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.
In 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 Ameri¬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 Now it's a battle cry to protect Maine children should the law that allows same-sex couples to marry not be repealed.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?