Wednesday, May 28, 2008

In the limelight

A few days ago there was an article in the Herald, I can't for the life of me find it, or remember when it was written but it spurred me to write a response. The gist of the article was that some students at Chestermere Lake Middle School had worn home made T-shirts to school with slogans like "homophobia is wrong" and "homophobia is gay" with the "gay" scratched out and replaced with "lame". Anyway, the teachers sent the kids home and/or forced them to change their outfits. The teachers said that the shirts were offensive and could be taken the wrong way.
This is the letter I wrote in response to that article:

(They titled it "Out of Line")
"I am writing to express my disgust of the students at the Chestermere Lake Middle School. Wearing T-shirts with positive messages about homosexuality is a sure way to promote tolerance and understanding. How dare they upset the status quo by expecting people to be tolerant of others. [I had a period but the editor changed it to a ? for some reason...idiots] Their parents should be ashamed fo themselves for raising socially aware, kind children who try to defend the downtrodden. Hopefully, any readers will have picked up on my sarcasm. My disgust is aimed at the school staff. I'm not sure what could possibly be considered inappropriate about a shirt saying "homophobia is wrong." If the shirt had said "racism is wrong," would the school have shunted the kids out the door in a panic? As for statements that the shirts could have two different meanings, that is a load of bollocks. I think the teachers are woefully unaware of how savvy children are. As for people who found the T-shirts offencsive, perhaps it is your world view that is offensive - my heart goes out to any gay people you may come in contact with."

I thought that would be the end of it, but today there was a response to my letter.

(the Herald Title it "Teachable moment")
"Re: "Out of line," Letter, May 24.
It is unfortunate Sarah Rean was so quick to conclude that staff at Chestermere Lake Middle School were not aware of how "savvy our students are" and that our "world view is offensive." The T-shirts had the phrase "Homophobia is gay," not "Homophobia is wrong." I don't feel that wearing a shirt saying something is gay (with the connotation that it is stupid) is appropriate for an educational facility for students in grades 5 through 8. Some students I discussed this with suggested it was insulting to gay people to use the word in that way. School is a place of higher learning and respect, not the mall or the street.
This was a case of actions by a group of students who were not suitable for this venue. In Grade 6 social studies, we teach students about being politically active and fighting for their beliefs, yet we also stress that being a good citizen includes following rules and laws and being respectful of others. Our students are bright and are learning the best ways to express their beliefs. They will make mistakes along the way. I embrace this incident as a teaching opportunity on how to get our message across without breaking rules and being offensive to others.
Tracey Bowes,
Tracey Bowes teaches Grade 6 at Chestermere Lake Middle School."

So, I've written back, I don't know if they'll publish it but we'll see. My letter is:
"In response to Tracey Bowes response to my letter I feel I need to clarify a few things. According to the article in question, the children's T-shirts had the phrase "Homophobia is gay" with gay scratched out and "lame" written underneath. It was also reported that some of the T-shirts had the phrase "Homophobia is wrong." I was fully aware of the "gay" T-shirts but felt that using them as an example, while doing nothing to further my point, would be grammatically awkward as you can see from the above example. Actually, I found the "homophobia is gay" with the gay scratched out and replaced with "lame" to be a better example of the student's ability to wittily get their point across. In one stroke they said that homophobia is lame and that the word gay should not be used in a derogatory manner. Kudos again, to them.
You mentioned that some of the students you discussed "this" with suggested it was insulting to gay people to use the word in that way. Obviously they didn't get the point of the shirts either. I would much rather see the kids painting the word gay on a T-shirt than other words that have been used in the past. Perhaps these, "insulted" students should learn about irony.
You also mentioned that "school is a place of higher learning and respect, not the mall or the street." I agree wholeheartedly with that. However, if students do not learn respect at school, they most definitely won't learn it at the mall or on the street. I think you, and other administrative staff, must have missed the point these kids were trying to make. They obviously feel that there needs to be something said about the way homosexuals are treated. Instead of stifling them why don't you engage them in an honest debate?
I enjoyed the irony in your second paragraph. "we teach students about being politically active and fighting for their beliefs, yet we also stress that being a good citizen includes following rules and laws and being respectful of others." Apparently you are unable to see the contradiction in your own statement. Obviously your students felt that it was necessary for them to be politically active and fight for their beliefs in order to respect others (homosexuals). I'm sure they felt like the lone student in front of the tank in Tiananmen square. Hopefully their fighting spirits will survive your teaching them how to get your message across. They already know how to be inoffensive to others."

It looks like I just manage to piss everybody off. :D


Shale Photography said...

The article was here:

And the follow-up editorial was here:

I'm with you; way to ruin what could have been an excellent teaching moment and make kids believe that there's something shameful and private about the GLBT community. (The quote about "grade 5 students were asking what homophobia means!" really gets my goat. I mean, really- is that so bad?!)

Trixie said...

Hi Ms Rean,

It's me - Tracey Bowes from the Calgary Herald letter to the editor.A student had googled my name and emailed me that they found your site on my google search! I just wanted to update you on what happened after I replied to your letter to the editor.

Check out my blog post below:

I know it didn't come out in the paper, but this was a very positive experience for me as a teacher as well as our students. It got people talking and my students put our administration to task as to what was the real issue. Some of my students showed up one day with shirts that said "Homephobia Hurts" on them one day and there were no problems. (Some kids were making signs in class saying "homophobia hurts" instead of doing his work so it was treated just like any other incident of kids being off task). One teacher wasn't sure of what to do (because of the way the media portrayed us)so the kids offered to go to the office and clear it up for her. It was great to see the kids be so passionate about their beliefs.

One area I think we still disagree on is how demonstrations should take place. I believe that there is a right time and place for everything. I don't want my kids to think that violent and/or law-breaking (or rule-breaking)protests are the way to go. There are ways to get your point across by being confident and assertive without blatantly breaking rules. Just my two cents from the point of view as a teacher and parent. My view might be different if I didn't see what happens in schools everyday. I am a VERY vocal lobbyist who does not resort to rule breaking so my students' know that I "walk the talk"

Thanks for the discourse! Keep up the great work!

Tracey Bowes aka The Head Monkey