I’m not much of a reactionary. In fact, when it comes to public schooling, I tend to take a live-and-let-live posture. I want my own kids to ride the bus and learn how to navigate that rolling-Lord-of-the-Flies environment. Same goes for recess.
But when I hear a story like that of Justin Aaberg, recently in the news in the Twin Cities, it reminds me that The Lord of the Flies is, in fact, a cautionary tale. When left to their own devices, kids can be downright brutal to one another. And it seems that the bullying that Justin, who was openly gay) received at school may have directly led to his suicide on July 9, at age 15.
Of course, there are any number of things that can lead a person to take their own life, but I happen to be of the school of thought that a 15-year-old barely has the developmental resources to take that tragic step. Justin obviously did.
According to his mother, in a heart-rending interview with the Show So Gay Podcast, Justin was “grabbed by the balls” last spring at Anoka High School Sandberg Middle School and told by a classmate, “You like that, don’t you?”, along with the other usual insults of “fag,” “queer,” and worse.
Now, according to a WCCO-TV story last night, Justin’s mother, Tammy Aaberg, is taking aim at the school’s policy on sexuality, which states,
“Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations.”
But also in the WCCO report, a lesbian teen tells the school board that she has no such home, church, or community organization. Like many teenagers in our fractured society, the high school is her primary community. A teacher also anonymously tells the reporter that he’d like to have the freedom to speak to students about sexual orientation.
Anoka is in possibly the most conservative swath of Minnesota: it’s the belt buckle of Michelle Bachmann’s district and crowded with conservative churches. So I’m sure that the Anoka-Hennepin school board and administration is under a great deal of political pressure to stay neutral on issues of sexual identity.
However, I tend to trust in the kind of people who go into public education as teachers, administrators, and social workers. I tend to believe that they want what’s best for the kids in their school. (And when they don’t, as when teachers in this very school district (!!!) made fun of a student for being “gay” in 2008, they are punished.)
This is a moral issue, but not in the sense of what is right and what is wrong sexually. It’s moral in the sense of children’s safety. Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell doesn’t work.
To train teachers and other students to be sensitive to the fragile evolution of sexuality among adolescents is not to begin a slippery slope to anything-goes-sexuality. It is instead to build a community in a school in which students can experience a safe harbor, especially when they lack such a community outside of the school.
HT to Chris Wogaman for pointing to resources for this post.