A Word in Edgewise: School Priorities: Socialization or Survival?

By E.B. Boatner November 17, 2011

Categories: Education, Our Affairs

This past month yet another gay teen, Ottawa 10th grader Jamie Hubley, committed suicide after having endured bullying since 7th grade.

Hubley blogged, had friends and peers who cared, but still the loneliness and pervasive became unsupportable. Aware of the “It Gets Better” movement, he nevertheless wrote in his last message, “I don’t want to wait 3 more years. This hurts too much. How do you even know It will get better? Its not.”

An October 24 TIME magazine article titled, “A Separate Peace?” profiled the Alliance School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This specifically gay-friendly (though not all gay) school has 165 students, each of whom was bullied or tormented in his/her previous school situation.

“The hallways,” TIME notes, “are filled with masculine girls, effeminate boys, punks, goths, runts, the overweight and the ultra-nerds.”

The piece noted several objections to this kind of institution: Some conservatives object to any school that “makes sexuality a part of a child’s or school’s identity,” while developmental experts and many gay activists feel a child’s coping skills will be stunted.

But not all bullied children are gay, and one can’t promote coping skills for the dead. A child’s basic job at school is to learn. Not how to stay alive, but to acquire skills he or she will need to cope in life beyond school; to walk through school hallways without taunts, physical threats or injuries. Perhaps even to enjoy the learning process.

Coping skills and promoting an “atmosphere of respect on all campuses,” is the ideal, but it’s not happening soon enough for the less hardy. With alternatives schools, taxpayers would not be paying for a child’s sexual orientation, but rather for our collective inability to assure the safety of all students whatever their distinguishing “marker.”

Until such a time arrives, alternative programs offer needed protection. This by no means lessens all the good that the “It Gets Better” efforts have done and is doing. No doubt the knowledge that they are valued has enabled many students to soldier on, and I don’t doubt that lives have been saved. But it must be implemented.

In a barnyard, stronger chickens peck weaker or different birds to death. Get strong or die. That barnyard mentality cannot be allowed to inform American classrooms.

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