By now everyone has heard of the high school English honors teacher, Dan DeLong, who was suspended for offering students the Seed magazine article “The Gay Animal Kingdom” by Jonah Lehrer as an optional extra credit assignment.
According to the Alton, IL based Telegraph newspaper, DeLong has now been reinstated at Southwestern High School after several hundred students and parents attended a six-hour long disciplinary hearing:
At Monday night’s meeting, more than 200 people lined the stairs, sidewalk and office space at the district’s small unit office at 884 Piasa Road in the Macoupin County village of Piasa. Many of DeLong’s supporters had handmade posters and banners stating: “Mr. DeLong Inspires Us,” and chanting, “Broadening minds is not a crime.”
Unfortunately, what it looks like is that DeLong entered a plea deal with the Board of Education where he would admit that the article was “inappropriate” in exchange for going back to work. In a statement that DeLong read, on behalf of both himself and the School Board, this agreement was that:
[T]he Board of Education and administrator’s concern was never about sexual preference or homophobic condemnation. Rather, the issue of concern was the age appropriateness of the material. . . I agree with the board that the material in my class was not age appropriate for my sophomores and for that I apologize. I understand the board has decided that I shall receive a Notice of Remedial Warning.
This is wrong on several levels. First off, this is absolutely about homophobic condemnation. No one would have had any problems with a science article that described the evolution of heterosexual monogamy in voles or gibbons. Such an article would have naturalized a belief that many people hold as the only legitimate kind of relationship for our society today. However, by showing that same-sex pairs exist in the natural world (and that gender is a much more fluid concept than people may have realized) it challenges people’s assumptions about what “natural” actually is. Because they were threatened by this idea, the Board is confessing that ANY discussion that homosexuality could be natural is therefore inappropriate. It’s homophobia, pure and simple.
Secondly, does the Southwestern Board of Education even know what teenagers are exposed to these days? This is the generation that invented sexting and half of whom have had oral sex (according to the National Center for Health Statistics). Students today are fascinated by sexuality and are ardent consumers of information. They know full well that homosexuality exists and that there is currently a “debate” about whether or not all people should be granted human rights. Not only is the discussion of how humans define themselves useful in this regard, it should be required. Across the country we’re asking that people vote on the civil rights of people with other sexual orientations. Isn’t it a good idea to know something about the issues involved? Plus, Lehrer’s article was completely tame and had no explicit content (that is, unless the word “ejaculate” causes you to get the vapors). What this overreaction does is say far more about what makes some parents and school board officials uncomfortable than any need to “protect the children.”
The whole situation is a farce. If I was still teaching high school students (which I did for about two years) I would use this opportunity to make Lehrer’s article required reading and ask students to discuss whether or not they thought a teacher should be suspended for making it available. It would be a terrific lesson in civics. And if not this article, I would certainly make the issues of gay marriage, gay adoption, and gay service in the military part of any discussion on current affairs.
What’s ironic about the conservative outrage over gay rights is that the “homosexual agenda” is revealing itself to be an inherently conservative movement. Think about it. What other group is advocating for the right to get married, adopt children, and serve in the military? And conservatives have a problem with this? Perhaps a high school teacher somewhere should offer an article to students seeking to explain that strange phenomenon.