Deep civility on the skids

In light of events at Troppo over the last couple of days, now might be an opportune moment to post an extract from a post by the wise but currently absent Don Arthur at his now-moribund blog:

A deeper form of civility asks us to make an effort to treat other people with respect. It is not possible to treat others with respect when we act in a way that says that who they are or what they believe makes them worthless or contemptible as human beings. This basic respect for other people and their beliefs about what makes life worthwhile is what liberalism is all about.

We don’t know how to resolve disagreements about whether a good life is one devoted to serving God or one devoted to enlightened self interest. We don’t know how to reach a consensus about which moral values are most important or what words like freedom or fairness mean in practice. It’s impossible to say that these are not important issues but it’s also impossible to reach agreement. People don’t disagree with us about these things because they are mad, ignorant, or stupid.

The liberal response to differences like these is to agree to disagree. We don’t give up our own beliefs, our own ambitions for society, or our own feelings about what others say and do. What we do is agree to respect other people for who they are and in return we ask them to respect us for who we are.

I imagine that just about all of us would agree with Don’s observations in the abstract. But the principles of deep civility aren’t always easy to apply in practice, as several recent comment threads on this blog demonstrate.

When we accuse an opponent of “self-righteousness” (as both sides have done in the lesbian student-teacher debate), there’s a high probability that we’re thereby exhibiting that same quality ourselves.

It’s also useful to keep it in mind when we’re discussing a topic involving values about which there is wide community disagreement. Like homosexuality for instance. I imagine many Troppo readers (including me) regard sexuality as purely a matter of personal choice/orientation, in respect of which people are entitled to equal treatment and respect in every way and at every level. But those are not values held by anywhere near the entire population, perhaps not even a majority of it. Most mainstream Christian churches, for instance, preach some variation of “love the sinner, hate the sin“. Presumably many of their adherents agree and want those values instilled in their children as far as possible.

The law in this secular society now insists (with some limited exceptions) that people may not be subjected to discrimination based on their sexuality. But it doesn’t require anyone to subscribe to a moral value that effectively says homosexuality is an equally valid/acceptable choice for themselves or their families, or to teach or permit that value to be taught to their children. So how do those principles interact? Where do we draw the dividing line? We need to keep reminding ourselves that there is plenty of room for intelligent people of good faith to disagree on such questions. And that sometimes even those with whom we most profoundly disagree may still have valuable insights and experiences if we avoid closing our minds and refrain from shouting at each other.

It seems quite clear, to me at least, that anti-discrimination principles must require, if they are to have any real meaning, that gay teachers are entitled to walk the streets with their partners and show them affection in just the same way as anyone else. And if their pupils happen to see them together and get curious about it, even religiously-minded parents have no right to object (or at least to have their objection acted on by school authorities). I can understand some parents attempting to press objections even to such behaviour, because the very fact of a respected authority figure like a teacher being seen with a same-sex partner tacitly conveys a value to the child that is inimical to parental values (that the practice of homosexuality is morally wrong). However, to that extent the parents’ right to choose the moral values their children are taught must give way to the teacher’s right to live her life as she sees fit without discrimination.

But once the teacher goes further than that and responds to pupils’ questions about her relationship, she enters more troubled waters. Arguably she is then no longer just living her own life as she sees fit, but actively (and unnecessarily) espousing moral values about which parents are entitled to choose. A wise teacher would simply have declined to answer pupils’ “who was that lady you were with, miss?” question, and would certainly have known that going any further than a bare response was fraught with danger.

Points made by Geoff Honnor about the victimisation gay children suffer at school, and their lack of support systems compared with many other victims of bullying, certainly make this issue more difficult. But my own view is that kids’ need for counselling and support must be kept conceptually and practically separate from what teachers teach their pupils. If a teacher becomes aware that a child in her care may have an issue needing counselling (including a sexuality issue), there are severe limits to how she may properly act towards that child. She can’t simply be indifferent or uncaring, but she equally can’t act as a counsellor or a role model to a gay student. A teacher who goes any further than taking the child to the school counsellor is taking a major risk. As far as I know, all teachers are taught how to deal with such situations (although that doesn’t make them any easier when you’re actually confronted with one in practice).

But of course there are other viewpoints one might perfectly reasonably hold. Some may observe that this post itself has a faintly self-righteous tone, and they might even be right. But I doubt it from the depths of my deeply civil, humble heart.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic at Charles Darwin University, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law) and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 12 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in he early 1990s.
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96 Responses to Deep civility on the skids

  1. wbb says:

    “Arguably she is then no longer just living her own life as she sees fit, but actively (and unnecessarily) espousing moral values about which parents are entitled to choose.”

    Ken, what do you mean by “espousing”? Seems crucial to understanding your point here. Do you mean “recommending”? Do you feel that it is permissible for a teacher to acknowledge her homosexuality to her pupils? And maybe allow it to be known that they have a partner? Or would that be needlessly risking the wrath of the some?

  2. Ken Parish says:

    I mean what I said. A wise teacher would say nothing. But an unwise one who honestly but without more acknowledges that this is her partner certinly should not be disciplined IMO. But it’s clearly closer to the line.

  3. Nabakov says:

    Point taken. I’ll return those overdue books to the uni library at once.

    “moral vaues about which parents are entitled to choose”

    Stephen Fry wrote a very provocative and well argued piece about this issue which I can’t find online, but which first ran in the Daily Telegraph sometimee between 1989 and 1991, and then reprinted in his book “Paperweight”.

    Here’s a teaser line.

    “If parents want their children to really share their perceptions of the world they should insist on teachers who hold an absolutely opposite point of view.”

    Think about it. One of the main points we all took away from school was that there was more to seeing the world than what our parents wanted us to see.

    The only morals everyone commenting here would agree on, such as honesty, fair play, no bullying, respect for others, help those less fortunate, cleaning up after yerself and not playing foosball with live kittens, is the kinda stuff our parents are expected to instill in us anyway.

    So what other moral values do you think Ken that schools should or should not be imparting to their students?

  4. observa says:

    Well Ken and wbb, et al, I’m afraid it’s still a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire here. Let’s see how we can make this point a little more obvious shall we?

    Rephrasing Ken,
    “It seems quite clear, to me at least, that anti-discrimination principles must require, if they are to have any real meaning, that bestial teachers are entitled to walk the streets with their animals and show them affection in just the same way as anyone else. And if their pupils happen to see them together and get curious about it, even religiously-minded parents have no right to object (or at least to have their objection acted on by school authorities).”

    Now let’s just assume for arguments’s sake that the whole school community knows about our teacher’s prediliction here because she belongs to the local Bestial Rights Group and regularly advocates on their website along with her peers, that they should be allowed to marry their animals, like heterosexual couples.

    Rephrase wbb,
    “Ken, what do you mean by “espousing”? Seems crucial to understanding your point here. Do you mean “recommending”? Do you feel that it is permissible for a teacher to acknowledge her bestiality to her pupils? And maybe allow it to be known that they have an animal? Or would that be needlessly risking the wrath of the some”

    You see here the problem in a nutshell guys?- I don’t find bestiality offensive and some of my best friends are ‘beasties’ and I just don’t know what all the fuss is about in our schools and in any case it’s not right to discriminate against people because of their sexual preferences and why shouldn’t they have the right to marry their animals too, etc, etc…..

    Sorry to put it to you so bluntly, but I could have used paedophilia as the example of how a majority or even a significant minority may think. Sooner or later you gotta choose what’s right or wrong for you and your kids and that’s why many of us don’t believe in monolithic education sectors. Give the people their choice of schools, values, teacher types, etc and you won’t have this ethical dilemma all the bloody time.

  5. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Christ, observa, you’re really determined to dig your own grave on this one, aren’t you?

    Surely, anyone can see that a sexual preference for an adult of your own sex has nothing whatsoever to do with “perversion” – which your comment about bestiality strongly implies.

    I repeat – you’re carrying on like a pork chop.

    I strongly suspect you know far better, and you’re just being provocative. If so, don’t, it’s not funny. I hope I’m right – I’d be really disturbed if you were making a genuine analogy.

  6. observa says:

    I might add that if my kids had been lectured by some vegan twit for eating a fritz sandwich, I’d have been knocking on the principal’s door. As it was I only had to stand up for the missus against the SA Ed Dept for the typical sort of crap that Sophie mentions. A threat to deal with my barrister if they didn’t stand up for her against a child abuse allegation from some nutter mum listening to her lying little shit, got them off their fat arses real quick. Can you believe this? After bringing in the CIB initially, then haranguing the missus, the principal, the whole school and Ed Dept for a giant conspiracy, she took little Johnny away to another school, but left her daughter at the wife’s school. A couple of weeks later the Minister came out with a public announcement about black-banning abusive nutter parents. Good boy minister(chuckle)

  7. Tim says:

    “I strongly suspect you know far better, and you’re just being provocative.”

    Actually, given comments Observa has made elsewhere, and on a range of topics, I’d suggest we do him the courtesy of taking him at his word. And basically, anyone who compares homosexuality to bestiality is beneath contempt.

  8. yellowvinyl says:

    Tim, if we do indeed accord that courtesy to observa, all I can say is that the SA Education Minister showed very good sense indeed.

    on the substantive post, Ken, you write:

    “Arguably she is then no longer just living her own life as she sees fit, but actively (and unnecessarily) espousing moral values about which parents are entitled to choose. A wise teacher would simply have declined to answer pupils’ “who was that lady you were with, miss?” question, and would certainly have known that going any further than a bare response was fraught with danger.”

    “arguably” suggests yr not sure. I fundamentally disagree. the only way we’re going to overcome prejudice is by people proceeding to talk in a very natural manner about the way their live their lives and not worrying about whether it’s fraught with danger.

    it takes courage, and more power to that student teacher. it shouldn’t – it should just be a matter of course.

    the reductio ad absurdum of all this is that

    (a) we should not have any sex education in public schools because sex is “controversial” – whereas all the studies show that where this takes place, the rate of teenage pregnancy, abortion, HIV infection all falls – which presumably accords with most people’s values;

    (b) we should give up on trying to educate about anything except the 3Rs at all lest we transgress a single parent’s values;

    point (b) should demonstrate why Dr D the Death Dealing educational expert is so keen on right wing pc.

    I put to you, Ken, that it doesn’t matter a fuck if a parent thinks being gay is morally wrong. maybe 50 years ago in the States parents in the South thought it was morally wrong for black and white people to marry. thus they wanted segregation in schools. it was clearly ethically right for the US supreme court and LBJ to desegregate schools, because their values were based on *PREJUDICE*.

    if parents want to send their kids to some Christian fundo private school where they get taught to hate and fear gay people, then end of story. but I can’t see how it should be at all problematic in public institutions that the values of tolerance, anti-discrimination and respect should trump parental views.

    I don’t view myself and my sexuality as a moral problem. if I decided to go and study education and become a teacher, should it be? why?

    I think you need to stop sitting on the fence on this one, Ken. you know the answer to what happens to people who sit in the middle of the road – they get run over unless they make a quick step to the left or the right. it’s actually not a left/right thing in the political sense but I’m appealling to your better angel to hear you condemn prejudice against lesbian or gay teachers in schools unequivocably.

    what about it?

  9. “We need to keep reminding ourselves that there is plenty of room for intelligent people of good faith to disagree on such questions. And that sometimes even those with whom we most profoundly disagree may still have valuable insights and experiences if we avoid closing our minds and refrain from shouting at each other.”

    This blog does make me wonder sometimes….

  10. Nabakov says:

    Well Scott, I come here for the argy-bargy m’self.

    And I had no idea that –

    “I might add that if my kids had been lectured by some vegan twit for eating a fritz sandwich, I’d have been knocking on the principal’s door. As it was I only had to stand up for the missus against the SA Ed Dept for the typical sort of crap that Sophie mentions. A threat to deal with my barrister if they didn’t stand up for her against a child abuse allegation from some nutter mum listening to her lying little shit, got them off their fat arses real quick. Can you believe this? After bringing in the CIB initially, then haranguing the missus, the principal, the whole school and Ed Dept for a giant conspiracy, she took little Johnny away to another school, but left her daughter at the wife’s school. A couple of weeks later the Minister came out with a public announcement about black-banning abusive nutter parents. Good boy minister(chuckle)”

    – was actually a parody. Damnit, I was all set to play along in character.

  11. observa says:

    Mark,
    I make that analogy to show you how many people view your stand and all your arguments about homosexual rights. (hint: go back and read all your arguments in this light) They do view it as ‘perversion’. Can’t you get that through your thick bloody skull? Why the hell do you think homosexuals have been closeted for so long? Because they preferred it that way?

    Personally I don’t care what adults do sexually in private but if you want to be a professional like a teacher, you’d better watch your audience. Also as a heterosexual I have to admit that homosexual attraction is about as foreign to my understanding as is paedophilic attraction. So is bestiality for that matter. For most of us this is the case. Now one thing I do understand is the value of heterosexual monogamous marriage and contra, all the problems that can occur when it fails, particularly for children. This is where I feel those advocating homosexual rights fail them by advocating gay marriage. To do that you have to devalue its iconic and time tested status and most of us know that implicitly. We know what comes next-polygamy and IVF rights being the obvious and then where to? As Kevin Donnelly points out, that just don’t feel natural baby, but then you ought to understand the feeling here Mark. What about a bit more logging in the Tarkine mate?

  12. yellowvinyl says:

    deal, Observa…, just deal.

    we’re here, we’re queer, get over it.

    you and yr prejudice against “unnatural perversion” are on the way out.

    the tide will turn, my friend, and it might even ripple through yr water cooler.

    hey, Ken, “deep civility on the skids”, you said truer than you knew, yeah? when we have commenters like Mr Observa peddling their prejudice, civility breaks down pretty quickly, does it not? funny that? no, not really, because prejudice and rationality are incompatible.

  13. observa says:

    Nabakov I can be as emotive, irrational and as contrary as the next bloke. I have my beliefs and you have yours and they often come out in contrary ways.

    In general I’d have to say that I’m stunned that some of you so called intellectuals think you can get by without believing in something. Personally I think Ken tried valiantly to rise above it all with high principle, but unfortunately some were calling him back to particular case law. Sooner or later you have to believe in something or you end up at the Stargate of empty nothingness. Scratch below Mark’s surface and although he thinks homosexuality is fine, he has a problem with bestiality and paedophilia as ‘perverted’. He can’t understand that others would add homosexuality to their list. In fact it hasn’t even occurred to him that most of his countrymen disagree with his definition and so maybe he’s wrong in some sense, or perhaps he needs to emigrate. OTOH perhaps in a few years we’ll all be fully enlightened like him and have moved on to having the same argument about paedophilia, or bestiality.

  14. Nabakov says:

    “you can get by without believing in something.”

    “he has a problem with bestiality and paedophilia as ‘perverted’.”

    Yer pissed aren’t you, observa?

    Cool, so am eye.

  15. observa says:

    Yellow, homosexuality doesn’t really affect me or concern me, except to say that I would protect the institution of marriage against all comers(eg polygamists). For me with my kids growing up it was more the violence/porno thingy when they were young, but as they get older well its the drugs/alchohol/driving to worry about. Also I do think we’ll have to demystify paedophilia one day to properly get a handle on the problem. Like homosexuality we’ll have to learn to deal more peacably and appropriately with different sexual urges. They are after all loving ones unlike say rape.

  16. Ken Parish says:

    I’m going to ignore the whole exchange involving Observa (well, not quite – see below). I’ll pick up on Nabakov’s initial comment. Almost everything we do involves conveying values. Teachers are shaping young lives by their words and actions, and they DO have a responsibility to parents.

    Teachers, like politicians, must always be acutely aware of how their words and actions convey values. They are in sensitive positions where their every action is scrutinised by small censorious beings who will judge ruthlessly and report to their parents, sometimes innocently and sometimes maliciously.

    Anything at all about their teacher concerning sex and relationships is voraciously observed, dissected and consumed by children. Teachers need to be acutely aware of how they dress, speak and behave. Irrespective of their sexuality. I could give you lots of examples of this, but they would breach other people’s privacy. I’ll stick to my own situation. When I was married to Jenny Parish we didn’t need to worry too much about displaying aspects of our relationship when we met at school. We were an old married couple and it was ho hum. But not when Jen and I first got together. Her students were desperately curious to find out about “miss’s” new boyfriend, and we needed to be acutely aware of that fact and moderate how we behaved when I met her at school. Overt displays of affection would have been minutely analysed, and perhaps reported to parents. “Inappropriate” displays of physical affection (i.e. kissing and cuddling) have sometimes been the subject of disciplinary action in schools, irrespective of sexuality.

    However unfairly, teachers must be aware of these things. If you don’t want to have your every action minutely observed and potentially used against you in ways that would be unfair in other contexts, don’t become a teacher or a politician.

    Turning to yellowvinyl, I simply don’t agree with you. At least not when you’re dealing with kids of primary age. It is simply inappropriate to discuss sexuality in a manner that unavoidably conveys approval of values to which many parents object, and which they don’t want inculcated into their children. Observa’s bestiality eample is offensively provocative, but he has a point. Many people (and just about all churches) DO regard homosexual behaviour as morally wrong, and don’t want their children taught to the contrary. We need to make a distinction betwen primary and secondary age kids. Older kids are much better able to grasp finer moral and ethical distinctions and make up their own minds about such things. For example (on a totally different tangent), kids tend not to be turned into raving lefties by their high school politics teachers, even though one suspects few of those teachers vote for John Howard. Primary aged kids are just too young, and parents can quite validly demand that their kids not be exposed to overtly value-laden teaching. Talking about the teacher’s own gay relationship (except to barely acknowledge its existence, and only when that’s unavoidable through the children having seen the teacher and her partner together in a context that requires a minimal explanation) is by its very nature value-laden. Parents are going to object, and they have every right to do so. I’m not sitting on the fence at all yellow. I guess I just wasn’t making myself clear enough. A trusted (often worshipped) authority figure teacher discussing their sexuality in this context conveys a powerful message of approval/acceptance of behaviour that many parents object to being presented in those terms, to children too young to make up their own minds in an independent rational manner.

    There is a critical distinction between a class teacher discussing the existence of different sexualities in the abstract in sex education classes for primary age children, while being careful not to express any view as to the morality of any such behaviour, and discussing it in very concrete terms after the children have seen the teacher with her partner. The latter unavoidably conveys the value that this is a perfectly acceptable lifestyle choice no different from any other. Like it or not, that is a highly socially-contested value. You and I may agree with it, but many Australians don’t and they have every right to object to you and I inflicting our values on their children. If you don’t accept that restriction on the freedom of your words and behaviour while in the presence of the children you teach, then you shouldn’t be a teacher at all.

  17. yobbo says:

    The fact that Mark is upset by observa’s analogy just shows what an intolerant hypocrite he is.

    You assume that paedophilia is universally reviled, whereas homosexuality is universally accepted as a sexual preference.

    I think you’d find that most of the world would prefer you had sex with a 13 year old girl than a 25 year old man.

    In fact, in some countries you could marry your 13 year old girlfriend, but be executed for touching your 25 year old boyfriend.

    The analogy is quite valid. The fact that you think homosexuality is more acceptable than paedophilia is simply your own opinion. Many people agree with you. Many people find both equally repugnant.

    The fact that Australian law agrees with you doesn’t take away the right of others to hold their own differing opinions, or their right to send their child to a school where their values are respected.

    You have the right to live your life as you wish, but others equally have the right to disapprove of it.

  18. Geoff Honnor says:

    “The latter unavoidably conveys the value that this is a perfectly acceptable lifestyle choice no different from any other. Like it or not, that is a highly socially-contested value.”

    Well, it is perfectly acceptable in a legal sense and it’s not, of course, a lifestyle choice. People do not “choose” to be gay. It’s simply an innate variant of legitimate adult sexual and affectional expression with other adults. Most adult people are attracted to the opposite sex, some to the same-sex and some people to both.

    Obs, it has nothing whatsoever to do with cows, sheep, dogs or really cute goannas nor does it have anything to with sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children. The latter can occur in adults across the sexuality spectrum and – if anything – occurs far more frequently within extended families: generally to kids under male ‘protection.’ But it has no intrinsic link to heterosexuality either.

    I accept that various faiths see homosexuality as a sin or an abomination etc. There’s an interesting debate about the extent to which kids should be religiously encouraged to hate people going about their perfectly lawful existence but I certainly see no place for enabling it in the Australian public school system.

    Discussing matters sexual with kids is clearly perilous – I accept that totally. Still, there’s a way to convey the facts (see above) that has nothing to do with propagandising.

  19. jen says:

    “I don’t view myself and my sexuality as a moral problem. if I decided to go and study education and become a teacher, should it be? why”

    Your sexuality is not a problem, but perhaps the lack of gentleness and tolerance that is entertaining on a blog, might bring you grief in a classroom.
    But take heart teachers can make no great secret of their partner orientation at school. The qualities that allow acceptance among peers and students are talent, obviously, care, and active and unremitting tolerance. When self-discipline allows those qualities to be at the forefront of teaching practice, they are, I have observed, reflected right back.

  20. Geoff Honnor says:

    “You have the right to live your life as you wish, but others equally have the right to disapprove of it.”

    Sure. But the question really is where society – rather than an individual – might place the weighting. If the people opt to legally sanction a legitimate form of sexual expression and identity – as they have in Australia, then it’s about time that some individuals got over it. I don’t think anyone is arguing that people have to unreservedly “love” homosexuality. They do however have to eventually accept that homosexual people have a legitimate right to be and adjust their outlooks accordingly.

  21. Rex says:

    My view is –

    -Parents have a right to have a say in who teaches their children (and by implication what moral code they are taught)

    -Different people have different views on what consitutes acceptable moral behaviour

    – Teachers, if they don’t want to get caught up in all this stuff, better keep their private lives, and their moral positions partitioned from their role as teacher (unfortunatley this it what we’ve come to) .

    – If malicious people ‘out’ a teacher as a way of destroying their career, and the teacher has not invited the scrutiny, then those people should be prosecuted, and pay compensation to the teacher for potential lost income and embarrassment.

  22. Ken Parish says:

    “Well, it is perfectly acceptable in a legal sense …”

    That simply isn’t the case. Anti-discrimination laws outlaw discriminatory CONDUCT in relation to sexuality in specified areas like employment and provision of goods, services and accommodation. They don’t mandate acceptance/equivalence for all purposes. Religions are free to teach that homosexuality is morally wrong, and so are parents. And all of us are free to believe what we choose. Not even all conduct of a discriminatory nature is prohibited. There are exceptions for religious schools, for instance, and for employment of people within the family home. They’re quite carefully designed to maintain a distinction between freedom of belief and behavioural mainfestations of those beliefs that may inflict them on others in an oppressively unfair way.

    I agree that this is a somewhat fine distinction, and I’m not at all sure that it’s really workable in the long run, but it’s certainly the basis on which anti-discrimination laws currently operate. They are an uneasy compromise between secular liberal values of toleration and acceptance on the one hand, and religious convictions about moral right and wrong on the other.

    In fact, I have doubts whether the whole “love the sinner, hate the sin” Christian church formula is capable of being understood and applied by most christians. It far too easily becomes a pretext for hating the sinner under the guise of pious hypocritical doubletalk.

    Finally, I realise homosexuality is not a “choice”. I was simply portraying the attitudes of parents who have strong moral objections to homosexuality. But that in turn leads to another important point. There’s an unavoidable clash when religious values dictate that particular behaviour is a sin and an abomination, whereas that behaviour as a matter of scientific fact (apparently) is innate, natural and unchangeable (at least in an orientation sense – you can’t cease to be gay, only become gay but non-practising/celibate). Religious fervour on this issue springs partly from the general teaching that the Bible is the unchanging word of God, but partly also from a misconceived moral panic/fear that one’s otherwise straight children might be suborned into homosexuality by predatory gay adults. One would hope that enlightenment (as you and I would perceive it) will one day dawn on most of them, but until it does it isn’t the province of the law to impose on people moral rules that aren’t fairly generally accepted, nor is it for agents of the State (i.e. teachers) to do so through what they teach our children. The practical working-through of deep civility requires that mutual tolerance/respect for differing values and opinions must operate in the way I’ve argued IMO.

  23. Robert says:

    Religions are free to teach that homosexuality is morally wrong, and so are parents.

    Religions are also free to discriminate against homosexuals in a way that other organisations are not. We’re talking about a public school here, though, so Geoff’s point stands.

    In my opinion, even if the lady was wrong, the principal overreacted. It’s clear from the level of discussion that there is a grey area here, and we know that she was an inexperienced student teacher. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to give her some guidance on acceptable answers, rather than the sack? (Explaining why straight folk can be more open about their relationships might prove more difficult, though.)

  24. Ken Parish says:

    “We’re talking about a public school here, though, so Geoff’s point stands.”

    No it doesn’t, because to allow teachers to freely teach their own preferred values to children, in defiance of the wishes and values of their parents, would effectively negate the freedom of families and churches to inculcate the values in which THEY believe. The approach that people like you and yellowvinyl advocate brings liberalism dangerously close to coercive authoritarianism. Children can and will be subjected to a wide variety of opinions and values as they grow up, but allowing trusted/authoritative agents of the state the right to abuse their position of power and influence over children to impose values contrary to those of their family and religion is unacceptable coercion on the part of the state. State schools are not truly open to all if only those who subscribe to the ideologies of the prevailing bureaucratically-dominant oligarchy can safely send their kids there without having them brainwashed. In fact your attitude amounts to quite spectacular intolerance of diversity masquerading as tolerance. The attitude seems to be: “Our values are right and yours are wrong, ignorant and stupid. We’re going to impose our values on your kids whether you like it or not, and if you don’t you can piss off and take your kids to a church school. And we’re going to keep doing this even though no-one ever gave us a democratic mandate for it, and even though a high proportion of the population disagree with us. They’re just ignorant fools. We know better.” This is exactly the sort of arrogant political correctness against which so many ordinary Australians instinctively rebel, and which John Howard exploits so successfully.

  25. Ken Parish says:

    Bloody hell! Now I’m getting angry and uncivil too. But it IS arrogance. I can’t think of anything else to call it.

  26. Ken Parish says:

    Just quantifying my last point that a high proportion of the Australian population disagree with PC values about homosexuality, this 2001 comparative survey ( http://www.international-survey.org/A_Soc_M/Homosex_ASM_v4_n1.pdf ) found as follows:

    “Fully 28 per cent of Australians think that homosexual behaviour is ‘Not wrong at all’. 15 per cent take a slightly more censorious view, declaring it to be ‘Wrong only sometimes’. Only 9 per cent say ‘Almost always wrong’. But fully 48 per cent say that homosexual behaviour is ‘Always wrong’. Scoring the answers on a tolerance gradient at equal intervals from 0 (always wrong) to 100 (not wrong at all), the mean is 41 points, rather below the middle point.”

    The study may also hold the key to why debate on this topic here at Troppo has been so heated:

    “Surprisingly, the answers to this question are among the most strongly polarised ever reported on an attitude item in this country: the vast majority of Australians are either unambiguously tolerant or unambiguously censorious, with very few holding ambivalent or nuanced views in the middle.”

  27. Rob says:

    Strange how this series of posts seems to have struck such a raw nerve. We’re all getting heated and uncivil. I know I am.

    Sophie started off with a perfectly civil and civilised rejoinder to Mark’s polemics. Before you know it the coals of fire are being ladelled out in spades and what do you know, she’s a PC crusader in an unholy war that sacraments intolerance, notwithstanding everything she says is explicitly to the contrary. Welcome to the debate, Usama bin Laden. Pity about your politics, mate; but at least you always got the polemics right.

    Ken’s quite right. This kind of stuff just plays into Howard’s hands. He knows what he has to do and he does it to perfection. He appeals over the head of the commentariat to the Oz people and says, Look, I’m one of you, I agree with your values, I identify with your aspirations. Then he provokes the left into doing exactly the f**king opposite.

    Go on a crusade of your own for gay marriage and watch Labor’s chances going south like a duck in winter just like bloody Kerry’s did.

    [Wipes angry and uncivil forehead….]

    And some interesting and thought-provoking comments in your most recent post, Ken.

  28. Don Wigan says:

    It’s a tricky one, with some interesting views presented. I’m inclined to agree with Ken that your personal orientation ought to be separate from your professional resonsibilities.

    That cuts both ways of course. Nobody should be drummed out of teaching because they’re homosexual. If parents, because of their religion or other values cannot live with this, it is up to them to find another school.

    Professional values are just as important as personal ones. I can almost picture German-origin teachers being hounded out of their jobs during WW I. Nobody’s the better for that type of hysteria.

    But it’s part of being a pro to stick to the task required. As a young leftist working for the SA Govt Tourist Bureau in Sydney I often had to defend positions with which I privately disagreed, but I was representing the Govt at that time. On that score, I always admired Don Dunstan’s decision never to discuss his personal or private life. It kept the focus on what he wanted to do publicly.

    My neighbour is homophobic, xenophobic and an admirer of Hansonism and John Laws. In my normal stance on things I’d regard him as a redneck. Yet in direct relations he’s one of the kindest persons I’ve known and certainly the best neighbour I’ve had. He knows my views and we discuss broadly without animosity. He even said once that he’d vote for me if I stood for council or parliament.

    That stunned me, seeing our views were so far apart. But he said he valued the integrity of the individual above their ideology.

  29. Mark Bahnisch says:

    I agree totally with Geoff on this one:

    “Sure. But the question really is where society – rather than an individual – might place the weighting. If the people opt to legally sanction a legitimate form of sexual expression and identity – as they have in Australia, then it’s about time that some individuals got over it. I don’t think anyone is arguing that people have to unreservedly “love” homosexuality. They do however have to eventually accept that homosexual people have a legitimate right to be and adjust their outlooks accordingly.”

    The logic of your argument, it seems to me, Ken, is that we shouldn’t have anti-discrimination laws relating to sexual orientation because some people believe that homosexuality is “sinful”. I see no way we can meaningfully dispel prejudice except by educating people about it, but you want to rule this option out.

    I don’t have time to track down the survey evidence, but I believe that younger people are far more accepting of same-sex orientation. That came out – with regard to the issue of same-sex marriage – last year in a Nielsen poll conducted for sbs where the older the demographic, the less the approval. In the 18-25 demographic, as I recall, a large majority approved.

    I think yellowvinyl’s analogy regarding segregation in schools (and reading the history of the Civil Rights movement reminds us that fears were often expressed in terms of sexual contact between black men and white women) is a powerful one, and I’d like to see you respond to it, Ken.

    jen, I wouldn’t jump to conclusions about yellowvinyl’s personality based wholly on her participation in blog debates. People can get quite heated in these discussions, but be quite sweet in “real life”.

  30. James Hamilton says:

    This is a very intersting thought provoking and thus entertaining thread, I must say.

  31. Geoff Honnor says:

    “Bloody hell! Now I’m getting angry and uncivil too. But it IS arrogance. I can’t think of anything else to call it.”

    Yes you are and I’m not sure why. I’ve never argued that people aren’t free to think what they think and my response to Sam Ward bears that out. My point is a simple one: homosexuality and homosexual relationships are legally validated in Australia. That doesn’t mean that people have to be required to warmly approve of homosexuality – that’s an absurd proposition. Most heterosexuals, by definition, find the thought a bit confronting – hence the response to the survey you cite.

    They do however have to accept that homosexual Australians have a right to be so and therefore respected on that basis. I see absolutely no reason why the acknowledgement of that principle should be so problematic. In a pluralistic, liberal democratic society it’s surely fundamental.

    I don’t think churches – and mosques – should be prevented from preaching their moral precepts but there’s a fine line between disapproval of the act and hatred of the person – Islam generally doesn’t bother to make it. A secular state must necessarily balance this. If Roman Catholicism had it’s moral way, abortion and divorce would be banned along with contraception. As a society – as Roman Catholics even – we reject this. George Pell dishes out communion every Sunday to hundreds of ladies of childbearing age who can’t produce more than 1.2 kids a piece. At the same time he refrains from offering it to people who own their homosexuality. The moral absolutes of religion are no such thing – even in my lifetime they’ve evolved considerably and much of that has been due to the influence of the liberal democratic context within which religion here evolves.

    People have every right to imbue their kids with their values but it’s not open-ended. We wouldn’t as a society see race hatred, for instance, as a value worthy of inculcation and schools would have no hesitation in ignoring parent insistence that it should be taught.

  32. Ken Parish says:

    Mark

    yellowvinyl’s analogy is a false one. Requiring that people may not discriminate by conduct (e.g. by dictating what school they can attend or who they can marry) is qualitatively different from telling them what they must think, and ensuring that the next generation subscribes to YOUR preferred views by brainwashing their kids against the wishes of the parents.

    I should also slightly qualify my earlier statement that homosexuality is not a “choice”. My general non-expert understanding of research is that sexuality is a continuum, with many people experimenting with same-sex activities at some time of their lives (e.g. yourself). I don’t think the precise role of nature and nurture in all this is yet known. No doubt it isn’t a “choice” for people with a strong orientation to either end of the sexuality spectrum, but there may be some role for nurture/experience/conditioning with at least some people. Thus it may be that social taboos perform some instrumental function (which might or might not be a desirable one depending on your views about population growth). If you are a person who believes that homosexuality is simply morally wrong (as most Australians still do), and if (as I believe to be the case) it can’t be established that social taboos have no effect on keeping the incidence of homosexuality in check (although at what cost?), then one can make at least a vaguely plausible case for maintaining taboos to some extent, while insisting that all people must be treated with dingity, respect and equality irrespective of their sexuality. Our current anti-discrimination legal regime arguably reflects that sort of approach.

    If, as you say, attitudes are changing over time anyway, with younger people much more tolerant and accepting of gayness (I have a similar recollection), then there is no strong utilitarian case for coercive attitudinal re-education anyway. The dangers involved in that sort of coercion vastly outweigh the benefits IMO.

  33. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Again, Geoff gets to the core of the issue.

    In a liberal society, tolerance of others’ choices is a fundamental value overriding other values.

    I don’t see that those who claim to be on the side of “deep civility” are engaging with this argument. I wish they would.

  34. Geoff Honnor says:

    “Go on a crusade of your own for gay marriage and watch Labor’s chances going south like a duck in winter just like bloody Kerry’s did.”

    For what it’s worth Rob, most gay Australians aren’t ‘crusading’ for gay marriage though few would actively oppose it providing it’s not compulsory :) It’s just not an issue for most of us though relationship validation in partnership situations outside marriage certainly is of interest and the states – and latterly the commmonwealth even – have recognised this. This may be why gay marriage isn’t such a big deal.

    It’s a mistake to think that sexuality somehow provides a universalist approach to the full spectrum of controversial issues. It doesn’t. We’re pretty diverse and the only “homosexual agenda” you’re ever likely to see is on a menu board outside a Darlinghurst cafe.

  35. Ken Parish says:

    “In a liberal society, tolerance of others’ choices is a fundamental value overriding other values.”

    Well yes, but as I commented earlier the approach of yellowvinyl (and presumably yourself) is really the opposite of tolerance. At the risk (well, the reality really) of repeating myself, what you’re really saying is: “Our values are right and yours are wrong, ignorant and stupid. We’re going to impose our values on your kids whether you like it or not, and if you don’t you can piss off and take your kids to a church school. And we’re going to keep doing this even though no-one ever gave us a democratic mandate for it, and even though a high proportion of the population disagree with us. They’re just ignorant fools. We know better.” That isn’t tolerance.

  36. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Ken – what’s the difference between “values” that suggest you should support segregation and “values” that suggest you should condemn homosexuality?

    I’ve put up a post filling out that argument in greater detail.

    Are you suggesting that any social evil (which all discrimination is) ought to be accepted passively if some religious groups or parents claim it is in accordance with their “values”?

    It seems to me this is where your argument leads.

  37. Evil Pundit says:

    I don’t think paedophilia or bestiality are choices, any more then homosexuality or heterosexuality. Observa makes some valid analogies, but as usual the one-eyed ideologues of the Left can’t see past their prejudices.

  38. Mark Bahnisch says:

    And I don’t think arrogance enters into it. The premise of liberalism is that people can choose their own path to the good provided it does not harm others or interfere with their choices. The proviso implies values which ought to be entrenched in the public sphere and public institutions which override private opinions. J.S. Mill argued this beautifully in “On Liberty” and I don’t think he was being arrogant or a PC Warrior.

  39. Geoff Honnor says:

    “No doubt it isn’t a “choice” for people with a strong orientation to either end of the sexuality spectrum, but there may be some role for nurture/experience/conditioning with at least some people. Thus it may be that social taboos perform some instrumental function (which might or might not be a desirable one depending on your views about population growth).”

    Ken, what you do sexually and how you identify sexually are often very different things, but I’ve yet to see any evidence that would suggest that homosexuality occurs in any greater proportion now than it ever has. Millions of predominantly homosexual men have lived out their entire lives in a outwardly heteronormative way because that’s always been the societal expectation. The notion that two men – or two women – might openly live their entire adult lives together in homosexual coupling and still share societal benefits and privileges is only about 30 years old in the West. The notion of a fluid sexuality that transcends the “monosexual” is newer still but I suspect that it would be many generations before people stopped seeking security and comfort in a relatively fixed sexual identity and I see absolutely no reason to believe that heterosexuality won’t continue to represent the most significant part of that.

    People will always experiment – I actually have some discomfort with chucking “gay” labelling around in respect of adolecents who may or may not be “gay” in the accepted adult sense. It’s probably best to let these things evolve over time
    and in most instances they do.

  40. Evil Pundit says:

    Left-wing policies have nothing to do with J S Mill. Mill argued for liberty, while Left policy depends on coercion.

  41. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Mill argued that education was necessary in order to overcome prejudice.

    I actually think couching this issue in terms of left/right is all wrong. There are plenty of liberals around who’d argue the case I’m making. It gets framed that way because the Dr Ds of this world turn it into a sub-argument in the “PC is evil and lefties are destroying family values” furore. Most of which is just seeking partisan advantage and conservative dreaming for a non-existent glorious past.

  42. Mark Bahnisch says:

    “A deeper form of civility asks us to make an effort to treat other people with respect. It is not possible to treat others with respect when we act in a way that says that who they are or what they believe makes them worthless or contemptible as human beings. This basic respect for other people and their beliefs about what makes life worthwhile is what liberalism is all about.”

    You quote Don.

    How, Ken, are we to foster respect and avoid regarding people as worthless or contemptible if not by doing something to combat prejudice?

    Choosing the value of respect necessarily implies making a value-judgement which negatively evaluates those values which promote disrespect.

  43. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Anyway, I’m off to work. Enjoy your afternoon of deeply civil discussion, everyone!

  44. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Anyway, I’m off to work. Enjoy your afternoon of deeply civil discussion, everyone!

  45. Ken Parish says:

    Mark

    I don’t know how I can put this any more clearly than i already have. You’re effectively defining tolerance to mean coercion. That is, you and those of like mind believe you are entitled to inclucate your preferred values in other people’s children whether they like it or not.

    You would have a point in terms of liberalism and tolerance of it weren’t for existing anti-discrimination laws and their prohibition on ACTING in a discriminatory manner towards people because of their sexuality. But it is quite logically posiible to maintain a position which says to your children:

    “You must never discriminate against a person on the basis of their sexuality/orientation i.e. treat them differently because of it. But homosexual behaviour is nevertheless morally wrong and against God’s law. Some people may have no choice about what they do, and if you end up being in that category we will love you just the same, but to the extent YOU have a choice we think you should maintain the same beliefs and practices in your personal life as we your parents have done.”

  46. Geoff Honnor says:

    “I don’t think paedophilia or bestiality are choices, any more then homosexuality or heterosexuality. Observa makes some valid analogies, but as usual the one-eyed ideologues of the Left can’t see past their prejudices.”

    I take it that you can’t exercise choice either Evil given your apparent inability to view anything outside a Left/Right context. :)

  47. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Ok, one more comment.

    I don’t think it’s coercion. What we’re talking about is education in schools which might conflict with parental “values”. The point of education is to enable people to critically evaluate arguments and make up their own mind, not to say “believe as your fathers have done”.

    I note that you’re avoiding responding to the analogous argument about desegregation in US schools – probably because you’re unable to square your argument with a belief that schools ought not to promote parental “values” that are racist. I think it’s you who’s being illiberal, Ken.

    If accepting whatever prejudicial beliefs people might hold as legitimate is part of a liberal society, then I don’t think we live in one.

  48. Evil Pundit says:

    It’s still a left/right issue, Geoff.

    Mark is arguing the coercive Left case that people should be forced to think in “correct” ways, while Ken is arguing the free Right case that people should be free to think what they like.

  49. Ron says:

    Perhaps we should start agitating for a prohibition on Christian proselytizing, Ken. We wouldn’t want to influence kids swinging between atheism and being ‘born again’. I wonder how many teachers wear crosses around their necks, turbans or hijabs in state schools? Would not these teachers have at least a sublimal influence on the young, undeveloped minds?

    Also should priests be allowed to wear their ‘uniform in public’? Could be offensive and probably is to some, particularly of other religions.

    It doesn’t matter how you argue around it, there really is no difference between the racist arguments of the American south and what I have read on these threads about homosexuality.

    Pity Australians are not as enlightened as Canadians seem to be these days.

  50. Ken Parish says:

    Mark

    I responded to your question about yellowvinyl’s analogy. You’re beginning to sound like Rafe Champion. yellow’s analogy is false. She’s talking about conduct, I’m talking about beliefs and values. I fully support current anti-discrimination laws, and I would support educational programs to teach kids that it’s unlawful to discriminate and that you should treat everyone equally irrespective of their sexuality, race etc. But it’s a large additional step to advocate teaching not only non-discrimination but that such behaviour is in no sense morally wrong, and that believing that it is wrong must be treated as mere irrational prejudice. And that’s especially so when the majority of the population disagrees with you.

    If sexual orientation was beyond doubt totally innate and not a matter of choice to any extent at all, then one might reasonably draw a complete analogy with race. It’s unarguably true that to teach kids that being black is wrong or evil or inferior or something is just plain silly. They can’t do anything about it. But we simply don’t know that this is true of homosexuality. Indeed, as I said earlier, it appears that there IS some element of experience/conditioning/nurture involved with at least some people. So yellow’s analogy is false on that count as well.

    Note that I’m now being pushed into defending a rational Christian position (or my own imagined version of it) just as you felt yourself pushed into defending a “left” position on recent threads. My own moral position is no more to be equated with it than yours is with a monotonic “left” one. In fact, as I said before, my personal position is that I DO accept homosexuality on all levels, and I teach my daughter that it isn’t wrong and is a matter of personal orientation that isn’t anyone else’s business. But I also accept the right of others to have different moral values than mine, as long as they don’t BEHAVE in a discriminatory manner towards gay people. I don’t reckon I have any right to tell others (or their children) what they must think. You seem to believe that you do have that right.

  51. Geoff Honnor says:

    “Mark is arguing the coercive Left case that people should be forced to think in “correct” ways, while Ken is arguing the free Right case that people should be free to think what they like.”

    So Fred Nile and Pell are on the Left, Evil? You’ve lost me mate.

  52. Mark Bahnisch says:

    It doesn’t matter, Ken. If homosexuality isn’t “innate”, then disapproving of it strongly suggests that people should “choose” to be straight. As in all the “12 step” programmes that the fundies and Cardinal Pell support.

    I note as well that race is to a degree a social construction as well – read some stuff about the light-skinned blacks in America who often had a choice as to whether to “pass” in the days of Jim Crow, and the extreme difficulty they had in the South and in South Africa enforcing their miscegenation laws because of the impossibility of determining “how black” someone really was – or the Nazis’ difficulties in Austria about how to work out who was “purely Jewish”.

    Ok, I’m out the front door now, but Ken, I think you’ve found yourself in some strange company on this one.

    Tim Dunlop has had his say, btw, strongly dissenting from Sophie’s post:

    http://www.roadtosurfdom.com/surfdomarchives/003068.php

    There’s an active hyperlink in my post above for easy clicking.

  53. Geoff Honnor says:

    “If sexual orientation was beyond doubt totally innate and not a matter of choice to any extent at all, then one might reasonably draw a complete analogy with race.”

    I think that sexual orientation is pretty much innate. Be it genetic (which looks increasingly likely) or with some element of early life conditioning, it’s just the way that people are – and always have been. I’ve never, ever heard of a person who was innately heterosexual suddenly becoming homosexual. There’s a situational homosexuality – prisons and the like – but it’s predicated pretty much on translating male dominant and female subordinate power paradigms into an unavoidable same-sex environment. It doesn’t tend to continue on release.

    This is why the “recruitment” angle is so manifestly absurd. Sexual preference isn’t ultimately something over which we can exercise control and the bogus “Reparative Therapy” that some churches tout doesn’t work either. It just reinstitiutes the outward veneer of heteronormativity. It doesn’t alter fundamental orientation. Why would an otherwise heterosexual person ‘choose’ a sexual identity that was manifestly not his or her own? Particularly when social opprobrium is it’s natural concomitant? Many homosexual people choose to adopt heteronormativity – or the priesthood – and pursue their actual preference in secret for exactly that reason.

  54. yellowvinyl says:

    Geoff, while I’m inclined to agree with you, if homsexuality is not “innate” it still doesn’t bolster the argument for tolerating discrimination, as Ken seems to think.

    I liked what you wrote at Tim Dunlop’s about homophobia being the last “socially sanctioned hatred”. sadly, too true. seems like a lot of people here at Troppo are sanguine about it.

    jen, I don’t do swagger. I’ve got long(ish) hair, wear makeup, lipstick, and occasionally (like Deborah Conway) my string of pearls. I like nail polish. I wear dresses and heel(s).

    but if I had short spikey hair, wore army shorts and a polo shirt on a school excursion and had a gruff manner, I don’t see why I couldn’t. lots of teachers I had were pretty aloof and gruff, but nobody thought this was anything other than their individual personality. unless they were a dyke, when I guess it would be because they were a dyke.

    any minority – Murris/Kooris, queer folks – we’re the ones who have “stereotypical” personalities and “mannerisms” while white straight middle class folks are just “people”.

    but never fear, Australia, don’t lock up yr daughters, I’m not going off to study education :) pay’s crap, I hear.

  55. Ken Parish says:

    Geoff

    If you’re correct (and obviously you’re in a better position to observe than I am), then I’ve already said you could conceptually equate the situation with race. But there would still be the democratic argument to overcome before you can legitimately impose re-education programs on children against their parents’ will. In the US, they fought a civil war about race, and then incorporated equality provisions in their Constitution by democratic process. No such thing has happened here, and indeed it seems that a clear majority still believe homosexuality is wrong. In that situation, it’s difficult to mount a democratically persuasive argument that schools should nevertheless teach kids the opposite of what the majority believes. Surely we need to convince the majority of adults first.

    In any event, I’m teaching continuously from now until 4pm Darwin time. So I’ll leave it to others who may want to carry on the discussion

  56. yellowvinyl says:

    yeah, Ken, but it took a hundred years or so from reconstruction when the amendments were passed til anything changed.

    I’m not waiting a hundred years. I want schools to teach kids respect for queer folks now.

    there’s a slippage in yr argument from liberalism to democracy – which are not the same thing. because you can’t defend accepting prejudice in public institutions on liberal grounds, yr now arguing that we can’t do anything about promoting tolerance of same-sex attracted ppl until it’s “democratically” approved.

    but you haven’t foregrounded this slide in yr argument.

    you’d probably get a majority to vote in favour of capital punishment now too. but is that an argument for it? not in a liberal country.

    btw – on the vehemence of my arguments – I’m an American, lived in San Fran for many years, and even in America’s “most liberal city”, there are many fora where you have to argue very forcefully to even get a hearing.

    there isn’t much civility in the land of the free these days. Australia’s quickly catching up in incivility in political and public discourse though…

  57. Geoff Honnor says:

    “You must never discriminate against a person on the basis of their sexuality/orientation i.e. treat them differently because of it. But homosexual behaviour is nevertheless morally wrong and against God’s law. Some people may have no choice about what they do, and if you end up being in that category we will love you just the same, but to the extent YOU have a choice we think you should maintain the same beliefs and practices in your personal life as we your parents have done.”

    LOL!!I guess we could all draw some comfort from noting that no kid anywhere will ever accept “we think you should maintain the same beliefs and practices in your personal life as we your parents have done” without equivocation. And a bloody good thing too, otherwise we’d still be living out Pride and Prejudice complete with costumes.

    Sadly, it’s pretty rare to come across, “but homosexual behaviour is nevertheless morally wrong and against God’s law.” coupled with “if you end up being in that category we will love you just the same” in the same briefing. It often takes several painful years for the one to balance the other.

    What should the parent say if the kid asks – perfectly reasonably – why he/she should never discriminate against people who are immoral and against God’s law?

  58. dan says:

    I think that the deep civility distinction is very difficult to maintain. Whilst in theory we can preach tolerance of others whilst maintaining that people are entitled to disagree, in practice I just don’t think it works – for all the reasons set out above.

    From one side it is argued that a tolerance which is unequal (for example if it requires more care to be taken of speaking about homosexuality than heterosexuality) in itself marks homosexuality as deviant from the norm or at the very least different and unusual.

    From the other side, any teaching which seeks to advance tolerance has the effect (at least in the eyes of parents who disagree) of suggesting that a particular behaviour should be equally valued.

    In fact, I believe that a decision in practical terms is made about whether the behaviour is acceptable or not (often on the basis that a mjority of australians agree with that reading). So we don’t have an argument about whether or not a black teacher should be able to talk about racial equality, even though there are some who believe (and would choose to teach their children) that different races are not in fact equal. We would certainly have a similar argument about teaching in relation to faiths or religions in primary school, but perhaps not in relation to gender equality.

    I fail to see how a liberal democracy can hold with both tolerance and difference of opinion as to value. As has been observed, the only solution is to paint people into a position where a person can say nothing at all (which again raises problems that this is not a true expression of equality).

    I think that homosexuality is on the cusp of a transition at the moment – the government, media and middle Australia are all in the process of creating a consensus as to whether homosexuality is something that we really equally value or merely tolerate (as a society, not as individuals). The school parents who complained would argue the latter, many others who have commented here would advocate the former.

  59. Ken Parish says:

    Geoff

    It was a confected monologue intended to demonstrate that it’s possible to have a compassionate, rational christian position about homosexuality. I imagine it’s the sort of position thousands of Christian families have reached over the years, however painfully and after prolonged soul-searching. It certainly isn’t the sort of dialogue you’d put in a character’s mouth on stage unless you wanted the audience to laugh and walk out, but I didn’t put it forward as such.

    Gotta go.

  60. Geoff Honnor says:

    “It was a confected monologue intended to demonstrate that it’s possible to have a compassionate, rational christian position about homosexuality. I imagine it’s the sort of position thousands of Christian families have reached over the years, however painfully and after prolonged soul-searching.”

    I appreciated the confection. It’s just that – having dealt with lots of people in lots of these situations over the years – it doesn’t ever happen like that. People who invoke ‘Godly’ sanctions around poofterism do not generally consider that their kids might end up like that and they certainly wouldn’t be thinking “love” first up in the horrific and unimagined circumstance of it actually occuring.

    Most people think roughly along the lines of: “they can do what they want I guess but it doesn’t mean I have to personally endorse it. Creeps me out even thinking about it mate.” Relatively few people in my experience are vehemently homophobic – though young pissed guys in revved up cars are a situational exception :) – and fewer still offer God’s Sanction as a rationale for it – this is Australia after all, even regular churchgoers are a bit picky and choosy about God’s Sanctions.

    The mass of people wouldn’t, I think, have a problem with acknowledging that homosexuals have a right to be. Nor would they strenuously object to kids hearing that same-sex relationships are a legally validated way of living in Australia and that fact should be respected. The fact that this doesn’t mean that you have to personally approve of what they get up to is a given. I think it’s essential that the basic message gets out there. The right of inculcation in respect of parental values isn’t absolute and kids have to constantly balance the former with day too day life anyway.

    I think there’s nothing wrong with saying to kids in an educational setting that people are entitled to express their sexual preference under Australian law and that entitlement should be respected.

  61. harry says:

    The difference betwixt homosexuality and peadophilia-and-beastiality is that paedophilia-and-beastiality involve non-consent of one party.

    When homosexuality involves non-consent then, and only then, is it morally a problem: exactly the same problem as heterosexuality which involves non-consent.

    People can assert that homosexuality is morally wrong.
    They are simply incorrect.
    And there is no agreeing to disagree on this.

    To get anywhere on this teacher case we all must agree that homosexuality is not morally wrong.
    To press on without reaching this consensus is folly.

    Now.
    Abortion anyone?

  62. observa says:

    Thanks for the statistical facts on attitudes here Ken, as it concurs with my experience. Having had a foot in both camps(pardon)I can assure all here there is a very divergent moral view toward homosexuality between say working class smoko rooms and sandstone staff rooms. The actual case at hand, as Fyodor rightly pointed out, we can all chill out about, because in the end the lady in question handled a novice’s quicksand well and could be placed in another school more to parents’ understanding. Now for me Sophie explained well the general problem for teachers, principals and Ed administrators in dealing with these sorts of issues day to day. I probably came to the similar conclusion as Ken and Sophie here, but the case did raise a personal question for me as to how do you select a socio/moral/legal compass to avoid the future dilemma so clearly experienced by all involved. In this sense educators and legislators appear to have no better moral compass to steer by than any of us.

    As a parent of schoolkids(past tense now)I need to know when I’m on my white charger righteously defending the Sophies(and my wife)in going about their important roles, or really joining the lynch mob and blindly persecuting the innocent, particularly on second hand sy so from kids. Now immediately you can see the moral compass problem if a vegan teacher tells me not to send Master O to school with a pork fritz sandwich again, or perhaps another teacher because it offends her Muslim beliefs. I might be on my morally acceptable white charger at the principal’s office in most Oz schools, but considered a dangerous sacreligious crank in some other countries’ school systems. Although I personally concur with the overall conclusions of Sophie and Ken here, there is no doubt in my mind that if our teacher in question had a male fiancee/husband/partner picking her up, then she would still be teaching at that school. ie perhaps we are guilty of sitting on the fence stupidly here and stand to get swept away by the tsunami of Enlightenment heading our way.

    Back to the big picture of homosexuality and where’s your moral compass pointing to Observa? Well unfortunately the O’s compass is inevitably skewed by the magnetic interference we all encounter. Now I am not particularly religious, but it would be naive of me to think that I don’t come pre-magnetised with some Judeo Christian/Anglo/male/hetero/mainstream/experiential pole alignments interfering with my compass. As such I can no more comprehend homosexual attraction, than I can fathom paedophilic or bestial ones, or ditto with homosexuals in my situation. Who is to judge we judgmentalists as being right or wrong in our prejudices here? Where is my Omniscient one or perhaps Ken’s wise Supreme judge to adjudicate? Ah well O, listen to all the good advice about you and you will have your answer. Trouble is it’s everything from beware Sodom and Gomorrah my son, to she’ll be right mate, each to his own, although perhaps wisely, only in the confines of your own bedroom and with a consenting adult.

    As I pointed out previously, if you scratch the surface of anyone’s arguments deep enough, you’ll strike some red hot belief. Nearly all the arguments I heard presented here, in favour of treating homosexuality as equivalent to heterosexuality, can equally apply to say bestiality and paedophilia, with one important override in the last case. Try the position for yourself, if you can manage to peel away your own labels of ‘perversion’. The persecution complex and Lord of the Flies breast-beating, can easily apply to others with non-mainstream sexual proclivities. You can even get into arguments about how mainstream they really are(ie 1.3% or 10%) What if bestiality was statistically more represented in the community than homosexuality? Should we not fight the good fight for community tolerance for them, before the more marginal leftover issue of complete acceptance for homosexuals? Should we go back and consult the cultures and times of Plato, Nero and Caligula, or more recent cultural times of the poofter bashers. Sheesh! Round and round in circles till you disappear up your learned arse, with no more advanced directional compass at the end of it all, than the gut feel, experience and intuitive common sense of the smoko room.

    For mine the smoko room have it about right. Generally speaking no more poofter bashing and they are comfortable with accepting that real homophobia is past tense. Live and let live quietly as they continually demonstrate with the range of cultures, views etc they deal with on a day to day basis. Tolerance, if not always some idyllic PC acceptance by the truly enlightened. However, don’t ram your reverse normophobia down our throats, or teach our kids that homosexual marriage, or marrying tiddles the cat, is the equivalent of monogamous heterosexual marriage, cos if you do we’re gonna run you down the road or out of town to where you’re more appreciated. In this the Lathams, Howards, Beatties, Carrs, etc and we will be as one, mounted on our white chargers. If the shock troops in your normophobic gender agenda campaign, get a bit mauled under the ensuing stampede of hooves, don’t blame us. Sooner or later you gotta believe in where you’re at just like us. We are open to changing our compasses over for better ones of course, but don’t come around dicking ours about, with some pissy fad magnet you picked up cheap at Cunnos recently, cos we know real tools when we see em. We also know how to use the best tool for the job at hand.

  63. Fyodor says:

    Wow. Still going.

    In response to Harry’s last post, I don’t believe that consent has much to do with why most people consider bestiality and paedophilia to be morally wrong. The problem for most people (myself included) is primarily that the CHOICE of sexual partner is morally wrong, not that the partner provides consent or not.

    It’s the same with incest. Most people would consider incest between two consenting adults to be morally wrong. Some cultures in some times have considered it to be acceptable, but we don’t.

    Some/many people consider homosexual preference to be morally wrong for the same reason. They may accept its legality, but do not accept that it is a valid and “normal” preference. This is the mindset that you’re dealing with, and I think it naive to imagine that parents with such views will accept what they believe is indoctrination of their kids. Sophie and Ken keep making this point, but some of you just don’t get it.

    The only sensible solution in a liberal society with public education is comprehensive fact-based sexual education, at an appropriate age, that enables kids to know the facts rather than inherit prejudice. Give them the facts, and let the kids think for themselves.

    As Sophie and Ken pointed out, the lesbian student teacher was not a good example of this.

  64. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Fyodor, didn’t the student teacher just give the kids the facts?

    I think that yellowvinyl’s point is again sound. Ken wants to have it both ways. First he’s a liberal, but when it’s pointed out that liberalism would imply tolerance being a value privileged over private values, he retreats to a “democratic” argument.

    However, if democracy simply meant going along with whatever the majority thought at any given time, we’d probably have capital punishment, castration for pedophiles, and all sorts of other anti-liberal things.

    Liberal democracy also protects – or should protect – the rights of minorities. Particularly the rights of minorities to be free from prejudice.

    It’s very clear that not saying anything about non-hetero sexualities in schools reinforces the dominant cultural attitude which is indeed intolerant. The whole sexuality system which devalues non-heterosexualities rests on silence, and the closet, and fear.

    The practical consequence of this is that people get hurt, people’s lives get trashed. I know Ken (and Sophie) aren’t arguing for this, but it’s the consequence of giving up on educating kids to respect everyone regardless of their sexual orientation.

    Fyodor writes:

    “The only sensible solution in a liberal society with public education is comprehensive fact-based sexual education, at an appropriate age, that enables kids to know the facts rather than inherit prejudice. Give them the facts, and let the kids think for themselves.”

    I couldn’t agree more – but this appears to be what Ken is arguing against, if I’m interpreting him correctly.

  65. Fyodor says:

    Mark,

    “…didn’t the student teacher just give the kids the facts?”

    We don’t really know what she said. However, it’s not really important as I have not read any opinion supporting the principal’s decision to remove her. I don’t even think such support is implied in Sophie’s original post. This is the aspect to this particular case of “conspicuous indignation” that baffles me – an incident of discrimination was handled correctly. What’s the beef?

    As Sophie said previously, primary school was arguably not the right environment for a student teacher to begin teaching sex ed. This is what I meant by “appropriate age”, and I totally agree with Sophie’s earlier point that the hypersensitivity of school authorities around ANY sexuality explains a large part of the principal’s (faulty) decision.

    As for what Ken is arguing against, I think we should leave it to him to agree or disagree with his interpretation of my view.

  66. Geoff Honnor says:

    “Nearly all the arguments I heard presented here, in favour of treating homosexuality as equivalent to heterosexuality, can equally apply to say bestiality and paedophilia, with one important override in the last case. Try the position for yourself, if you can manage to peel away your own labels of ‘perversion’. The persecution complex and Lord of the Flies breast-beating, can easily apply to others with non-mainstream sexual proclivities. You can even get into arguments about how mainstream they really are(ie 1.3% or 10%) What if bestiality was statistically more represented in the community than homosexuality?”

    Obs this is a complete strawman. The discussion is about consensual adult affectional and sexual relationships, sanctioned by law. Paedophilia is about adults who manipulate and control pre-pubescent children for gratification. The power imbalance and the ‘forced’ nature, the outrageous imposition of adult sexuality upon a child is to my mind both morally indefensible and totally at odds with what we’re talking about.You and I both know that there is no equivalence here.

    Bestiality is equally non-consensual – whatever Peter Singer might suggest. Animals can only ever be used as non-consenting, manipulated repositories for human gratification. Forget what the Old Testament says, if you’d rather have sex with Fluffy the cat than a human being, you need to see someone.

  67. Ken Parish says:

    Quickly, I support fact-based sex education, and i suport education about anti-discrimination principles i.e. as Geoff put it, “that people are entitled to express their sexual preference under Australian law and that entitlement should be respected”. but that isn’t the same as conveying a message concerning the morality of the behaviour (as opposed to the necessity to respect and tolerate and not discriminate). I suspect there’s nowhere near as much difference between the sides here as some statemetns have assumed.

    Lastly I haven’t conceded that homsexuality is innate and unchangeable and not involving any element of nurture; I’ve simply said Geoff is in a better position that me to say things about it. In fact I don’t think science has yet come up with a definitive conclusion on the question, and Geoff’s subjective experience is an insufficient basis for any such conclusion. That said, I’m a bit surprised that Mark and others would so blithely dismiss the relevance of the will of the people. These are values people hold very strongly, whereas opinions about capital punishment tend to slide around very substantially over time, depending on the emotive circumstances and the way the question is asked. I don’t think one can simply dismiss the relevance of democratic consent when one is talking about an issue as important to people as the education of their own children, and when a substantial majority strongly disagree with the values the elite minority wish to inculcate.

  68. Geoff Honnor says:

    “That said, I’m a bit surprised that Mark and others would so blithely dismiss the relevance of the will of the people. These are values people hold very strongly,”

    The will of the people HAS been expressed in every state and territory. In the last 20 years criminal sanctions against homosexuality have been removed entirely, age of consent laws have been enacted on par with those for heterosexuals, all states have passed anti-discrimination legislation and most have some varying degree of partnership recognition/protection/entitlement in place. If the will of the people is to limit/constrain/morally condemn homosexuality, Ken, they’ve got a funny way of showing it.

  69. Mark Bahnisch says:

    We don’t know what the will of the people is, Ken, because the question has not been framed politically and decided through Parliament. As Geoff suggested, there may well be a majority who would be quite prepared to have education in schools which explains that same-sex attraction exists, and that it’s something that should not be disrespected. If that’s what you support, then we are closer than I thought, but I can’t square it with your vehement assertions about parents’ values, etc.

    So can you clarify please, Ken?

  70. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Just read Geoff’s comment – I mean “the will of the people” with regard to education about non-heterosexualities in schools – which is what I presume Ken is talking about.

  71. wbb says:

    Ken, as leader of the darkside on this one – you’ve let the sidedown. Again and again in this thread you try to define tolerance of homosexuality as intolerance of homophobic viewpoints. All the while trying to maintain that you are the true liberal and your opposition are coercive.

    You keep repeating/reformulating this position with growing bewilderment that we all can’t recognise your deep wisdom.

    You are prejudiced against gays. But you canot admit it because of your moral vanity. It is very simple. You need not be disturbed by this. We almost all are to varying degrees. But it will make for a much snappier blog if you manage to get over this.

    Observa’s position is preferable in many ways – openly homophobic and no correspondence need be entered into. At least we know where he stands – his back firmly against the wall.

  72. Fyodor says:

    “…”

    [Walks away, shaking his head]

  73. Robert says:

    I’m afraid there’s no point debating this any further if Ken is going to call a woman admitting that she is a lesbian “coercive authoritarianism” and “brainwashing”. If the woman had admitted that, for example, her husband was black, and parents at that school preferred to teach their children that interracial marriages were against God and nature, I doubt he would be pushing this ludicrous line.

  74. jen says:

    Mark and Yellow,

    Do you know any gay teachers? Do you have children? They are serious questions for minds as dexterous as yours could be.

    My point is that you don’t sound as if you are putting yourselves in anyone elses shoes.

    The negative shit that clogs debate can’t survive when you do.

    I reread my above comment and it sounds vacuous and sanctimonious because I cannot back it with the details of personal experience, because I do not have permission and it would be indiscreet to even ask if I can blab personal details.

    So, again, in teaching there is a professional line that protects both the teacher and the clientele.

    And allows the subject at hand to be the main event.

  75. Geoff Honnor says:

    “You are prejudiced against gays. But you canot admit it because of your moral vanity.”

    No he isn’t. I don’t think Observa is either. One of the many things I love about Ken (and I mean ‘love’ in an entirely platonic way I hasten to add) is that he will pursue a point of contention relentlessly, even though – as he points out himself – he’s in 99% agreement with what is being said. Leaving aside diversions into paedophilia and bestiality relativism with homosexuality, much of this thread has been generated by people who are pretty much like-minded. It’s really in the minutiae of theoretical application that we differ. I don’t accept that the right to parental moral inculcation is absolute and I don’t accept that it’s ever OK to inculcate hatred of homosexuals – neither, I think, does Ken. I do accept that churches have a right to preach their moral precepts but that’s not absolute either. At the end of the day they must take form within the constructs of a pluralistic , liberal democratic and – overwhelmingly – secular society. I don’t think that a lesbian schoolteacher should be precluded from acknowledging her samesex relationship any more than a heterosexual teacher should be precluded from acknowledging hers and I do think that school curricula should be able to acknowledge the legal entitlement and protection given to homosexual relationships and why. I don’t think that we can legislate universal approval of homosexuality itself and I don’t think we need to.

    I think we should recognise that Mark Bahnisch has been placed in a pretty invidious position. Yesterday he acknowledged – I imagine not without some trepidation – that he’d had sex with men on a few occasions and today the poor guy is defending the whole Homosexual Agenda (TM).

    We should maybe all lighten up. I know I am, I’m off to a Board Meeting :)

  76. Mark Bahnisch says:

    “Do you know any gay teachers? Do you have children? They are serious questions for minds as dexterous as yours could be.”

    Yes and no, but I know lots of people with kids.

  77. harry says:

    Hi Fyodor,
    Very very interesting comment of yours.

    “In response to Harry’s last post, I don’t believe that consent has much to do with why most people consider bestiality and paedophilia to be morally wrong. The problem for most people (myself included) is primarily that the CHOICE of sexual partner is morally wrong, not that the partner provides consent or not.
    It’s the same with incest. Most people would consider incest between two consenting adults to be morally wrong. Some cultures in some times have considered it to be acceptable, but we don’t.
    Some/many people consider homosexual preference to be morally wrong for the same reason.”

    Interesting. I would have thought this was a ‘socially reinforced cultural view’ (for want of a better term) rather than a morality.
    Unless a moral is defined by terms of whether someone suffers or not then it is an arbitrary judgement.
    I don’t see incest as immoral – simply because nobody gets hurt. It is a bad idea for the reason of mutant children, but other than that I can’t see any intrinsic problem with it. Sure, there is a degree of ‘Ewww’ about it (for want of a better term), and I think that not liking homosexuality is nothing more than ‘Ewww’.

    I am unconvinced.
    Please show me how a choice of a same sex partner is morally wrong?
    How can it be morally wrong for a man to admit his love for another man?
    Would it not be immoral to deny them the love shared between two men?

  78. Ken Parish says:

    Thanks Geoff. As I said in a rushed comment earlier between a lecture and a tute, I support sex education and education about anti-discrimination principles i.e. i have no problem at all with what Geoff said about educating kids to respect people’s rights to their own sexuality.

    My problem arises with the particular facts of the lesbian prac teacher entering into discussion with her pupils after being seen with her partner and being asked questions about it. As I explained much earlier on, that specific context instanntly sets up a dynamic where the teacher is (by definition) not only giving information about sex and sexuality and legal non-discrimination principles, but also tacitly conveying messages about values and morality i.e. this is perfectly moral behaviour that is equally acceptable (morally not legally) to all other forms of sexual expression (including heterosexual sex within marriage). It is purely the conveying of that moral/values message to children without the consent of their parents which I think is highly problematic. Legal rights/respect and values/morality are different concepts, and it’s the morality that mostly concerns parents.

    hat’s the only extent to which I differ from the position of the “liberal” (in the American sense) side of this debate. And it isn’t even a problem that would normally arise with teachers talking about sex and sexuality with their students. Most would be prudent enough not to make values/morality statements given parental sensitivities, and would keep it purely factual. The trouble with the prac teacher’s situation was that there was a values/morality statement inherent in the situation without her needing to say anything at all. That’s why she should have recognised that discretion was the better part of valour, given nothing more than a bare acknowledgment of the fact that this was her partner, and halted any further discussion at that point. The unavoidable presence of that value message made this an inappropriate occasion to have a discussion about sex and sexuality with primary school-age children.

  79. yellowvinyl says:

    “The unavoidable presence of that value message made this an inappropriate occasion to have a discussion about sex and sexuality with primary school-age children.”

    where does it say that she talked about sex, Ken?

    sex and sexuality are not the same thing!

    jen – yes I know some gay teachers. no I don’t have kids but I’d like to.

  80. yellowvinyl says:

    Ken, this is a quote from the Age report:

    “A discussion of no more than five minutes followed. One girl told the group she had an aunt who was gay and “I think she’s great”. Later, several students admitted they already knew Jane was gay.”

    it says nowhere that she talked about sex.

  81. Ken Parish says:

    yellow

    We’re clearly not going to agree. A discussion with students lasting for 5 minutes must have consisted of considerably more than one student saying her auntie was gay, and a couple of others saying they knew the teacher was gay already. That would take about 30 seconds. What else was discussed? Clearly it wasn’t just the students talking and the teacher saying nothing, or she wouldn’t be labelling it a “discussion”. The Age account of events reinforces my view still further. The teacher should never have allowed herself to be baited into responding in the first place, but having opened up the subject by saying the woman who picked her up was her partner, she CERTAINLY shouldn’t have participated in an ongoing discussion for a further 5 minutes (given the moral/values message that was conveying and the false ethical position she had placed herself in). It was a serious misjudgment. Given that she was only a student teacher, she should have been counselled rather than having her placement cancelled. But it was an inappropriate action and a professional misjudgment.

    However, as I say, we’re clearly not going to agree. And I notice Mark has now begun accusing me of stating my position “at great length and repeatedly” because I’ve had the courtesy to respond carefully and in a measured tone to repeated questions and challenges like your one immediately above. It’s an unfair remark, and just confirms that the issue obviously raises such strong feelings (though not I think for the reasons Mark expounds at enormous length) that no useful purpose is served by continuing to debate it in this forum. I’ll leave the thread open because it hasn’t actually become abusive, but I don’t intend participating further.

  82. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Ken, forgive me if I’ve been inadvertently unkind. I didn’t mean it as a jibe. I’m sure everyone appreciates your willingness to enter into debate cordially. Just a statement of fact – I was interested in jen’s opinion.

  83. Jason Soon says:

    if I may chime in belatedly here, I think there are few worse sins and more socially destructive behaviours than being excessively candid or indiscreet – such as lying and hypocrisy. lying for the sake of social approval, not being true to oneself esp. if one has done nothing wrong, moral cowardice. these are far worse sins than being a bit of a blabbermouth. as a parent i’d hope to instill this hierarchy of values in my children.

  84. Dan says:

    “As I explained much earlier on, that specific context instanntly sets up a dynamic where the teacher is (by definition) not only giving information about sex and sexuality and legal non-discrimination principles, but also tacitly conveying messages about values and morality i.e. this is perfectly moral behaviour that is equally acceptable (morally not legally) to all other forms of sexual expression (including heterosexual sex within marriage). It is purely the conveying of that moral/values message to children without the consent of their parents which I think is highly problematic.”

    But surely any teacher who is not a complete automaton is, just by being, conveying all sorts of moral values all the time. Some of those values will be ones that parents disagree with.

    For example, I’m a vegetarian who thinks that it’s wrong to eat meat. Imagine that I had a child who was at school, and my child happened to see a teacher eating a meat pie. The fact that this teacher is sitting there, calm as you like, munching on this meat, sends a message to my child saying that eating meat is perfectly normal and perfectly okay. My child might even ask the teacher about it, and the teacher might even explain that he’d always eaten meat and he didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. How irate would I have the right to be?

    Not irate at all, in my opinion. I’ve made my own moral decisions on the issue, and perhaps I might have made some of those decisions on my kid’s behalf as well. But I don’t think it’s fair to think that the child can be protected against the notion that other people in society (even figureheads like teachers) have a different view. It would be completely unfair for me to expect that teachers at my kid’s school would shroud every one of their own moral precepts for fear that they might rub off on the kids of people who disagree. It would be impossible, anyway. How can you live in the same space with a bunch of curious kids for six hours a day, five days a week, without those kids getting an idea of who you are?

    Now, Ken seems to want to suggest that the five-minute discussion that this student teacher entered into constituted some kind of propaganda. I doubt that he would say the same about a theoretical meat-eater entering into a five-minute discussion about meat-eating. Nor (as others have pointedly remarked) would he take the same stance if there had been a five-minute discussion of a straight relationship and what that meant. (I’m presuming here, but it’s been raised and ignored several times).

    You can say that teachers have to observe limits when it comes to passing on their values. It seems to me (and I *think* that most of us would agree) that teachers shouldn’t have to pretend to be anything they’re not. I, for instance, shouldn’t have to pretend to eat meat for the sake of kids whose parents might work in the beef industry. But teachers shouldn’t deliberately try to convert kids to their own values. So if I sat my year nines down and gave them a lecture on the evils of meat eating, that wouldn’t be cool.

    I think Ken’s being inconsistent, because he’s wanting to take a much stricter line on homosexuality than he would on other moral issues, like vegetarianism or religion. If the teachers kids had seen her wearing a cross around her neck and she’d gone into a five-minute discussion of Catholicism, this would be a non-issue. For some reason, gayness seems to be more provocative a moral issue than anything else. Are any of those who condemn the student teacher’s behaviour prepared to assert that a teacher should keep similarly mum on other contentious aspects of their moral position, like religion or vegetarianism? It seems to me that for Ken to be consistent, he should. If not, then what makes homosexuality different?

    I could be wrong, but I think the difference come down to the “ickiness” with which homosexuality is regarded by some of those who think that it’s wrong, combined perhaps with the idea that homosexuality as a moral idea is uniquely transmissible. A teacher who wears a cross around her neck is not likely to infect all of her students with catholicism, but a teacher who admits to being gay is somehow more corrupting. Something like that. There’s a word for that kind of thinking, but it’s a tad uncivil …

  85. Robert says:

    Another night, another post:
    http://robert.redrag.net/2005/03/09/analogy/

    I look forward to your response, Ken.

  86. observa says:

    Well that’s all settled then. If you say bestiality and paedophilia are wrong then that’s not a value judgement, but a learned statement of fact. Of course then it’s absolutely clear what should happen to those who are caught engaging in such acts.

    What it means is if the Observa had come home and found a somewhat immature 18yr old boy from school in bed with his very mature daughter the day before her 16th birthday, then he should summon the police immediately to incarcerate the paedophile. If on the other hand she was 18 and in bed with his 40yr old married neighbour, then O should relax and chat about the cricket.

    Now let’s see about Geoff Honour’s imaginary neighbour. You will recall Geoff is adamant that-
    “Bestiality is equally non-consensual – whatever Peter Singer might suggest. Animals can only ever be used as non-consenting, manipulated repositories for human gratification. Forget what the Old Testament says, if you’d rather have sex with Fluffy the cat than a human being, you need to see someone.”

    Now Geoff’s neighbour for the last 10yrs is a somewhat gravitationally and catwalk challenged, childless spinster of some 40yrs, who largely keeps to herself and is generally quite uncomfortable around blokes. Geoff knows from his married friends, who have kids at the local high school, that she is a bit of a recluse at school, but a hit with the kids in English classes. She seems to have no trouble talking to Geoff over the fence and she has confided some very personal things with him over a coffee or two over the years. She had a bit of a miserable childhood- drunken father cleared out early and life at school was a blur of bullying and teasing because of the challenges mentioned earlier. As well she was date raped by some oaf at 20 and has been afraid of the blokes ever since, although Geoff seems OK. Now all she seems to care about is her male German Shepherd, which she spoils rotten like a baby.

    Now as it happens Geoff’s nectarines were getting eaten by what he suspected were rats. When he heard some ominous rustlings in the tree outside his bedroom window one night, he grabbed the torch and went outside to confirm his suspicions. As fate would have it, that was exactly the moment his neighbour’s bedroom holland blind decided to give up the go and I’ll leave it to the readers imagination as to what our startled Geoff saw, as his equally startled neighbour leapt up to the window and they saw each other.

    A shaky Geoff was pouring himself a stiff drink when he heard the doorbell ring and answered it to his distraught neighbour. Lots of tears.. how it had first happened when she washed the dog without clothes on… couldn’t help herself after…. knew it was wrong…so ashamed…please don’t tell….lose my job…want to kill myself….tears

    Unlike our dissembling Ken Parish or Sophie Masson here, Geoff’s moral compass was pointing true north as he gazed resolutely at the degenerate before him. He knew immediately that this crocodile tears, sicko had to see someone and exactly who it was. Yes, the principal of the school first thing in the morning.

    Gee whiz, this sexual proclivity thing is really easy when you get the hang of it. All very black and white really and easy to box up into poofs, homophobes, beasties and peddos, etc Should be really easy to deconstruct for the primary schoolers too.

  87. Mark Bahnisch says:

    Fiction, observa, pure fiction!

  88. Mark Bahnisch says:

    I want to quote this comment Kim made at suzoz’, because I think again it illustrates well that we’re talking about real people and real lives, whose lives can suffer from prejudice, and not just abstract values:

    “all this has been very disturbing indeed, suzoz.

    as a lesbian-identified queer woman who’d like to have kids, I’m starting to get a sense of just how horrible the environment for them might be at times. it’s really lamentable. I’m an American citizen, and moved back to Australia in part because I thought that on the whole this was a more tolerant and progressive society. now I’m starting to question that assumption.

    I get tired of fighting – and tired of being accused of being strident – the insult thrown at uppity women everywhere – and of special pleading. but I remember women like Rosa Parks who changed so much simply because she was tired. sometimes in our most exhausted moments we can speak clearly to the truth of ourselves, and that gives me some hope.

    a belated happy IWD to you :)”

  89. Amanda says:

    Even if you say the teacher made a “serious misjudgement”, so what? If it hit the front pages every time a prac teacher — or an experienced teacher — made a misjudgement there would be no room for Our Mary or Jesse Kelly. The kids will get over it and, with some targeted intervention, may just get through this traumatic experience and go on to lead productive lives.

    I’m just worried we separate this very minor event from the more contested, larger abd quite tangential issues.

  90. Geoff Honnor says:

    Obs, you know some interesting people!

  91. Jason Soon says:

    christ almighty, i was expecting a serious discussion this morning, read observa’s contribution and was rolling on the floor with laughter …

  92. dan says:

    I think that the thing that makes homosexuality such a tinderbox of debate is the fact that on a societal level we are going through (I believe) a shift in what is considered acceptable. It is the reason why homosexual marriage is such a hot button topic and why posts like this (and stories like this) attract so much comment.

    Twenty years ago, there would have been no outrage on behalf of the student teacher (and indeed no thought on her part that she should be entitled to reveal her sexuality at all).

    The fact is that we don’t have a clear idea of the way that society thinks about homosexuality. Many in this conversation have referred to the views of mainstream christian churches and their views, but neglected the fact that significant debate on this issue is going on in those fora also.

    I don’t know that there is a solution to the question in the current climate. I for one believe that teachers should be much more able to speak to students about a range of issues simply because they have a lot of influence. I am uncomfortable with the idea of people with a strong influence on children during developmental stages appearing not to have personal lives. I think it can potentially have a dehumanising effect on development. But I am not a parent and will leave the argument to them.

  93. observa says:

    There may be many stories in the naked city ;)

  94. Mark Bahnisch says:

    I suspect you’re right, Dan.

    On the churches, the Anglican Church is clearly wrestling with this issue (except in its Sydneyfied sections), and I believe the Uniting Church now ordains openly gay ministers.

  95. wbb says:

    Home-grown nectarines, neighbour fcuks dog. A lovely observational on suburban life. As good as Malouf or Garner at their best, Observa. You are wasted here.

  96. observa says:

    Yeah well wbb, I was kinda wondering if the topical Hans Christian Andersen was fully appreciated in his day too.

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