Thursday, November 25, 2010

Moral Education

It was a long day today at work.

While I've been navigating the crevasses of graduate work applications, I've also been using my two degrees to make money. As a substitute teacher for the Regina Public School Board.

And there I was today, during homeroom, directing class. And my ears hear something that I haven't heard since I was a student.

"Yeah, he's gay."

It was from the back corner. I can still remember the face of the young woman that made the comment.

I can still recall that instant when I felt as though shutting down was the only response that was valid. These people knew. They were judging me for it. There was nothing I could do about it anymore.

And then I did the worst thing possible.

I let the comment slide. And now, I know that, for anybody that she encounters who is gay, around whom she tosses around the word with a sneer and a knowing gracefulness of cool, that i have contributed to the fear that they feel.

And, on my drive home, I couldn't decide if I should've pounced on her. As a young First Nations (Metis?) woman, god knows I had the ammo - I am incredibly capable of whipping up hatred in an instant.

Why didn't I?

Was it because I don't believe in humiliating students (no, thats definitely not the reason), or was it because I refuse to use race as a trump card (i'd love to pretend so, but the fact that I could whip up hatred for this woman in an instant because of her skin colour tells me otherwise), or was it because I knew that, in the moment that I defended homosexuals from hatred, I was outting myself to these students?

I could've incited foolishness, dumbness, ignorance, She could've retaliated with the same in some way, I couldn't asked her how she feels when she heard commentary about First Nations women being prone to drinking when they were pregnant or men sexually abusing their daughters in a drunken rage, and I could've answered with fear and hatred and remorse and shame at her identity for things that she could not control, and she could've gotten angry and disgraced, and I could've told her that she had no right to inflict those feelings upon anybody else and nobody has the right to inflict those feelings upon her, and She could've agreed, and I could've said that I would expect somebody who has been the victim of cultural hatred in the past to fight against it in all of its manifestations (just to let her know that I was thoroughly disappointed in her character), and She could've gone home and told her parents and the Parents could've contacted my boss and told her about the scenario, and I could lose my position, because God knows that my "teaching practices" were questionable I was thoroughly out of line and it isn't the right of a teacher to treat minority students in any way to calls attention to their minority-ness, and I would not be able to respond because this woman would have the same power as I would have over my temporary student in my class, and once again I am faced with morality in ways that are complicated.

It was probably the last reason.

And so I was silent. And let the tacit hatred of homosexuals survive for another day.


  1. Oh, this is a loaded one. Let's see. If I were in your place, what would I have done?

    I would NOT have called her on what she said in front of everyone else. I absolutely would not have used her ethnicity and the historical indiscretions of her people against her. That's fighting fire with fire, and no one ever gets anywhere with that.

    How old was this young First Nations girl/woman? I assume she was old enough to reason with on a mature level.

    If I were to employ some of my management experience from over the years, I would ensure, above all else, that I didn't insult her or embarrass her. Yes, you might be angry with her, but she's only demonstrating ignorance. When you know better, you do better.

    So, what would I have done? I would have called her aside after class, and, when it was just the two of you, I would have told her, calmly and cooly, what you heard her say (I'm sure this would make her feel uncomfortable, which is fine).

    I would then have said that, regardless of whether or not you yourself are gay, you don't appreciate comments like hers in the classroom. I would have given her a lesson in tolerance by saying the public school system is made up of all kinds of people, and there's a place for everyone. I would have told her we have much to learn from each other, and we can all be an instrument of acceptance and understanding. And, yes, you could identify to her that she's a minority too, and she should understand what it's like to be singled out and to be labeled.

    In other words, open the lines of communication with her. Treat her with compassion and respect. She probably has little experience with gay people. If her experience with you is a positive one, she might start to change her mind about what gay people are like.

    But, of course, all of this is only possible when you have control of your own emotions. Frankly, there's nothing wrong with talking to her tomorrow (if you're in that same class), after you've had time to let the anger go, and after you've given some thought to how you could handle the situation like a mature adult, who has the opportunity to set an example of the kind of behavior you're looking for from her.

    I'm not saying this is easy, Neal, but it's doable and necessary. You can and should do this. Then you might want to advise the principal what you did.

    Do you think you could use any of this? I hope so. If you don't mind, let me know how it goes.

  2. That's the problem with homophobia. It paralyzes you.

    LGBT empowerment publicly is a newer concept. Our community has had Pride events and that's really the most we've had a chance to advocate our inclusion into 'normal' society. We've moved into a society that is more accepting, obviously not completely, but working on it.

    I agree with Rick. It's important to address this. As long as we stand by and let these words crush us, we allow homophobia to perpetuate and we lose the ground we've made.

    Nothing in life comes easy, and unfortunately, some of us endure more than we should.

  3. I agree with chaoticGRRL.
    For me, this is all about taking control. It's about looking beyond the pain of bumping up against the ignorance of others. It's about re-writing the script, taking the power back, not letting it get to you, and using the opportunity to teach. A tall order, but, as you grow older and surer of yourself, it can and should be done.
    Perhaps the best thing to do now is chalk up what you went through to experience. You kick yourself now for not providing the response you think you should have, but don't. You were caught off guard.
    If you continue to sub in the school system, I have no doubt you'll come up against this again. Be ready. Know what your response will be. Always be respectful of others, even if they haven't been to you (particularly in a school situation). Don't let them know they got to you. See yourself as good as they are.
    Respect yourself, too.

  4. Thank you to both of you for your comments.

    And I agree whole heartedly with the two of you. Standing up to these tacit moments of our daily life is the most important means we can use to alter the way that our lives are lived with others.

    And I have to struggle, regularly, with not using my position of power for myself.

    Thank you for the advice, Rick. I will look into using it in the future. Until then, I will have to think of how best to do so...

  5. Neal,

    I think you might also be able to take the opportunity to make this a discussion, granted that's allowed within the school system.

    Talk openly and freely about sexuality as a whole, obviously it's not going to be a regular thing, and isn't in the curriculum, but it's also something that should be discussed in a healthy manner.

    Fighting back with anger against hatred gets no where.

  6. Chaoticgrrl, I am just barely a couple inches ahead of you. Just barely though...

    I want to say more, but I don't too. Surprises and such.