Monday, February 13, 2012

Rolling Stone article slams Minnesota school district on gay "neutrality policy" and bullying

Today, I picked up a copy of the Feb. 16, 2012 Rolling Stone, to read (on the Metro) the article on p. 50 by Sabrina Rubin Erdeky, “School of Hate: In Michele Bachmann’s home district, evangelicals have been waging war against gay teens”, link here.

This refers to serious problems with anti-gay bullying in the Anoka-Hennepin school district, north of Minneapolis (along Highway 10), in a suburb and rural area that is working class and in much more difficult economic straits than the Twin Cities themselves are. The problem is reported to stem from an official “neutrality” policy where teachers and staff may not mention gay issues, called the “No Homo Promo Policy”. The tone and details reported in the Rolling Stone article are shocking.
The school district has responded, according to CBS Minnesota, in this story Feb. 6, link.

I lived in Minneapolis, downtown, from 1997-2003 and never heard of problems like this.  I don't know whether schools in Minneapolis, in Hennepin County, are included in the school district, but it sounds unbelievable that this would happen in them. The Twin Cities is very much as "blue" area.

The Rolling Stone article describes what sounds like horrific harassment and assaults that a school district normally would not tolerate under any circumstances. The “right wing”, in a curious perversion of logic, blames the victims for disclosing their lifestyle, and seems to view the behavior of attackers as “free speech”.

I was a substitute teacher in northern VA 2004-2007, and we did not have a systematic problem like this as far as I could see. A few progressive schools had GS alliances. But random incidents of verbal assaults against various groups did occur, and it was very difficult for a substitute teacher to prevent them unless and commanding authority figure. One anti-Semitic slur was passed on a hidden note (pasted on another student’s back) that I could not have seen. A few schools in less prosperous areas did have problems with gang behavior in “remedial” (below standard curriculum) or special education classes.

I can also say that I have experienced the idea that, once one is publicly visible (even through writing on the Web) or in a position of authority, one cannot really be “neutral”.  To ignore a situation or plea is to convey antagonism; others will interpret diffidence or aloofness as hostility. 

Students behave this way because they see the world in terms of “social combat”, in which the “strongest” must prevail, and the “weakest” must accept dependency on their authority. That is a real world problem that many people, especially in lower income areas, experience and perceive where criminal and civil justice in the usual sense does not work. Some Evangelicals can manipulate this social situation and morally blame “less competitive” people for their own situation and demand obedience, shame, and “repentance”. In Biblical times, tribal societies imposed these values on everyone as a group survival strategy.

It's rather amazing to see this going on "locally" in a school district when nationally, gay marriage (and gay sin the military) is accepted as a credible mainstream issue, with a prevailing view that giving someone else the same rights you have shouldn't diminish you. (Just today, Washington State acted -- more on that soon.)

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