Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on GLSEN Day of Silence

On 25 March, I reported on this blog (here) that the new Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met on 23 March with representatives of Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), an organization devoted to challenging homophobia in American schools. GLSEN sponsors the annual Day of Silence to combat school bullying based on sexual orientation. This year’s Day of Silence was held on 17 April.

I’m now pleased to read a report by Jenna Lowenstein at 365Gay (here) noting that Arne Duncan mentioned the Day of Silence on his Education Department blog (here) on 17 April. Mr. Duncan’s blog states,

Yesterday, many Americans paused to remember the senseless death of 32 students at Virginia Tech in 2007. Today, many Americans will honor the Day of Silence called for on behalf of victims of harassment and bullying around issues of sexual orientation, including a recent suicide who would have turned 12 today.

As Jenna Lowenstein reports, Secretary Duncan’s decision to make note of the Day of Silence on his blog is significant, since he is the first Secretary of Education to acknowledge this annual event.

As I’ve noted in a number of previous postings, I have a strong interest in this topic as an educator who has worked in church-sponsored universities with an historic commitment to preparing future teachers. I’ve also noted (here) that I was punished at a United Methodist-owned university for even mentioning GLSEN in a list of many organizations that faculty and students interested in civic engagement might consider studying.

As the Bilgrimage posting to which I’ve just linked, along with many other postings on this blog, notes, universities can and should play a key role in combating school bullying and prejudice based on sexual orientation in American classrooms. They can do so by preparing teachers who understand the mechanisms of discrimination, who are committed to opposing prejudice, and who are proactive about preventing bullying based on sexual orientation.

Church-related institutions should be leading the way here. Sadly, they are often not doing so. Instead, as Martin Luther King noted re: churches in the American South during the Civil Rights struggle, they are functioning as the taillight of necessary social change, rather than the prophetic headlight.

It’s time for our church-related universities to stop promoting homophobic prejudice. The new Secretary of Education is pointing the way, and universities that produce teachers for the American classroom—including church-owned ones—would do well to follow his lead.