Same Sex Marriage and Schools

Teachable Moments and Unintended Lessons

As I listen to the debate rage on about whether overturning Proposition 8 will affect our public schools, I’d like to weigh in as an elementary school teacher. I remember a debate I listened to recently between protect marriage’s Chip White and No on 8’s Andrea Jackson.

Prop 8 Debate

One of their discussions was about Rob and Robin Wirthlin, the Massachusetts parents who were told they couldn’t opt out of instruction about gay marriage. Ms. Jackson argued that this case doesn’t apply to California because we have the strongest opt-out laws in the nation, so that parents can always choose what they will allow to be taught to their children. I had to snicker. Ms. Jackson just doesn’t understand the dynamics of the public school classroom.

One of the most powerful tools teachers use are what we call “teachable moments”. These are times during the day when teachers stray from their lesson plans because of a comment, question, or action by a student. THEY HAPPEN ALL THE TIME, especially with younger students. Here are a few examples from my own experience:

1. A boy in my class used the N word. We had a long talk about why we should never discriminate against anyone because of the color of their skin. I even read them the book Martin’s Big Words as a follow-up the next day.

2. A student stole a classmate’s snack and ate it. We had a class discussion about honesty and how it feels when someone steals from you.

3. As I was teaching a reading lesson, we heard a loud clap of thunder outside from a rainstorm. Based on the frightened faces of some of the students, we stopped and talked about thunder and why we don’t have to be afraid of it.

Now, the problem with all these teachable moments is that they catch you off guard. You don’t have time to fall back on a prepared lesson plan; you just open your mouth, and hope you say the right thing. So, what if in the middle of a math lesson, a student asks, “Teacher, I heard about a girl that has two moms. Why doesn’t she have a dad?”

The teacher’s response would vary widely, depending on his/her personal views. Because I feel that discussions of same-sex marriage have no place in school, I personally would respond,

“That’s a good question. Why don’t you go home and ask your parents?”

But, how about a teacher who feels that giving marriage to same-sex couples is an equal rights issue? You might hear a response like this,

“That girl’s family is different than yours, but that doesn’t mean it’s not as good as yours. Her two moms love each other, so they decided to get married. Marriage doesn’t have to just be between a man and a woman. If two ladies love each other, they can get married too.”

Or, from the teacher who feels extremely passionate about same-sex marriage,

“That girl’s mothers are what we call lesbians. They are two women who love each other very much, just like your mom and dad love each other. In California, we are lucky to have laws that let them get married. Kids, I know we were right in the middle of math, but let’s take a break. I want to read you a very important book called, Heather Has Two Mommies.”

Parents, can you see why the whole question of opting out of instruction is really kind of silly? There is no time to send a permission slip home to ask if you can answer a child’s question. That’s why it’s so important to protect Proposition 8. If marriage stays defined as between a man and a woman, then teachers who feel that same-sex marriage is a civil right will be more careful during those teachable moments. But opening the door to same-sex marriage in California is basically opening the mouths of thousands of teachers who already want to teach that homosexuality is just as normal as heterosexuality. Don’t believe it? Ask the teachers you know how they voted on Propostion 8. Don’t expect them to tell you they voted yes. I’m telling you, approving same-sex marriage will have EVERYTHING to do with schools. In case you have forgotten, here are links to articles about two schools that already have decided to extend teachable moments in ways that many parents find inappropriate:

Coming Out Day at Public School

Class Field Trip to Lesbian Wedding

Here’s a great quote from an article by Dr. Laura Haynes . She expresses it much better than I could:

“At present, California curriculum includes units about families,
beginning in kindergarten. The legalization of same-sex marriage opens the
door for children from kindergarten on up to be taught that the state of
California validates that marrying someone of the same sex is as legal and
acceptable an option for them as marrying someone of the opposite sex. How
would this impact required curriculum units such as family, health, values,
child development, sex education, and history? Based on present research
showing that the liberal sexual attitudes in colleges not only allow but actually
elicit homosexuality, we should expect that extending education about liberal
sexual attitudes down through kindergarten will elicit many more of our
children to go down the path of homosexuality. Some parents who have raised
their children in traditional sexual values have been shocked at how much
those values have changed when their children went to public high school or
college. The same effect will begin in kindergarten if same-sex marriage is
allowed to stand in California, and the strong precedent in California will be
used to extend the changes across the U.S.”

Please consider the unintended consequences of approving same-sex marriage. They are real, and they are already happening!

P.S. Thanks to The Journalista Chronicle for pointing me to the Dr. Haynes article!

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