A place for educators to find thought-provoking news, conversation and support for those who care about diversity, equal opportunity and respect for differences in schools
September has been a grim month. Three boys—15-year old Billy Lucas in Indiana, and 13-year olds Asher Brown in Texas and Seth Walsh in California—took their own lives after being subjected to relentless anti-gay bullying in school.
And then, just one day before this miserable September ended, news came of another tragedy. This time, Tyler Clementi, an 18-year old college student, believed it was better to jump off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River 600 feet below rather than live through being outed and humiliated at the hands of his homophobic roommate who streamed video of Tyler’s sexual encounter with a “dude” for the world to see.
It’s not that hard to stick out in middle school. The unspoken code of social conduct is unyielding and inflexible. Anything outside of those narrow parameters is weird, and weird makes kids uncomfortable.
Billy Lucas grew up an Indiana farm boy in Greensburg—halfway between Indianapolis and Cincinnati, Ohio. He grew up winning blue ribbons for his prized and much loved horses and lambs. He also grew up enduring taunts, threats, and physical abuse from bullies. He grew up with those bullies telling him he should kill himself because they thought he was gay. Whether he was or not, Billy never said.
I do not bark. I do not swing open my mouth and chomp my teeth six times while telling a story. The n-word does not dart suddenly from my mouth. And derogatory comments about gays and lesbians? They do not spew from me.
My mere presence in a movie theater or a restaurant or a subway does not arouse anger or disgust from others.
But then, I am not Marc Elliot.
This year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was clearly a disaster for the environment. But it has also been a disaster for people, and it did not affect everyone equally.
I was a teacher for eight years before becoming a therapist. I am currently working at two middle schools in Longmont, Colo., as a prevention/intervention specialist. Basically, my job is to provide a safe place where students can share their most pressing issues without feeling judged.
Banning a book can go like this: An outraged parent complains about a book to the school librarian or principal. After a noisy debate, the school administrators decide that the book should be removed from circulation.
Or, banning a book can go like this: A librarian receives a new book. Perhaps it shows LGBT issues or atheism in a sympathetic light. Perhaps it portrays civil rights struggles in a way that might offend some local sensibilities. Whatever the reason, she quietly puts the book in a back room. Then she politely discourages questions about it.
Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) is a staple of many classrooms. At my school it lives in Advisory, a 50-minute mixed-grade class that balances literacy development with study hall and school-culture building. The goal of SSR is simple: For 30 minutes twice a week the entire school population is reading silently—and enjoying it.