Exclusive Education

Dear Diana Medley, Resource Teacher/Special Education Teacher at North Central High School, Farmersburg, Indiana, USA,

There’s a saying in this country about teachers that I suspect is sometimes used in your country too.  It is used offensively by those who think that teaching is an easy option.  And it goes like this: those who can’t, teach.  The implication of this short expression is that people who enter the teaching profession do so because they are unable or unwilling to do a job that is challenging and stimulating, and that they have fallen back on the easy option of teaching because they are incapable of doing anything else.  It is an offensive expression to those of us who teach and, luckily, is not one I hear very often.  But I have heard it from time to time and when I have it has really annoyed me.

It has annoyed me because teaching is far from an easy option.  The hours are long, the pay is not brilliant, the children can sometimes be challenging, you have to do a lot of work at home in your free time, and you need to be intelligent to do it well.  It’s not the easy 9 to 3 job that the people who use this expression seem to think it is.  I’m sure it’s the same for you and your fellow teachers in Indiana.  I’m sure you work very long hours and have some very challenging children, particularly you in your role as a special education teacher.

I greatly admire anyone who works exclusively with children who have special educational needs.  My mum taught in a special school here in the UK for 20 years or so, working with children with massive behavioural difficulties, children with Downs Syndrome and severely autistic children.  I respected hugely the hours and hours of work she put into her job and the love and attention she lavished on these children.  It’s certain to say that she made a huge positive difference to their lives.  And I’m sure it’s the same for the special children you teach.  Or, at least, I’d like to think it was.

You see, I fear, having watched the TV interview with you that was filmed last Sunday at Sullivan First Christian Church, that you might not be making much of a positive difference at all to the lives of the children you come into contact with.  And that, in fact, you might be making a severely negative difference.  Let me explain why I fear this might be the case.

The meeting at Sullivan First Christian Church was called to discuss the creation of a rival “traditional” prom to the local high school’s normal prom, the idea being that lesbian and gay students would be excluded from your “traditional” prom.  The fact that, as a teacher, you even attended such a meeting is shocking.  The fact that you were then interviewed espousing homophobic views, knowing that the interview would be broadcast where your students could see it, is almost unforgivable.  You clearly gave no thought to the effect that showing your support for such a poisonous and odious idea could have on the lesbian and gay or confused children you teach.

In the interview, which has since been distributed widely on the internet, the first thing you say is that “We don’t agree with it.  It is offensive to us”.  It’s unclear whether the “it” is the school’s inclusive prom or homosexuality in general, but really it doesn’t matter.  Something to do with gay people is offensive to you and your friends and, therefore, it must be stopped.  You make that very clear.

You go on to say that you don’t believe that anyone is born gay and that “life’s circumstances” have led them to choose to be gay.  What life circumstances would they be exactly, Diana, that would lead a child to choose to be attracted to members of the same sex?  I’d be very interested to know.  And I’d be interested to know also at what point you were faced with this sexuality choice and what circumstances in your life made you choose to be straight.  Why didn’t you opt for homosexuality?  I, personally, as a gay man never received the tick-box questionnaire asking me which sexuality I’d like to go for, but maybe you did.  Maybe that’s one of the many things that makes you more special than me.  Because that is quite clearly what you believe: that you as a straight person are more special and more worthy than a gay person.

This is very clear in the interview when the reporter asks you if you feel that gay people have a purpose in life.  In response to the reporter’s question you say the following words.  Exactly these words.  Verbatim.

“I…I…don’t.  I personally don’t.  I’m sorry.  I just…erm…I don’t understand it.”

Too right you don’t understand it, my dear.  But what it is that you don’t understand is not homosexuality, it’s the horrible effect that your words have on the children you teach and how irresponsible and unprofessional you are to air them so publicly.

You see, there is not a lot for you to “understand” about homosexuality.  It’s pretty simple stuff really.  A man is attracted to a man; a woman is attracted to a woman.  That’s it.  That’s homosexuality, not in a dumbed-down, idiot’s guide kind of simplified nutshell; that is it.  Simple.

There is, unfortunately, a lot to for you to understand about the harmful effect you have had on this world and on the lives of the children you teach.  You have appeared on public television telling gay students that they have no purpose in life, that if they come to you for help you will tell them (or, at least imply) that they have chosen to be gay, and that they are offensive to you.  It is not shocking that you hold these beliefs (many hardline Christians do) but it is beyond shocking that you think it acceptable to make these views known to your students and to actively support ways in which to discriminate against them.

May I remind you, Diana, that you are a teacher and that your job is to educate, enlighten and engage; to show love, care and compassion; and to help children to grow into confident and happy adults.  Telling a child that they have no purpose in life and that their very being is offensive to you is not part of the job.  It runs in complete opposition to every thing that a teacher should do.

I am sorry that you are so wedded to the words of the Bible that you find certain children offensive just for who they are.  But I’m more sorry that you think it is OK to tell them that.  Children are vulnerable and need to be shown love and acceptance, especially those who are confused about their sexuality.  Your words wound and you should be ashamed.

To return to the expression I opened this letter with.  It is offensive.  A gay student is not.  Your views are offensive.  A gay student is not.  The idea of a teacher (of all people!) encouraging straight students to attend a rival prom so as to exclude lesbian and gay students is offensive beyond belief.  A gay student is not.  Maybe one day, life, the greatest teacher of all, will help you to realise this.

Those who can’t accept people for who they are, shouldn’t teach.

R