Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Burnaby and Tennessee

Burnaby, Burnaby, Burnaby.

My relationship with today's problems started years ago. It was my first year of University. I was sitting in my education advisor's office, talking about what classes I should take to best prepare me to teach curriculum, and that got us started.

My advisor is the most respected authority on evaluation and social studies curriculum development in Western Canada. She was doing a study on this new curriculum for the B.C. government. A year-long course required for all graduating high school students, combining Canadian History with Indigenous Studies and Social Studies with a focus on Social Justice.

Sounds cool, hey?

At the time I never would've thought about it, but it only makes sense now. One of the units is about gay rights, or, more specifically, the history of gay people in Canada.

Some parents don't like this. The vocal ones seem to live in Burnaby. They perceive this as an attempt at social engineering through curriculum - the government trying to convince children to comply with things that are objectionable.

I have a couple, complicated responses to this.

Firstly, the point of social studies curriculum, expressed in every text book and article I have read and written on the topic, is to engineer society into something that is more civically coherent. It always has been the purpose of Social Studies. Always will be. Does that make it right? No - but I will defend it anyways. It is the great equalizer that can serve to enlighten children by providing them some lens through which they can begin interpreting the world other than their parents. And it has been somewhat successful - we are seeing a better integration of immigrants than ever before in Canada (though these tend to be the children or grandchildren of immigrants), for example. Just one example of social cohesion increasing (though there are perhaps valid arguments that it is not - though you'd have to consider pandering to extremists to buy into them).

Secondly, gay education does not exist. It does not even need to be about the sexual realities of being gay - for the majority of the human population, this is of limited interest (if of any at all). What should be of interest to everybody is the way that homosexuals are treated by, perceived by, or themselves perceive society. And starting to break down the barriers that exist between our cultures by educating people about a fuller breadth of gay society than that presented in the media during Pride Festivals or that is read on the walls of the bathroom stall. This is done poorly in education generally whenever discussing a minority, but by offering a voice to them, something is being accomplished - even if it only acts as a spark for interest later in life. It is not bad to introduce people to another culture. We are everywhere - you cannot hide from us. Not even at your church (we are likely your organist, choir conductor, and lead tenor all wrapped in one...)

Thirdly, we should not be presented separately in curriculum. We should be fully integrated into it. This concern is a major feature of feminist curriculum theory - one that has not been listened to well by curriculum writers by has started to affect curriculum delivery in the classroom in the past ten years. We are part of society - we are everywhere - we are not separate or hidden in a ghetto. Don't place us in one at school, particularly not in curriculums. It produces frustration in teachers and in students - "Oh, we're going to do the GAY unit?" (dramatically roll your eyes).

Early this year I read Felice Picano's Like People in History. I did not love it. I did not buy into it entirely. I didn't like the drugs - I think that is what turned me off. But I'll be damned if it didn't help raise my personal awareness of how homosexuals have always been around - always been interpreting the world through a slightly different lens. Changing with the times. Sometimes changing faster than the times - sometimes slower, but always changing. With society - not separate from it.

To the B.C. government (who is doing a lot of right things with this curriculum renewal): Include us in the curriculum. But don't toss us into our own unit. We are an integral part of society, and have been here since time immemorial. We need to be included in curriculum just as heterosexuals are - if only to present a more realistic image of society.

To the parents of Burnaby: Yes, what your child is being put through is social engineering. It is the nature of education. Go read about the goals of education, particularly public, mandatory education - read the books and articles written by academics - and you'll realize that it has never been otherwise. And though you are a stakeholder in the system (and this has been my stance on education ever since I was in high school), you are perhaps the least important of all. Take a back seat and let your child learn about the world in which he lives in the class that is designated to teach him about the world.