What is appropriate to teach our kids?

Obviously, the knowledge and skills taught to kids should be appropriate to their age. At whatever age kids can meaningfully absorb the history and message of religions, for example (don’t ask me what age that is), the real question is what they should be taught about them. Given our constitutional separation of Church and State and our commitment to individual choice and the enriching benefits of a multiethnic population, public schools can not “teach Christianity”. But it is highly desirable to teach students about Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and the other major religions—their histories and beliefs. Parents have a right to be satisfied that what is taught fairly represents their religion.

At an appropriate age kids need to learn about races—about why some kids in the room are black, white, brown, and yellow. At an appropriate, presumably older age, they need to learn the history of these races and especially slavery as it is particularly relevant in America, as are Chinese rail road workers and the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII.

At appropriate ages kids also need to learn about how their bodies function and how to keep them healthy. As they approach puberty, they will want to know all about what is going on in their bodies. If they are not given this information in the classroom, they will seek it elsewhere. Current controversies over teaching information about sexuality and sexual functions to kids at the age needing and wanting such information and over the availability of affinity clubs for young teenagers to discusses these pressing questions, reflects, in my view, two serious mistakes in confronting this issue. The first is to overlook or deny that kids will seek out what ever information they can about every aspect of sex whether presented in the classroom or not. The second serious mistake is the claim that teaching about homosexuality and providing clubs in which kids can discuss their questions about it with their piers will recruit heterosexual students to join up with the gays as if being gay is so desirable. We cannot chose our sexual orientation.

I want to focus on the second of these. We are born with our sexual attractions. We are not and cannot be recruited from it to its opposite. The survival of the species requires that most people are heterosexual and happy to procreate and so overwhelmingly most people are heterosexual. Those who are not are acutely aware that their attractions are not the norm. As they attempt to establish their goals for their lives, most homosexuals try to hide from, or deny to, themselves that they are different. Most would rather not be. But they cannot change the facts. Their goal should be to accept the facts and carry on building the most fulfilling lives possible. This is much easier today than earlier because of honest and factual classroom information and public role models of successful gay men and lesbian women.

Sixty-five years ago as I struggled to sort out my own attractions (yes I know that that was a rather long time ago and a different world) I did not know any, or of any, gay people as models or better still to talk to. There was no Will and Grace, or Peter Buttigieg, or Peter Thiel, or Lily Tomlin. I had only heard of child molesters—bad people who were run out of town. I hated what I felt. It threatened to destroy the life I hoped to have. So I buried it away for many year at the cost of considerable internal pain. What a relief it would have been to have learn in class that some people are just that way and can have otherwise normal lives.

Thus, it is quite distressing to me that some poorly informed parents are rising up against such instruction. While I assume that they mean well, I see their actions as child abuse. They mistakenly believe that homosexuality is a choice. They understandably don’t want their child to make that choice. But it is not a choice. We often say that God made us homosexual, and we chose to be gay.

All children need the facts about the various urges god gave us and help with their struggle to accept their own sexual orientation and to fit in with the rest of society. Clubs at which they can socialize and feel comfortable and discuss the fact of their homosexuality can be a helpful part of their development. Despite the enormous progress in public understanding, ignorance persists in some quarters on which the Washington Post gives an interesting report:

Flyers at school advertising Safe Place club meetings, “set off a wave of parent anger and rumors that Safe Place club advisers including Melissa Panico, a teacher who has LGBTQ children, would “indoctrinate” students.

“Spurred by these concerns, legislatures in at least 19 states have passed or are considering laws that bar discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity for younger children while limiting teaching on those topics for older students….

 “’Safe Space’ signs had to come down. The posters were ‘political in nature,’ he wrote, and might cause ‘disruption to the learning environment.’ The signs could run afoul of two legal considerations, he added: ‘One, will what is posted or worn be seen as indoctrinating our students to believe or think in a certain way. Two, would we allow anything that represents the opposite viewpoint?’” It is hard to believe that these were the words of an adult educator.  “Gay-straight alliance-indoctrination-school club”

Progress has been made but we still have a ways to go:

“When Sen. Barry Goldwater, dubbed “Mr. Conservative,” learned that his grandson and grandniece were gay, he worked for new laws that would protect their civil rights. When Newt Gingrich became speaker of the House, and his lesbian half-sister, Candace, became a gay activist, he took a more neutral stance. “It’s a free country,” he told the press. State Sen. William “Pete” Knight has been estranged from his son since learning four years ago he is gay.

“And now, Dick and Lynne Cheney are faced with their decision, how to handle in public what is essentially a private matter: the sexual orientation of their daughter, Mary.”  “The Cheney’s”

Should Virginia Governor Northam Resign?

After first apologizing for his college yearbook picture in blackface (next to someone in a KKK costume), then denying that it was him in the picture, why hasn’t Governor Ralph Northam resigned? I think that it is because he knows in his heart that he is not a racist. No one can read the Washington Post account of his childhood and college years and think that he is. https://wapo.st/2MW4ndp

The unfolding story raises a number of important points or lessons, if you will (I am always an optimist).  Should adults be held accountable for views or behavior in their youth—i.e., are we able to grow in our understanding and change our views?  Should the prevailing understanding and attitudes of earlier times influence how we “judge” earlier behavior, i.e., does context matter? George Washington and Thomas Jefferson where slave owners, after all. These questions are relevant more generally (think of the confirmation hearings of Presidential nominees for the Supreme Court and other important positions).

Northam’s now famous yearbook picture immediately raised several questions in my mind.  Before making judgements about Northam’s attitudes on race I wanted to know, among many other questions, what was in his mind when that picture was taken (or if not him, put on his yearbook page).  What message did he think he was sending? My first reaction, clearly not the reaction of many others, was that he was making fun of the KKK.  I have the same question about blackface more generally and those fun musicals and minstrels with black-faced white singers and dancers. When did black face become an affront to blacks or should I say African Americans?  This question is thoughtfully explored by John McWhorter in a must read piece in the February Atlantic Monthly https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/02/mark-herring-and-grey-zones-blackface/582355/. According to Wikipedia: “In the United States, blackface had largely fallen out of favor by the turn of the 21st century, and is now generally considered offensive and disrespectful.”

As I grew up in California, “Negro” was the polite term for “African American.” It sharply contrasted with the derogatory term “Nigger,” the very sight of which outrages me.  But fashion evolved. As an undergraduate at the U.C. Berkeley in the 1960s we switch from Negro to Black, to keep up with evolving fashion.  One of my favorite columnists in the 1980s and 90s, William Raspberry, an African American opinion writer in the Washington Post, wrote a column I liked a lot bemoaning the ever-changing fashion in referring to Negros, Blacks, People of Color, African Americans, etc.  He said that changing the name is less important than changing the reality of the status and treatment of minorities in America.

Prejudice reflects ignorance.  It is best overcome with knowledge. Familiarity is an important source of knowledge. Large numbers of people cluster with their own ethnic or religious group and thus have little direct knowledge of “others”. Those who thought badly of “niggers” or “faggots” generally didn’t know any. They feared what they did not know. Black-faced performers began to introduce blacks to many whites. Though they were often buffoonishly stereotyped, they were non-threatening and were thus likeable. People often fear what they do not know.

In a step up from blackface Amos and Andy in the sitcom of the 1950s were played by real African Americans.  They were heavily stereotyped but lovable. No one could fear them. In the 1970s we progressed to the Jeffersons and in the 1980s to the Bill Cosby Show. With familiarity, baseless fear dissipated.  TV encounters were increasingly complimented with real live encounters.

Something similar happened with gays. TV first introduced homosexuals as silly but harmless hairdressers or fashion designers. For many of us looking back the stereotypes are borderline offensive (no offense to effeminate hairdressers). But gays gradually became more present in television and in our surroundings and less threatening. Then we were introduced to the comedy show Will and Grace who progressed gay images toward the idea of successful and diverse people living in New York. They were funny and approachable people we would be comfortable to hang out with. People began to discover that their uncle George or Aunt May were gay and were OK with that. Will and Grace performed a similar service for gay acceptance by a wider public as had Cosby for African Americans.

Context matters and people learn and evolve. My own opinion of Governor Northam has evolved from thinking that, of course, he should resign to thinking that he shouldn’t. https://wapo.st/2SBEyoy

 

 

More on the balance between the public and private sectors

Private sector rights.

I strongly support the right of the Boy Scouts of America’ to define who it will accept as members (i.e. its right to exclude gays). I don’t have to agree with how people use their freedom to believe passionately in their right to be free including who they join with in clubs. I was happy to see that organization relax its rules and open its doors to gay boys. But that door was not opened very wide and the BSA still has a way to go. I was thus very happy to see Lockheed-Martin end its donations to the Boy Scouts until remaining discriminations are ended.

Richard “Guglielmetti, 66, who led Troop 76 in Simsbury, Conn., for a dozen years until 2005, said leaders and members of his troop ignored the national organization’s prohibition on gays as scouts or leaders because they felt it was wrong.” (US Today, January 28, 2013)  It would have been counterproductive and morally wrong in my view for the government to have forced this result or to push it further.

As another example, Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson (I never heard of him) said some perfectly ignorant and offensive things about gays. We should all defend his right to say what he wants to. We should also defend the right of A&E to suspend his show, though I am not particularly happy about mixing up commerce and politics or moral issues. Fortunately, A&E is a cable show. Cable programs are not subject to the government regulations covering over-the-air shows and are free to pretty much do what they want. This helps explain why cable shows are often much more interesting.

A process of public discussion and education best sorts out touchy issues such as these. The government is not needed or wanted here.

Domestic spying

Whistle blower Edward Snowden received further confirmation of the legitimacy of his belief that the government has over reached in its domestic personal data collection (see my several earlier blogs on this subject). In ruling that NSA’s massive metadata collection for all domestic phone calls (numbers called, date/time, and duration) was unconstitutional, Federal Judge Richard J. Leon stated that the government had failed to “cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack.” (Washington Post, December 20, 2013).

Equally damning was the just released report of a panel appointed by President Obama to investigate charges of NSA abuse, which included among its members former deputy CIA director Michael J. Morrell. The review panel said the program “was not essential to preventing attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional [court] orders.”

Snowden has performed an enormous public service at great personal risk. Thank you Mr. Snowden

Maybe our ship is starting to right itself.