Very recently in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada, a statement made in a classroom gained widespread media attention. A school teacher stood in front of her grade 7 health class and asked who believed that homosexuality was a naturally occurring thing (“who thinks you’re born gay?”). Most of the class raised their hands. The teacher then proceeded to address the students who did not raise their hands by stating that she agreed with them in that she believed homosexuality to be a choice people make (CBC Maritime Noon interview, June 20, 2014). As soon as this became publicly known, the backlash was swift. Now, I don’t involve myself in vicious or vitriolic attacks as I once did, but I did have the opportunity to make my feelings known in an email to the Maritime Noon show on CBC Radio One. The host graciously thanked me for my email, and then informed me of an upcoming interview with the Executive Director of Égale Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating society on issues surrounding the LGBTQ community (http://egale.ca/). The interview was wonderful, and I was later in contact with the Director to thank her for her words. I have three particular concerns of my own, and I would like to take a moment to share them with you.
“Homosexuality is a choice.” I wrote about this in a post called “‘Being Gay Is A Choice’: A New Twist On The Old Adage” on February 24, 2014. I’m not going to re-hash the argument I made, you can read the piece, but it’s clear that the message against this statement is not being addressed as often as it should be. What disturbs me most in the Sackville case is that it was an educator who made the statement, and there are three issues here that strike me as particularly problematic. These are the issue of education, the unspoken message being delivered, and the general lack of screening in the teaching profession.
Education. When we send our children to public school, we send them with the expectation that the educators who will be directing their learning are, themselves, educated. For the most part, that is the case. In order to be contracted to teach in a Canadian public school, you must have a Bachelor of Education degree (BEd). Most of the time, this degree can only be obtained after you first earn a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc). This means that by the time you earn a teaching contract, you have undergone 5 – 7 years of post-secondary education. Once contracted, you are required to attend “professional development” days, as a way to keep current on a variety of topics surrounding your profession – best practices, developing methods, initiatives, social issues, policy, etc. With so much education, and with LGBTQ issues now recognized as vitally important and sensitive in the teaching profession, how is it that this person can possibly hold this view? Opinions like hers are inexcusable in an age when research, information, and up-to-date statistics are readily available. Thanks to high speed wifi and search engines, we have this information at our fingertips. Furthermore, how can she justify voicing her misinformed opinion in the classroom of a PUBLIC school? Personal opinions, particularly harmful ones, have no place in an institution that is funded by the taxpayers. LGBTQ issues have a very important place in public education, and discussion among the student body should be encouraged. The teacher, however, must come to the discussion armed with the facts, and as a presumably honest academic, his/her opinions on the issue must be in line with those facts. To hold opinions contrary to what is known about a given population is intellectually dishonest, and completely unacceptable in the public service.
The Unspoken Message. An educator is in a position of authority, and everything they say and do has an impact on the students. In lower grades, children often look to their teachers as leaders and role models. Once in high school, students may not display the same respect, but many of them still have it; and the educator is still responsible for the academic development, safety, and general best interests of the child. The spoken message in this case was “homosexuality is a choice.” The unspoken message was much worse. In one foul swoop, this woman invalidated the views of over half the class (those with their hands up), made any LGBTQ students in the class feel hurt and isolated, and gave the impression that her opinion was actually relevant. If in the future these students happen to figure out the underlying principles behind homophobia (and if I do my job right, they will), they may think back to this incident and assume that the teacher holds many other hurtful views. She may very well have put her entire reputation on the line with one thoughtless and damaging comment. Looking back to the matter of education, it is highly unlikely that a contracted teacher would be unaware of the unspoken messages contained in her words and actions as an authority figure. The unspoken messages we convey are quite often more damaging than the ones we actually say out loud. It doesn’t take an educated person to know this.
The Lack Of Screening In The Teaching Profession. Unlike in the United States, teachers in Canada are paid very well, and receive great pensions. This often attracts people who will make terrible teachers, but are drawn to the income. Universities are for-profit businesses that will accept anybody as long as they meet the academic and financial requirements of admission. It is my opinion that they are doing a disservice to the future of public education in this country. By not administering aptitude evaluations as a further admission requirement into the Bachelor of Education program, they are putting children in harm’s way. I have seen teachers who speak to their students as if they were medieval landowners talking down to the peasantry. There are teachers who flaunt their years of experience to bolster their harsh criticisms of public education, when anybody can see that they’re bitter and have either lost their passion; or never had it in the first place. There are others who do the bare minimum in regard to curriculum requirements because they couldn’t be bothered to care. These people are arguably the worst, as they just want their money as free as they can get it. On the flip side, I know teachers who went in with a passionate desire to make a positive change in the world. I know one who wasn’t even aware of the pay and benefits until she was already in the program. There are teachers who go in every day with a positive attitude and a desire to create change. Aptitude evaluations would ensure that the good teachers get in and the bad ones don’t. Good teachers will exercise their love of learning in all respects. Good teachers will speak only about what they know. Good teachers will offer only properly informed opinions. Despite what you have been told, your opinion CAN be wrong. That has been demonstrated in Sackville, by a teacher who may want to consider a career change to something better suited to her abilities.
“Homosexuality is a choice” is one of the most damaging things we can tell our children. Like a cancer, the message spreads through society and infects our culture. It causes isolation, depression, death, and sorrow. It is not an opinion, it is a false statement. To the teacher at the centre of this controversy, shame on you. You should know better. You are a professional educator, and you have failed your students. More to that fact, you have brought shame to your profession and to the academic community that educated you. I sincerely hope that you do the right thing and seek out the information that you have so far not considered important. We are trying to change the system so that our children can live in a more loving and accepting world. It would be wonderful if you would join us.