Right Side: Pride Assemblies in Public Schools

Public schools cannot address all groups with assemblies. What it can do is demand an environment where students are taught to value compassion, humility and respect for all.

by Dave Parker | Apr 12, 2017

I remember the fat kid in high school. Of course, there was more than one, but I specifically remember this kid in particular because I recall some of the things people said about him. You can imagine that "big boned" wasn't one of the compliments lobbed his way. Back then it was called being mean. In today's public school system, it would be referred to as not being inclusive.

This column was sparked by our interest in an assembly at Cox High School that was initially scheduled for December 2016. The directly titled, "Love is Love: A Celebration of Gay-Straight Alliance," was meant to "share a message of inclusion to the student body and community." Never mind that young people, even those who check the box for "Evangelical," overwhelmingly say that homosexuality should be accepted in society. But you never can be too sure that everyone is on the same diversity bus (irony noted), so bring on the assembly.

First, lest my sarcasm lead my message astray, I believe fully that people should be able to love and marry as they choose. It falls under individual choice emanating from individual freedom, a guiding principle of conservatism. With that established, the assembly ran off the tracks immediately. First, it was discovered by parents and a School Board member that it was to be held during school hours, which I found surprising given the constant bickering over making up snow days so that teachers have enough time to teach all those SOL mandates. 

Second, while the purpose of the gathering was to make sure that students should be aware that words have meaning and can hurt, and that people should not be targeted because of their sexual orientation, these are things already covered in the Virginia Beach Public School's Code of Conduct. It's in Section 29 of Prohibited Conduct, which is plainly titled, "Harassment or discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, national origin, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation." In accordance with the verbiage of the policy, are we to assume that Cox High School will soon be having its own version of Epcot Center to make sure that all international students are treated with the respect they deserve? 

Let's agree to the obvious. The LGBTQ movement is a popular cultural movement at this time in our nation's history. It's overdue, although I'm still balking at the argument that plumbing doesn't need to match plumbing in school bathrooms. The point is it's not just acceptable but now popular to include gay rights and issues under the umbrella of diversity. For a long time, it was about gender. Then we started to finally play catch up on race. Now it includes many other demographics who have in some way been "othered." But because of this widespread acceptance of the issue, speaking out against assemblies of this sort is now viewed as not just being old fashioned, but being insensitive, thereby bigoted. 

It is not. The fact of the matter is that diversity often becomes a set of pet projects that are anything but inclusive. Case in point: if this was truly an assembly of diversity, then were they also planning to have someone behind a lectern talking about why they disapprove of a gay lifestyle? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there are large portions of our population who see nothing but lecherous things from not just gay marriage, but being gay. 

Finally, and I refer back to the "kids can be mean" section, there are plenty of factions of students that are ridiculed, mocked and bullied every day in our schools. Knowing that to be true, should we also demand that schools hold, during learning time, student-wide meetings addressing insensitivity toward fat kids, the kid with head gear, redheads (gingers), those whose families can't afford the best clothes, kids who are called ugly, nerds, band geeks, sluts, virgins, dumb, or any variety of freak that kids can come up with? And that's not even everything that's covered under the aforementioned Section 29. 

Schools cannot address the need of every individual or group. What they can do is try to apply broad sets of principles and guidelines that will cover most, hopefully all, students. For instance, if there is a group of kids who have some odd fascination with unicorns, then they are free to assemble among themselves, on school property, after hours, to share their common bond. The school shows its support by allowing use of the facility and the agreement that the club can advertise its meetings within the school. But the school is under no obligation to start bringing in unicorn-loving speakers to elaborate on why you shouldn't make fun of these kids who are in desperate need of human companionship or a hobby. This is why the ultimate decision to have the "Love is Love" assembly in January, after school hours, is perfectly acceptable.

I am in no way making an equivalence between what the LGBTQ crowd deals with and a kid believing in a mythical horse. What I am pointing out is that the public school system is inherently heterogeneous. It cannot address all groups with assemblies. What it can do is demand, and rightly so, an environment where students are taught to value compassion, humility and respect for all. This ethos will be violated. Likely daily (again, see "mean"). At that point the second part of the ethos kicks in that states actions have consequences, and the consequences are that certain things will not be tolerated and will come with penalties. If students are brought up with that overriding Code of Conduct, that it applies to all, even though they may seem different or weird, the lesson will be a much longer lasting and positive one than a one-off assembly that, in reality, acts as a hall pass from class.

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