Neil had a thought provoking post, which inspired me to make my own.
A typical incident in a school atmosphere, kids teasing each other. It’s part of the deal, not that it is correct, but you may as well want kids to not be kids if you want teasing to end. I also am not sure of the role of the school when speech – even repulsive speech takes place out of the classroom, even if the people interact in the classroom. I don’t know if I want the school to start having as part of their job description to actively participate with law enforcement outside the school’s domain. That sounds like a plan that the Gestapo or the KGB – see we’re reasonable and don’t like tyranny from the left or right – would have put into play. As a matter of fact they did. I remember well raising the ire of some on the Board of Education and Administration, when I was a coach and would not act on parts of the “Athlete’s Code of Conduct” as it involved incidents that may happen in the private life of the athlete away from the school. If you want to kick a kid off the team because he cut, was rude to a teacher, or beat up a student in the hallway fine, but I’m not going to become the heavy hand of retribution if a kid gets drunk at a party off of school grounds, and not on school time. That’s the parent’s job, not mine. Anyway, I digress.
Hate speech in the classroom, is something that I have issues with. I’m one of those uncool teachers who when a child cusses, I imitate Ruth Fisher of Six Feet Under and say “Language”. Heck, I even do it at home when my son is playing “Gears of War” and the F word among others, flies through the airwaves. Typically when a teen cusses and gets caught the “Got you” look from a teacher is enough. However there is other speech, terms like, “That’s so gay” that bother me a bit more. Now, I believe that the vast majority of those who use this term are not being homophobic, but to me, it does minimalize a group of people who are what they are, whether by choice or predisposition is not really that important. I guess I was offended when the popular term was “That’s Phat”. I thought they were talking about my middle age spread, but was soon enlightened.
Enter the classroom and see the boy sitting with the two girls around him. He’s twelve, maybe thirteen, and is truly a sweet boy. He comes from issues at home, but he is a good student. He does his work on time, he smiles when you greet him, he doesn’t pick on other kids, he’s a bit chubby, and I wish he wouldn’t miss so much school – we’ll get to that later. He’s really just a sweet little boy, who doesn’t have the animosity of most twelve or thirteen year old boys. He tends to be quiet and sits with girls rather than other boys. He gets along remarkably well with them, and is never rude to them, or anybody else. He’s called an F***ing Queer faggot by the other boys. The other boys, who are good kids generally, start to say these things, and it comes to my attention as well as one of the teachers with whom we partner. She makes the incident report to the administration, and we expect something to happen. The result, they are talked to. Can you imagine what would have been the result had the discussion been about the religion, the skin color, or the relative evident stage of puberty of some of the female classmates? At the least some sort of consequencing would have occurred, yet for this horribly damaging words, and if you saw the pain after the boy who was so insulted evidenced on his face, after the incident, how he was made to be ashamed of himself for nothing – it wasn’t as if this kid was making passes on the other boys – not that it would excuse those comments, but which would have made them understandable – it should break your heart. If it doesn’t, I don’t think you have one. Thankfully, my teaching partner talked to the boys about their words, and they seemed to show remorse, however, there should have been a consequence.
St. Paul talked about the nature of love in his letter to the Church at Corinth. The word love that is used, the value placed on a being because of their existence. This love is not based on any other factor than merely being alive, and it is when evident the best of human nature. The antithesis of this quality is shown in hate speech. It is devaluing based upon some aspect of a being’s existence. The nature of that difference to me is not a material factor. As long as a person exists, they are worthy of value, even wrongdoers, and in this case this boy did nothing wrong. This incident has caused me to realize I have reframed my thinking about some hate speech. Some speech is so defiling that it is worthy of special note.
This reframing or maybe awareness is also causing me to end my silence, by being silent. I plan on asking permission of my administrators to actively support “A Day of Silence”. On that day I will not speak with other students or with staff. I will make sure learning goes on, a good deal of the time I have found that teachers do often get in the way of real learning anyhow. I also belive that my students will learn far more than my words on this subject could ever do. I will be participating in this silence to voice my sadness at the hatred that man shows towards his fellow man, even if I am not fully comfortable with some of the behaviors they exhibit. Although I am not in favor of homosexual marriage, and am not personally attracted to its practice, and do admit to being uncomfortable when I see it, I am much more uncomfortable from my sense of what is Christ-like to hatred, whether in action or in word, and I must ask to speak out, by being silent.