Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | April 30, 2005

Two opposing ideas

The Day of Silence controversy that has erupted in the Gilroy Unified School District gives me another opportunity to demonstrate the importance of what Bill Maher terms the ability “to keep two opposing thoughts in your mind” at the same time. And that means I’ll be irritating both sides of this debate. Lucky me.

I absolutely endorse the goal of Day of Silence: to end harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

For those who would like to dismiss this is as an issue of political correctness, instead of recognizing it as a cruel reality that homosexuals, students and adults alike, endure every day, I simply say: Open your eyes.

Look at the nearby Morgan Hill Unified School District, which last year settled a lawsuit brought by several students who said district personnel routinely ignored or discounted verbal and physical anti-gay harassment on MHUSD campuses. The $1.1 million settlement ought to make it painfully clear that even our South Valley corner of the world is not immune from this despicable practice.

Look at the recent letter to the editor that implies that the only innocent victims of AIDS are those who acquired it through blood transfusions and cuts.

Look at the bill being considered by the Alabama state legislature. If Republican Gerald Allen’s bill is adopted, “public school libraries could no longer buy new copies of plays or books by gay authors, or about gay characters,” according to a CBS 5 report.

This bill is so absurd on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin.

Instead, I’ll just reiterate: I completely support the goal of Day of Silence.

I also support public education, and I believe it was wrong for teachers to not speak in their classrooms to support the Day of Silence.

Education – most especially, teaching our children the critical thinking skills that so much of the population is clearly lacking – is key to combating the kind of knee-jerk ignorance that leads to harassment of students who might be gay, that leads people to believe that homosexuals deserve AIDS, that leads to outrageously stupid bills like Allen’s, that leads the murder of people like Matthew Shepard.

Because I think education is so vital, not only to ending mindless discrimination, but also to the future of our country, it pains me to see teachers handicapping themselves by not using all of their faculties.

We have only 180 days in the public school calendar. We can’t afford to waste even one of them, even for this good cause.

And to those who say “it’s only one day,” I say this: Give me one hour and Google, and I can find you 179 other causes just as deserving of a day of silence.

Where do we draw the line?

We draw it at respecting public education, at honoring the trust that parents place in teachers to instruct their children, and at making every scarce taxpayer dollar stretch as far as possible. To do those things, teachers must use all of their faculties, every day, to teach their students.

There are those who say this is a First Amendment issue. I’m as big a backer of the First Amendment as you’re likely to find, and I disagree.

Most of us, teachers included, must edit ourselves as part of our employment. In many high-tech fields, workers are privy to intellectual property and trade secrets that they are obligated not to divulge. Public school teachers, quite properly, cannot proselytize in the classroom. Anyone with an ounce of common sense refrains from bad-mouthing the boss, and managers with any ethics and any skill don’t bad-mouth the people who report to them.

It is in no way an infringement upon teachers’ First Amendment rights to insist that they use all of their faculties, including speaking, during the time for which they are paid to teach.

At this point, I’ve probably given everyone on both sides of the issue a reason to be upset with me. If so, I must be doing a pretty good job of that most difficult of tasks: Holding two opposing ideas in my head at the same time. Here are this week’s opposing thoughts: I support Day of Silence and I support public education. Public school teachers who support the former should show it outside the classroom, so that they can show the latter where it counts most: inside the classroom.

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