How the Institutional Racism of Yesterday Still Reverberates Today
This little dismissal of gay student teacher Seth Stambaugh from the Beaverton School District has turned into a pretty big deal.
The news landed on the front page of Change.org, which linked Seth's case to the recent unsavory comments of Senator Jim DeMint, who recently told supporters that gay folks and unmarried women shouldn't be allowed to teach in schools.
Change.org also posted a petition for Stambaugh has so far prompted over 3,000 emails to the Beaverton School District with a form letter reading, "What kind of message does that send to students in your school district? That teachers should lie about who they are to their students? That teachers shouldn't recognize laws about same-sex marriage in school?"
Yikes. I don't think form letter emails are really the best way to prompt change (in fact, the Beaverton administrators might be cursing Stambaugh even more now that his case has clogged their inboxes) but it is amazing to see people all the way from here to Portugal back Stambaugh up.
Locally, Anna Griffin has an interesting column in the Oregonian that I don't agree with at all, but is a counterpoint worth discussing. Her main point is that to have the chance to be a good role model for his Sexton Mountain students, Stambaugh should have stayed in the closet:
Teachers shouldn't lie to students. Gay teachers should feel comfortable being out. There is, however, a difference between lying and deflecting, just as there's a difference between stating a fact and trying to provoke. There are a hundred honest answers to, "Why aren't you married?" that don't involve, "because it's illegal" and, in turn, play into silly right-wing conspiracy theories about gays attempting to recruit children. ...More importantly, I think, teachers shouldn't have to be worried about how extremists will react to their every word in the classroom. Whether they're having an offhand discussion about marital status or teaching a lesson about Islam, administrators should be able to intelligently judge what is a real "inappropriate" threat to kids and what is an upset, bigoted complaint.
Stambaugh played right into their homophobic hands. In the process, he gave up a chance to become more than just a momentary cause celebre. With more careful phrasing, he could still be teaching in Beaverton, a district that has caved to bigotry before. He could have spent a school year earning his students' respect, inspiring them to think differently about the world, showing them that it doesn't matter who you love or what anybody thinks as long as you study hard, play fair and don't let the bullies beat you down.
UPDATE 10/7: Anna Griffin says I misinterpreted her column—that she wasn't calling for Stambaugh to stay in the closet. She emailed a clarification:
I cannot imagine a situation, at least for anyone living or working on U.S. soil, in which I would advocate someone stay in the closet. But in this case, he could have answered his student honestly — I have a boyfriend, say — without delving into gay marriage. There was a way to be out and proud without giving the people who'd like to get rid of every gay teacher enough ammunition to force his reassignment. Teachers should be allowed to be themselves — I wrote a column last year arguing against the state law banning religious garb for teachers, and there are some clear parallels — but to me his answer went beyond that.
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