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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

3 Reasons Why Many Schools Won’t Offer LGBT Curriculum

By Peter DeWitt — July 10, 2015 3 min read
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Imagine walking into school each day and not hearing any stories through books or curriculum that depict the life that you are living? The common language heard is used by peers in a negative way, and most adults don’t intervene to stop it. Imagine that you attend a public school, but the “public” discussion that is accepted hardly ever mentions things you can relate to?

That’s how many LGBT students feel.

Now that the Supreme Court made their historic decision regarding gay marriage it’s time for LGBT issues and curriculum to be spoken about in schools. We know the arguments from the haters will focus on why LGBT discussions should be banned from school, but the Supreme Court ruling should help overturn the conversations that take place in school.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) recently published this article about bring LGBT topics to the classroom stating,

Consider the numbers. According to the 2010 Census, there are approximately 594,000 same-sex couple households living in the U.S. and more than 125,000 of those households include nearly 220,000 children under age 18. Further, there are as many as 6 million American children and adults who have an LGBT parent. With the Supreme Court ruling, all U.S. residents live in a state with marriage equality."

Most schools have students who are either identify as LGBT or parents who are gay. The curriculum should at least mirror the real lives of these students. There are school communities around the country that are progressive and offer inclusive curriculum, but there are many that do not. There are at least 3 reasons why schools will not offer curriculum that includes LGBT topics. They are:

1. Unsupportive Administrators - Many teachers will not enter into the domain of using curriculum that includes LGBT related topics because their administrators will not support them. Although the Supreme Court ruling was historic, it will be a long time before it changes the mindset of every administrator around the US.

2. Parent Pushback - There are small groups of parents in some districts, and large groups of parents in other districts who do not want their children, and any other children, exposed to LGBT related topics in school. School leaders and teachers have seen parents pull their children from when schools participate in the Day of Silence. Some parents bring their own values into the public school setting and want schools to abide by those values. Teachers will not test the waters of LGBT topics in their classroom if they feel that parents will pushback and administrators will not be supportive. There are some districts that are moving forward, but there has been a great deal of pushback.

3. Don’t Know where to start - Many teachers and leaders do not know where to start. They usually begin by using words like tolerance and acceptance (I prefer acceptance over being tolerated). The most important place to begin is with school board policies and student codes of conduct that stipulate discipline for students who harass and bully based on sexual orientation and gender expression. They also need to be clearly written to support the use of LGBT topics in classrooms. Policies and codes of conduct set the foundation for supporting teachers and leaders when there is parent pushback. Interestingly, they also provide parents of LGBT students support for when administrators ignore the very paper those policies are written on. Another place to begin is through curriculum.

In a recent guest blog, Matt D’Angelo wrote,

When our curricula, school policies, and pedagogical practices fail--in perpetuity--to acknowledge the existence of an entire population of students, we expunge the evidence required to validate their fragile, inchoate identities--and for a minoritized population relentlessly forced to defend their legitimacy, the consequences are dire.

In the End

Every day schools have LGBT students who enter through the main doors and they don’t feel safe when they’re there. The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) 2013 School Climate Survey, which you can read in its entirety here, reported the following statistics.

School Safety

55.5% of LGBT students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 37.8% because of their gender expression. 30.3% of LGBT students missed at least one entire day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, and over a tenth (10.6%) missed four or more days in the past month. Over a third avoided gender-segregated spaces in school because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable (bathrooms: 35.4%, locker rooms: 35.3%). Most reported avoiding school functions and extracurricular activities (68.1% and 61.2%, respectively) because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.

Harassment and Assault at School

74.1% of LGBT students were verbally harassed (e.g., called names or threatened) in the past year because of their sexual orientation and 55.2% because of their gender expression. 36.2% were physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) in the past year because of their sexual orientation and 22.7% because of their gender expression. 16.5% were physically assaulted (e.g., punched, kicked, injured with a weapon) in the past year because of their sexual orientation and 11.4% because of their gender expression. 49.0% of LGBT students experienced electronic harassment in the past year (e.g., via text messagesor postings on Facebook), often known as cyberbullying. 56.7% of LGBT students who were harassed or assaulted in school did not report the incident to school staff, most commonly because they doubted that effective intervention would occur or the situation could become worse if reported. 61.6% of the students who did report an incident said that school staff did nothing in response.

If adults don’t feel comfortable discussing LGBT issues in classrooms, perhaps the students will be the ones who inspire them to do so. What the adults think is risky to talk about, the students may think should be the natural part of the conversation. Teachers and principals should be prepared to go down that road, instead of ignoring the possibility and hoping it won’t happen.

The Supreme Court made an important and historic decision in the courtroom, and schools should start to make the same historic decision so topics and issues of all minoritized students can be addressed in the classroom.

For more information on safeguarding LGBT students, click here.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.