We’ve heard a lot in the past few months about schools working to make their environments safer spaces for children. Across the United States and in other countries, we’re seeing stronger anti-bullying measures and the enormous success of the “It Gets Better” campaign, which works to combat anti-gay societal ideologies. Now, a group in England is pushing for action that is more pointedly inclusive of a diverse array of sexual orientations. The group Schools Out, an equality-focused organization based in the United Kingdom, is launching an initiative in February for LGBT history month to provide optional lesson plans for schools that demonstrate how they can raise awareness about the important role of non-heterosexuals in the world.
The lesson plans suggest, for example, that in math class, teachers could communicate statistics information using a word problem about the census findings on the number of gays and lesbians in the population. Or, in health class, they could engage in conversations about non-traditional family structures, such as same-sex parents.
A representative from Schools Out, Sue Sanders, said that implementing the suggested lesson plans can show students who are questioning their sexuality that they’re not alone. The initiative is designed as a sort of pro-gay advocacy tool. Sanders said to The Telegraph:
All we are attempting to do is remind teachers that LGBT people are part of the population and you can include them in most of your lessons when you are thinking inclusively.
Announcement of the initiative—which, I should stress, is optional—prompted some scathing, outraged media responses. One of the most forward and talked-about came from Melanie Phillips at The Daily Mail’s website. She wrote:
This gay curriculum is no laughing matter. Absurd as it sounds, this is but the latest attempt to brainwash children with propaganda under the camouflage of education. It is an abuse of childhood. And it’s all part of the ruthless campaign by the gay rights lobby to destroy the very concept of normal sexual behavior.
While Schools Out’s plan isn’t legislative or mandated, it reminds me of a bill proposed in December in California that would require public-school textbooks to be written to contain information about the LGBT movement. The bill’s sponsor, Democratic state senator Mark Leno, explained why he thought the bill was necessary in a press release:
Our collective silence on this issue perpetuates negative stereotypes of LGBT people and leads to increased bullying of young people. We can’t simultaneously tell you that it’s OK to be yourself and live an honest, open life when we aren’t even teaching students about historical LGBT figures or the LGBT equal rights movement.
I think that the lesson plans are important—if we learn about the civil rights movement or women’s suffrage, then why are we not also formally learning about the LGBT rights movement? And if we learn about how communists were targeted in the Red Scare, why not also learn about the simultaneous Lavender Scare, where gays were targeted as threats to national security? And, while less essential, educational institutions could certainly use references to gay people where appropriate, in the same way that story-form scenarios and word problems should include references to blacks, Asians, or women where appropriate.
But I think the approach that Schools Out, Leno, and some bloggers are using is the wrong way to pitch this idea of teaching more about the LGBT rights movement. The role of textbooks and lesson plans is not to advocate for an end to bullying, and it’s not the responsibility of a math class to teach tolerance to a high schooler. That isn’t the argument that should accompany California’s bill or the U.K. initiative.
Instead we should be arguing that education should be an “objective” look at global history, and as most history classes stand now, they are curtailing crucial elements of history featuring LGBT people (or, in more cases, treating them as so inconsequential so as not to merit any academic lessons). Textbook writers shouldn’t be required to portray gay people in a positive way. But they should be required to disseminate truth and contain full, factual histories. That includes informing grade-school students about the gay rights movement. So why don’t LGBT supporters drop the argument that these plans would reduce bullying and just let the logic of raising well-informed children speak for itself?