Mark’s posting on what he sees as a ‘rightwing PC’ intolerance of sexuality in schools has led me to present these few thoughts to Troppo Armadillians, based on my own observations and experiences in schools. I’m not interested in debating the rights and wrongs of the tolerance of diverse sexualities in schools. For the record, I think that a person’s sexual orientation–as long as it’s not paedophilic–matters very little in whether they make a good teacher or not. I have known more than a couple of excellent homosexual teachers, and in all cases they were perfectly well-accepted by the schools. Their sex lives were discreet, but then so were those of their heterosexual colleagues. I certainly know that homosexual students can indeed have a hard time at school, but no more, I believe, than anyone who’s perceived to be slightly ‘different’ from the norm in any way. Kids zero in on what they might perceive to be a weakness, a separation from the common herd, and that’s what you’ve got to try and fight against and get them to understand is wrong in general (and gay kids are no more immune to persecution of others than are straight kids, that’s part of the unpleasant side of our human nature.)
However I think there are several points to be made: first of all, that the case Mark pinpointed was in a primary school–primary, note, not high school. Hardly an appropriate place to swagger about sexual rights of any kind. Secondly, that along with the undoubted sexualisation of general society has come a contrary stream–that of a return to repressed, more-than-Victorian suspicion not only of sex, but of intimacy in any form, especially in schools and other places where adults are in contact with children. I believe this lies at the root of what Mark was talking about, and not l’eft’ or ‘right’ ideologies. The ‘witch-hunt’ is not about being homosexual or heterosexual, it’s about child protection.
Anyone who has anything to do with schools knows that child protection measures that have been put in place recently are designed to put the onus on every adult, of behaving with absolute, dire propriety or risk being accused of being a child molester.
Not only do you have to sign all kinds of forms and things swearing that you’re not a convicted paedophile in any shape or form, but you must restrain every normal impulse when faced with children. As anyone who’s taught or visited in primary schools–particularly in the infants’ classes–knows, children are tactile little beings, who, when you speak to them, will often want to touch you, pull your hair, stroke your leg, etc. I remember reading one of my stories to a Year 1 class and having several of them moving closer and closer to me as I read, finally ending up right at my feet. One little girl leaned up against my leg, a little boy tapped on my feet, another little girl stroked the material of my skirt. They were fascinated by this stranger., and would often interrupt to ask questions unconnected with my story, like ‘What sort of cake did you have for your birthday?’ and ‘Are your parents here too?’ Their teacher got rather nervous by all this display, and kept urging them back, but they kept coming back to the charge. There was nothing remotely sexual about it–it was just innocent curiosity and restlessness–but of course some adults don’t know that, and children must be protected from predators. But it means the majority of good people can no longer behave naturally with kids.
Teachers are no longer allowed to comfort children by touching them, hugging them or anything; you see these tiny little 5 year olds crying and no-one can actually console them in any meaningful way. The disgusting perversions of a few are then held over the heads of everybody to completely twist and pervert normal human relations. On excursions, teachers have to be doubly careful.
Everything can be deemed to be ‘inappropriate’, not only between teachers and kids, but between kids themselves. Thus, the policy on ‘sexual harassment’ in schools means that kids who are ‘going out’ with each other aren’t supposed to touch each other at school, or they get into trouble–especially the boys. The kids themselves flout this rule with contemptuous ease, but if a teacher catches them, they might well be in for it. All the adults are running so scared of what someone might report, or what a parent might say, that it rapidly becomes like a kind of straitjacket. And yet, when they actually leave the gates of the school, what do kids see? Billboards advertising bras or knickers which leave very little to the imagination; TV shows that unblinkingly display every kind of perversion and every kind of sexual behaviour; the sexualisation of everything, the selling of sex as a commodity everywhere, the constant, boring, graphic, often robotic iteration of sex, sex, sex.
Then there’s another point–as sex is thrust in kids’ faces all the time: in the general society as a constant, wearying refrain, a supposed positive in-your-faceness; and at school as something horrid, dirty, something evil and defiling that lurks in every innocent gesture, every little touch, every expression of love, then is it any wonder some become obsessed by it? Such a thing can cause huge mischief, when these contradictory streams collide.
Accusations can be flung at teachers, unjust, mischievous and unpleasant accusations which, nevertheless, if they come to the ears of school principals or parents, must be followed up, and teachers’ names dragged through the mud. Years 5 and 6 in particular–no longer innocent as the littlies(in fact often very prurient indeed), not yet mature enough to put things in proportion–can be a particular danger. I know of several instances where completely innocent people were put through the whole calvary of accusation, suspension, investigation and so on, on the say-so of some prurient kids who imagined they saw a wolf where none was. Of course, each thing has to be taken seriously, just in case the wolf is really there, but the vast majority of cases reported are completely without basis, except for gossip and innuendo, and kids piling half-baked theories one on the other. And yet in a tiny minority of cases, it’s true. And therefore you have to be vigilant and not just to ignore things.
Little wonder principals are nervous. Little wonder they’d rather dismiss someone–well, especially an obviously undiplomatic and unaware prac teacher–if that person is accused of inappropriate behaviour. They are liable to have their own names dragged through the mud if that person turns out to indeed be the dreaded wolf. And gay people are no more immune to this accusation than are straight people. They shouldn’t expect to be. Everyone is in the same boat.
Everyone is living in fear of being branded a wolf and having stones thrown at them. Therefore it’s highly disingenuous and treacherous of the Victorian Dept of Ed to high-handedly pour opprobrium on the principal for actions which may well be covered by the very tight web of child protection measures they’re always forcing on everyone. The years 5 and 6 kids who must have reported, suitably embellishing everything, on the prac teacher are the ones the principal had to believe, or else.