Guest Blogger

Picking an Easier Target

Filed By Guest Blogger | October 28, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics
Tags: attack ads, gay marriage, Maine, marriage equality, protect children, same-sex marriage, untrue political ads

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Adam Howard teaches in the Education Program at Colby College. He has written numerous articles and paper, and a few books on issues relating to social justice in education with a particular focus on identity and privilege. He and his partner, Omar, live in Waterville, Maine. Both are currently looking to adopt a small to medium sized dog.

adam_howard.JPGIn the context of the recent battle over gay marriage, once again, public schools are being used as a pawn in political controversy, and the public is being duped about what's really going on.

In the early 1980's, we heard the battle cry to fix American schools. Reports from the federal government claimed that our schools were so bad the nation was at risk of losing our status as an economic superpower on the world stage. These claims painted a grim picture of our educational system, a picture stunning enough to frighten most AmeriĀ¬cans into concern for the future of their nation. These attacks would eventually lead to the federal and state governments take-over of local control of schools through the passage of No Child Left Behind.

It didn't matter that the claims were largely baseless. Were there problems in American schools? Yes. Were there some bad teachers out there? Yes. But were our schools in such a crisis that they put our entire nation at risk? No.

Despite unexamined and misleading assumptions these negative attacks against teachers and schools were successful in convincing most citizens that American schools and teachers had truly gone wrong and something needed to be done. We were all duped into giving up local control of our schools to state and federal governments - something that seemed unimaginable before these attacks.

It happened again in the late 1990's. After the Columbine shootings, for example, we were led to believe that our nation's schools were unsafe and too dangerous for our children. Were there violent acts committed in some schools? Yes. Was violence prevalent in our nation's schools? No. But the facts didn't matter. Americans were convinced. Zero-tolerance policies were implemented across the nation, like the one that recently suspended a first grader for 45 days because he brought a camping utensil to school. Duped again.

I live in Maine and once again I am witness to baseless attacks against schools and teachers. Now it's a battle cry to protect Maine children should the law that allows same-sex couples to marry not be repealed. Reminiscent of the attacks waged by proponents of Proposition 8 in California, opponents of the new marriage law make several claims about what negative effects Maine teachers and schools will have on students if the law to protect marriage equality is upheld. In advertisements, opponents have repeatedly made claims about the prospect that children will be taught about gay marriage in schools. In the blogosphere and editorials, some opponents have even claimed that this law will require schools to teach children about "gay sex."

Maine's Education Commissioner Susan Gendron has said that Maine's law will have no impact on curricular decisions because marriage is not part of the state-approved curriculum. After numerous questions from the media and the public about these claims, Gendron asked Attorney General Janet Mills for an analysis of the law and its impact on education. After careful scrutiny, Mills concluded, "The state's definition of marriage has no bearing on the curricula for public schools."

Since the new marriage law does not reference education in any way, shape or form, why would it have an impact on Maine schools and what teachers teach? Gendron and Mills are right, of course. It doesn't.

But once again the facts are irrelevant and fear-mongering prevails. The sensationalized attacks have successfully convinced a significant number of Mainers that our children are at risk. Each day I see more and more signs in the front yards of my neighbors showing their support for the referendum to overturn marriage equality. Each day I hear more and more people repeating unfounded claims about the negative effects this law will have on schoolchildren. It has become more than an attack against same-sex marriage. It is another attack on our schools and teachers.

These attacks are a familiar song and dance with just a slightly different tune. But as I see them working in recent poll numbers, I'm left with the question - Who are we giving our schools over to this time?


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OUTSTANDING! As a former educator, I am SO glad when someone else tells the American people what's REALLY UP in schools. Folks just don't know. And especially in THIS situation, there is so much deception and foolishness from the Far Right it exasperates me--Marriage is as much 'taught' in school as red hair is taught in school. It exists. It is part of society. Kids already understand this. They come with that knowledge to school. When it is relevant, it is mentioned--like Lincoln's beard. It isn't broken down, it isn't explored, kids don't learn the bits and pieces. Its merely understood. When Marriage Equality is legal, same-sex couples WILL BE ACKNOWLEDGED IN SCHOOLS! That's called the truth. The kids will not be TAUGHT anything. They'll most likely already KNOW about that. The Far Right is talking about this situation, likening it to indoctrination. In fact, that couldn't be farther from the truth.

In fact, Same-sex couples are most likely ALREADY being mentioned in schools. Same-sex marriage isn't going to INVENT all sorts of new same-sex arrangements that weren't there before. There are already tons of same-sex couples in every neighborhood, and many are already raising kids. In fact, some of those kids have grown up, gone through the Maine school system, and are now sending THEIR kids to Maine schools. This is not new. Same-sex couples, being a part of the world, are most likely going to come up in classrooms ANYWAY! Marriage Equality will not increase nor decrease the incidents of this.

Same-sex marriage is ALREADY LEGAL in places all around Maine. In New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, Canada--Maine is surrounded by Same-sex marriage. Kids are going to hear about it. They're going to know that same-sex marriage exists regardless of whether or not it happens in Maine. IN FACT, by putting the "People's Veto" on the ballot in Maine, the Far Right is HELPING CHILDREN ALL OVER MAINE FIND OUT that same-sex couples and same-sex marriage exists through the advertising blitzes from both sides. There isn't a child in Maine right now, cognizant of the world around them that is now not completely aware that Same-sex couples are a major issue, and that Same-sex marriage exists as an option in many places already.

Stand For Marriage Maine is forcing kids to learn about Same-Sex Marriage. In what WOULD have been a quiet, quick state-law matter that equalized legal access for all couples, SFMM has now officially made a big, loud issue of something they claim to want to protect children from knowing about.

Anyone else notice the hypocrisy?

So is this REALLY about whether or not kids hear about same-sex marriage? Absolutely not. This is about hate. Hate and selfishness are the only things that drive people to want to 'other' someone else and take them down a notch. This is about hate, selfishness and superiority complexes.

Do right-wingers look for any excuse -- like alleged LGBT harm to schools -- to beat up on us?
Absolutely.

But are the schools in national crisis? I have to disagree with you there, Adam. When many kids graduate from high school without really knowing how to read, write or do basic math, or read a map, our schools are failing. I watched it happening in LAUSD while I was a commissioner there in the mid-90s. It was heartbreaking, because I grew up in a Montana school system in the '40s and '50s where real teaching and learning was done.

I do agree with you that federal take-overs are not a solution. "No Child Left Behind" was not a fix. A teacher friend of mine in LAUSD who saw how this program was failing in the classroom called it "Every Child Left Behind." There were some privatization efforts that happened -- Edison among them, and I'm not sure those worked very well either. It's not a easy fix. Our schools slid for a long time before they reached the bottom of the slope they're on, and it's going to take a while to get them back up to a level with other countries where most children get a decent education.

And fixing the "school problem" is more complicated than just fixing the classroom teaching.

For example, our country is in denial about the negative effects of out-of-control psychotropic drugging on schoolchildren. Thanks to lobbying by the pharma and psychiatric industries, school districts have pushed Ritalin on children and parents for many years. Now mandatory treatment for any kid who fails the so-called "mental fitness tests" given at schools is being broadened to other drugs as well, through the misguided "Teen Screen" program. It was cooked up by George Bush in Texas, and later taken to Washington for national implementation so the pharma/psych industry can sell billions more dollars of "drug treatments" for kids. Little attention has been paid to the fact that antidepressants were a factor in most, if not all, of the school shootings. The drugs are also a growing factor in teen suicides.

Congress and the President should run, not walk, to get rid of "Teen Screen."

The one thing that I DID see working, in the LAUSD classroom, was small classes, and one-on-one intensive teaching by a teacher smart enough and sensitive enough to know just what input each kid needed to jump-start him/her, or get him/her past a learning block or point of confusion. A few times, I saw that wonderful moment in a kid when the lightbulb went on and they really wanted to learn. Can we afford to run schools this way? Would we even have enough teachers? Especially with the low salaries that teachers are currently paid?

So that is the real problem here. The religious right know that the schools ARE in desperate shape. They know in their hearts that the solutions ARE complicated and time-consuming and expensive. That's what makes it such a "perfect storm" opportunity for them to fear-monger about LGBT effects on schools -- when they can blame it on an already-really-bad situation.

Adam Howard | October 28, 2009 6:43 PM

My point is that we have heard how bad our schools are and how poorly students perform in math, science and so on as compared to other countries for so long that we believe these reports. When you look at the actual data, the educational system in the U.S. was not in crisis. It was a manufactured crisis in order to give over control of our schools to the federal government. It took about 20 years to do that but it was successful. We're in a crisis now more than we were when this battle cry was first heard because we have set up a system that goes against many of the principles that educational research has suggested are best practices.

I think we fall into the right-wing trap that wants to privitize education and get rid of public education (what they've considered a big tax burden) when we reinforce messages of how bad our schools are and this "crisis narrative" when data shows otherwise.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 28, 2009 10:25 PM

Adam, it is rather hard to boil down the education problem to just the Gay marriage issue and scare tactics around it.

A lot of the considerable problem we have is located outside of Maine and in the inner cities where low income children are now receiving breakfast, to encourage them to show up, and lunch to keep them there. The quality of the teachers these children get is not the same and it is another form of warehousing people. In fact I suspect it is practice for many of the children in being warehoused.

I still vividly remember a television interview years ago with an officer of the Chicago Teachers Union who could neither compose a spoken sentence correctly or conjugate a verb properly in a 15 minute embarrassment of "dis, dat and doe."

How do we obtain quality teachers? Insisting they can communicate would be a good start, pay them a salary on par with what the Japanese pay their teachers in exchange for the ability to fire them should they fail to perform for their students is another. Remove the stigma of teaching as the highest paid job a college educated woman can obtain and the lowest paid a college educated man can obtain. The incredible hidden costs of bad teaching, a litigation happy society, and the inability to enforce basic discipline in the classroom have led directly to what many refer to as "the prison industrial complex."

How far beyond two million people are we imprisoning now? What will our future be if we continue to fail to connect all the dots in creating successful subsequent generations? This frightens me more than anything else about the American drift toward mediocrity.

Great post!

The "save the kids"/"not in our school" meme is as old as opposition to our community As a Floridian in the home state of Anita Bryant, we all to well the power of this fear mongering.

I dont' think that schools are in bad shape when it comes to education - some public schools are doing a brilliant job.

The right likes to bring it up, not just for standardized testing but, ultimately, to push school vouchers and eventually privatize the school system.

But they don't like to talk about the real solution, which isn't privatization or punishing teachers when students don't perform or any other "free market" or punitive scheme. And liberals like to talk about curriculum, but that's not going to solve the problem either.

Until we're willing to deal head-on with poverty, we're not going to address this program. I've worked in schools in both sides of the pond, in both the US and France, and many American schools are miles ahead of schools out here in different areas of curriculum. The problem is that there are so many American schools that aren't, and that inequality isn't sustainable.

Adam Howard | October 29, 2009 5:10 AM

I'm not trying to boil the problems we have in education down to gay marriage or simply scare tactics. However, I believe that we can't even begin to address the actual problems we do have in a productive way when we characterize the educational system in ways that just aren't connected to reality. We get sidetracked. We aren't addressing the real issues.

Just today, I received two mailings from the "Yes on 1" campaign. Both of these mailings focus on schools ... no Bible verse, no focus on what will happen to "traditional marriage", etc. In Maine these latter points weren't working. We're not particular a religious group of people. Catholic Church has been outspoken but only have of them agree with the church's stance on this issue. Mainers typically don't want other people telling them what to do. And they typically want to make sure everyone has the same rights.

The opponents have focused on schools because that's what will get people fired up. We collectively already distrust schools and teachers. Schools and teachers and the narrative of how they will harm children have taken center stage in this current fight.

Your phrase "education problem" at the beginning reflects what I'm talking about. Instead of saying we have problems in education (in particular schools, with particular teachers, for example), you're saying that entire system is a problem. We just disagree about that.