and beat him to death with the wet end of the arm.

The AFA’s callous willingness to use children in right-wing political battles runs directly against the direction taken by the nation’s chief teacher accreditation organization, NCATE (National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education). NCATE accredits the education schools of colleges and universities according to a set of standards that include the college or university’s commitment to diversity (see

As the NCATE standard on diversity (standard #4) states,

One of the goals of this standard is the development of educators who can help all students learn or support their learning through their professional roles in schools. This goal requires educators who can reflect multicultural and global perspectives that draw on the histories, experiences, and representations of students and families from diverse populations. Therefore, the [teacher education] unit has the responsibility to provide opportunities for candidates to understand diversity and equity in the teaching and learning process. . . .Candidates are helped to understand the potential impact of discrimination based on race, class, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and language on students and their learning. Proficiencies related to diversity are identified in the unit’s conceptual framework. They are clear to candidates and are assessed as part of the unit’s assessment system.

NCATE guidelines for standard four note that units of education expecting to receive accreditation must produce teachers capable of understanding and teaching all students. As footnotes to standard four repeatedly state, “‘All students’ includes students with exceptionalities and of different ethnic, racial, gender, sexual orientation, language, religious, socioeconomic, and regional/geographic origins.”

Because of the imperative need for teachers today to reach increasingly diverse populations of students, on 13 November 2007, NCATE issued a call to action emphasizing the importance of teachers’ commitment to social justice. This call to action requires teachers to develop “professional dispositions” that enhance this commitment. NCATE’s call to action emphasizes that well-trained teachers must “understand the impact of discrimination based on race, class, gender, disability/exceptionality, sexual orientation, and language on students and their learning.”

The call to action adds to NCATE accreditation criteria the expectation that teachers exhibit the following Professional Dispositions:

Professional attitudes, values, and beliefs demonstrated through both verbal and non-verbal behaviors as educators interact with students, families, colleagues, and communities. These positive behaviors support student learning and development.

NCATE expects institutions to assess professional dispositions based on observable behaviors in educational settings . The two professional dispositions that NCATE expects institutions to assess are fairness and the belief that all students can learn. Based on their mission and conceptual framework, professional education units can identify, define, and operationalize additional professional dispositions.

NCATE expects institutions to assess professional dispositions based on observable behaviors in educational settings: this definition underscores that not merely education units or prospective teachers are now expected by NCATE to demonstrate fair and non-discriminatory behavior towards minorities, including LGBT persons. The entire university in which a unit of education is housed is now expected by NCATE to demonstrate such behavior.

The new NCATE social justice dispositions indicate that universities will be accredited based on their university-wide commitment to just and non-discriminatory behavior towards minorities (including LGBT persons)—e.g., presumably in governing statements forbidding discrimination, in policies and procedures that militate against discrimination, in hiring and firing decisions, and so on. NCATE will now examine institutions of higher education to see what “observable behaviors” towards minorities are displayed within an institution, its policies, its faculty, and especially its School of Education.

The murder of Lawrence King and the out-of-control assaults on LGBT citizens today—one person murdered every eight days!—underscore the importance of these educational goals both for American schools and for institutions of higher learning that produce teachers for those schools. As Pam Spaulding notes in her Pam’s House Blend ( blog posting discussing the “Hate in 2008 = A Call to Action” video, something needs to be done in communities such as Ft. Lauderdale, where a tax-funded city newsletter by the city’s current mayor Mr. Naugle “spews . . . hate” against gay citizens.

Mr. Naugle has had vocal support from a group of African-American ministers. Pastor Ken Hutcherson is also African American. Yet, as the “Hate in 2008” video demonstrates, African Americans are well-represented among LGBT citizens now being murdered. They include seventeen-year old Simmie Williams, who was murdered recently right in Ft. Lauderdale.

Given this social reality, it is all the more heartening to remember Barack Obama’s several recent outspoken critiques of homophobia in the African-American community and African-American churches. This week’s Towleroad blog contains a video link to the most recent of these, about which I blogged last week—Mr. Obama’s statement to a group of supporters in Beaumont, Texas, that homophobia is not Christian.

There is much work to do in all of our communities. There is certainly much work to do in Florida, given the epidemic level of hate crimes against LGBT citizens of that state. Church-affiliated institutions of higher learning in that state—particularly African-American ones—have a premier opportunity to make a positive faith-based response to this social problem. If they will . . . .

The American Family Association certainly does not deserve the support of such institutions, given its longstanding positions espousing hate, including a statement in its AFA journal following Hurricane Katrina that the hurricane was “[an] instrument of God’s mercy” that “wiped out rampant sin.” One would like to think that something else was at work in the disruption of so many low-income African-American lives in that terrible event!

1 comment:

colkoch said...

Love the photograph with this entry. The AFA, like many other family values groups, is given much more publicity than their numbers justify. In spite of the fact the religous right constantly complains about the media bias towards the left, it would seem to be the other way around. What gets me, and why I hope they don't shut up about gay issues, is that they generate more publicity for gay issues than any other segment of the population. I sometimes wonder how many people vote against the political positions of these groups just because they are sick to death of the message and it's presentation. I'm avidly interested to see what happens in Spain tomorrow. I doubt very much for the average spaniard the vote is actually one for or against the Church, but as long as the Church deems it expedient to fight the Zapatero government along those lines, I'll be happy to interpret a vote for Zapatero's government as one against the Church as much as it is for his government.