Sexuality at school

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.

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Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

Sophie, the ‘transgression’ of the teacher in question amounted – in her recollection – to the following: her partner picked her up from a school camp. Later at school the kids asked her if she was gay. She said she was. A discussion then ensued about ‘gay’ generally during which kids offered shocking observations like “my aunty is gay and I think she’s cool.” It was all over in five minutes. A more experienced teacher might have declined to answer the initial question but what would you have advised a heterosexual teacher to have said if her kids saw her being picked up by her fiance and then subsequently asked her whether she and the guy were an item? In my recollection of school, such questions were asked of teachers constantly and were generally responded to with good-natured banter. Why is this particular incident so different?

I’m curious about your automatic segue into paedophilia. Can we be clear that neither homosexual men nor lesbian women display paedophilic tendencies in any greater numbers than their heterosexual counterparts and can we also be clear that – overwhelmingly – the abuse of children occurs in traditional family settings, perpetrated by people known – and often related – to the child.

I’m not as sanguine as you about gay bullying at school. Homophobia is the last socially-sanctioned
hatred of our era. Kids who appear to fit the mould receive the full force of that malevolence in a setting where exquisite forms of social cruelty can be omnipresent. It’s not uncommon for staff to be indifferent to it’s application in this circumstance and frequently, kids have no support at home because they’re in mortal fear of discussing the matter with parents who generally won’t enthusiastically receive the prospect of a gay son or daughter either. I’ve never, ever encountered a situation where parents simply embraced a declaration of gayness on the part of the child with no fuss or bother. The ordering out of the house scenario is at one end of the spectrum but all families take time to come to terms with a dramatically changed familial landscape. It can all be pretty devastating on a 16 year old kid who doesn’t want to upset his parents but can’t really endure continuing crap from his classmates as well.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Sophie

I couldn’t agree more with your evaluation. I too suspect Mark’s example/s had much more to do with the current (excessive?) focus on child sexual abuse than with any neocon-inspired reaction by schools or parents. Even among university academics there’s a very strong consciousness sometimes bordering on paranoia of the possibility of students making unfounded allegations of sexual impropriety that may nevertheless be extraordinarily damaging and difficult to disprove (given that any presumption of innocence doesn’t seem to apply in these cases). Most academics ostentatiously leave their office door open when meeting with a student, especially of the opposite sex. Gay academics are in an even worse position. They have to leave the door open when meeting with same sex students, and opposites as well in case someone might suspect they’re playing both sides of the fence.

I put a question mark after the word “excessive” above because I can’t really see a clear answer to this moral panic reaction. Even though the great majority of such suspicions/accusations are unfounded, enough of them are true that we can’t afford to take them lightly, and children are entitled to our protection.

At the same time, it’s a shame authorities don’t keep in mind the fact that often their own reactions to and manner of dealing with the allegations will cause as much trauma as the abuse itself. And those who are accused SHOULD be entitled to a presumption of innocence and a proper chance to defend themselves. On the other hand, it’s in the very nature of this sort of abuse that it happens in secret and there are seldom any witnesses. So how do we protect children and also provide fairness to the accused?

Moreover, in Mark’s example there weren’t even any accusations of abuse. There was just an equation of risk with the prac teacher’s overt homosexuality. On the other hand, the prac teacher DID discuss her personal sexuality with her primary school students, in the course of conducting sex education classes. I think discussing her own sexuality with students was a serious misjudgment, and I’d also like to know whether the sex education lessons were programmed and a normal part of the curriculum. If they were, then I don’t think her misjudgment in discussing her own sexuality merited termination of her prac placement. If she ran those lessons on her own initiative, however, and without discussing it with her prac supervisor (generally the normal classroom teacher), then the misjudgment is much more serious and does raise real questions about this woman’s suitability to be a teacher.

Amanda
2022 years ago

“On the other hand, the prac teacher DID discuss her personal sexuality with her primary school students, in the course of conducting sex education classes.”

I thought she denied this, about conducting sex ed classes. Is there new information?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Amanda, you might be right. I didn’t read the links exhaustively.

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

Geoff, with respect, I think that you are jumping to conclusions about what I’ve said. I said that sexual orientation–except paedophilia, which means both homosexual AND heterosexual paedophilia–is not relevant to people’s teaching abilities, but that people must also understand the current climate in schools, which are in a state of panic about anything that can be construed as ‘innapropriate’. That’s what this prac teacher fell foul of, not homophobia. And I do think this lady was unwise to say the least in discussing her private life at school with 11 and 12 year olds(which is what it was in her case). I would say exactly the same if she had been heterosexual. Kids are not your mates and don’t need to know about your private life at all. Especially when you consider the danger such things can bring to the teacher’s career and life in general.As to homophobia being the last sanctioned hatred of our era, you have to be joking! Tell that to the fat kid we knew who committed suicide because of the constant taunts he got..

observa
observa
2022 years ago

Sad but true Sophie, which is why blokes are abandoning the teaching game in droves, particularly the early years. Policing’s the same. You pick up a drunk driver or a druggie and you drop them off at the local hospital’s emergency dept, so they can make the call as to whether or not they’re safe to roam the streets again, because God help you if there’s a death in custody.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

There were no sex education classes Ken. The scenario seems to pretty much as I outlined. The acknowledgement of her sexuality seems to have been the problem. Teachers don’t have “sexuality” in any explicit terms unless they’re gay. Her mistake was in owning that to the kids. Being cast as a sex-crazed obsessive as a result is – sadly – not surprising.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“And I do think this lady was unwise to say the least in discussing her private life at school with 11 and 12 year olds(which is what it was in her case). I would say exactly the same if she had been heterosexual.”

Point taken Sophie. But I’m still interested in your reaction to the scenario I offered earlier. If the teacher had been picked up by her boyfriend or fiance and the kids had subsequently asked about his relationship to her, would she have been wrong to acknowledge a bond?

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

In the current climate, yes, Geoff. She would have had to say either ‘none of your business’, or ”he/she’s my friend’ and make it quite clear to the kids that any further questions are off limits. It’s unpleasant that it gets as draconian as this but that’s the reality.
See, someone must have blabbed about the whole conversation–some kid, I mean, to parents or other teachers–which is why it got to the ears of the principal who had to take action.
If you really think accusations of ‘sexuality’ have to do just with gay teachers, then all I can say is you are quite wrong and have not been near a school recently. ALL teachers are expected to be nonsexual/asexual. Nearly all the cases I know of personally where teachers have been accused unjustly have been over heterosexuality, not homosexuality.

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

just a p.s: in some cases those accusations have been unbelievably frivolous–for instance, one good primary school teacher dragged through the mud because he told kids in a p.e. class that if the girls preferred to do p.e. just in their shorts and shirts, rather than with skirts on top as well, they could. Some year 6 boys(NOT the girls concerned at all!) took it upon themselves to construe that as wicked, and took a complaint to the principal..Now in that case he had to be suspended while an investigation went on, which completely cleared him of any wrongdoing. But meanwhile he had to endure weeks and months of horror and of people thinking it was really just the tip of the iceberg..
There has to be a better way to protect our kids.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“If you really think accusations of ‘sexuality’ have to do just with gay teachers, then all I can say is you are quite wrong and have not been near a school recently. ALL teachers are expected to be nonsexual/asexual. Nearly all the cases I know of personally where teachers have been accused unjustly have been over heterosexuality, not homosexuality.”

My reference was to the term ‘sexuality’ itself. You’re absolutely right about the greater preponderance of accusations relating to heterosexual behaviour but no-one refers to ‘sexuality’ in these circumstances – it’s simply assumed. ‘Sexuality’ really only arises in relation to homosexuality. Hence the principal’s reference to “sexuality” in his admonition. He would never have referred to the ‘sexuality” of a heterosexual teacher.

That’s my problem. I believe that her sexuality is what is fundamentally at issue in these proceedings. If she’d acknowledged a heterosexual relationship I don’t believe there would have been an issue. Do you really think that parents would have been racing to the phone to ring the principal in outaged horror if the female teacher had owned having a boyfriend to the kids? Please…….

I frankly don’t accept that grade 5 or 6 teachers would always have to refrain from acknowledging affectional relationships with other adults to their classes. I think you protest too much. What about a young teacher who marries? Is she not permitted to own to a husband? What about a gay teacher who can’t marry? Is he always forbidden to acknowledge a life partner?

Ron
Ron
2022 years ago

“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”

Yes, they can have a harder time. They don’t have to be picked on directly: hearing gay jokes, the current use of the word gay by teenagers to mean bad (as in ‘that’s really gay”), attacks on homosexuality by churches etc., lack of support by not be able to be open with peers, parents etc. It IS harder for gay kids that is why the suicide and attempted suicide rate for gay youth is higher than the heterosexual population.

Just reading this post today and the comments would be enough to stress out a closeted gay kid.

That is why sex education which includes same sex acknowledgement is important as is positive gay adult role models.

As for keeping ‘it’ out of primary schools, I have many gay friends who say they were aware of their sexuality, of course in an unmature way but they knew they were different, as young as 8 or 9.

We have to protect kids but I wonder if we do them more damage by teaching them that every adult is a possible molester. I have a friend who is a prosecutor and he now says that he believes that more damage is done to molested kids (not the most severe cases such as violent rape of course) by the police and court processes than by the actual molestation.

There has to be a balance: do we really want our children to grow up fearful, to have teachers stand back from comforting an injured or unhappy child for fear of prosecution and persecution? Life was like that in Germany, the Soviet Union etc once.

Tolerance of homosexuals may appear to be better these days but I wonder if it really is?

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

No, of course you’re not forbidden–what you would be wise not to do though is to discuss with kids your private life. She didn’t just acknowledge her partner, she obviously discussed it more. If you’re married–and you have the same name as each other–kids just assume the relationship, and don’t care. If there is some interest in your marital or relationship status as far as the kids are concerned–some mystery–, then they’ll pester you with questions and it’s best to put them off, either by saying it’s your friend, or your partner, if you want to, and then close the discussion. And if you think parents don’t care if some teacher is, say, living with her boyfriend, you’re wrong–there are cases where teachers have been dismissed for living in heterosexual relationships not sanctioned by the law. Kids will also gossip if they think someone’s having an affair out of marriage, or whatever. Best thing is to keep it all out of the classroom.It’s not the appropriate forum. Parents get very very toey about those kinds of things, and the Dept of Ed is very nervous about it all. We are not talking about just any social situation here, where adults interact with other adults.
In my experience, the gay teachers who have come out and are happily ensconced both with their partners and the school are those who are open about it in terms of other teachers and parents,who didn’t declare it first to their classes, and who the kids are not curious about because their relationship is accepted as just a ho-hum marriage/permanent relationship. They know they’re gay but don’t care. What was this silly woman doing, talking to brats about her private life, anyway, feeding their curiosity?
The thing is, Geoff, the whole sexuality-at-school thing is fraught with all kinds of difficulties and problems which I think are appalling and ridiculous but which have come about because of the child protection thing. And it’s not just teachers and students, but as I pointed out, between students as well. Gay or straight, if you show your affection at school, you’re in trouble.

Naomi
Naomi
2022 years ago

“What was this silly woman doing, talking to brats about her private life, anyway, feeding their curiosity?”

Come ON. Any person who’s exposed themselves on the front line of teaching knows that kids are curious, they don’t let up and they don’t just accept stuff. Sounds to me like she just decided to be honest. She certainly did not discuss anything controversial, just acknowledged the relationship.

In my view the only person who’s behaved reprehensibly here is the principal, who overreacted and burned his novice teacher, instead of supporting her, and managing the issue with parents. His actions breached EEO and anti-discrimination principles. He is supposed to uphold them, even if parents do get toey. After all, the school can’t exclude bigoted parents, but can support diversity and tolerance within its own community.

What if the shoe was on the other foot, and it was a gay parent complaining that a hetero teacher had told her class she was married, and that was the same as preaching hetero values?

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

What Geoff, Naomi and Ron said.

The point Sophie, if you read the article I linked to, is that queer kids in particular are subjected to severe abuse by other kids which in many cases leads to suicide, or problems with substance abuses, and severe problems with self esteem.

It’s not the same as being “picked on” in many instances.

There is research on this – and all you’re offering is opinion, in the service of some PC crusade and your general dissatisfaction with the way society is now.

I’d have thought that some of the proponents of Right Wing PC might have agreed there’s a serious issue here, or at least felt some compassion and empathy, but obviously I was wrong.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

“TV shows that unblinkingly display every kind of perversion and every kind of sexual behaviour”

Every kind?

Necrophlia? Bestiality? Paedophilia? I must look more thoroughly in the program guide. I don’t recall ever seeing any of those on TV. I don’t even recall seeing the more bland types of sex that some people find perverted, like anal sex.

Sophie, I think you are confusing TV with the internet.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Nor is pedophilia a “sexual orientation”. Why does it need to be mentioned when we’re talking about non-hetero sexualities? Hmmm….

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

Well, I certainly agree the principal overreacted, just as the principal overreacted who suspended and investigated the teacher I told you about, who told kids they could do p.e. in their shorts and shirts. Point is, Naomi, my whole post was not about the merits or demerits of hetero or homo teachers(please, please commenters, do read my whole post!), it was about how school culture has changed in recent years. You have to deal with the realities, surely, not some imagined ideal. The Dept of Ed can’t on the one hand tell principals they have to be utterly vigilant in watching out for any possible paedophilia or inappropriateness in any shape or form, sniffing out the witch in fact, and then pretend they’ve got nothing to do with it when some dumb principal overeacts. And the prac teacher’s not some kid fresh out of uni, she was 49. Surely she should have realised what was going on in schools and not put her foot right in it!

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

Mark, I’m very struck by the fact that you, who has complained recently about people just running off at a political angle with your posts–should try to do this to me. You as well as other commenters have been very quick to accuse me of equating homosexuals with paedophilia, with absolutely NO evidence in my post at all.
We are talking about things happening in schools–ie in places where adults have contact with children, in case you’ve forgotten. This prac teacher’s case is only the tip of the iceberg. There are literarly thousands of cases of this sort. I was trying to elucidate the reality in schools for people who may not understand what is going on there, and just how difficult it is to behave normally. And what I was saying is gay teachers are no more immune than straight teachers to these problems and changes.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

“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.”

Sophie, pedophilia is not a sexual orientation.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

“There is research on this – and all you’re offering is opinion, in the service of some PC crusade and your general dissatisfaction with the way society is now.”

I’m moved to say, like jason in a different context, Mark, that this remark of yours pisses me off rather more than a little. Why do you assume that your much-vaunted research is worth more than Sophie’s practical experience in the classroom? How many primary shcools have you visited lately? We all know about advocacy research and how the very term ‘research’ itself has become compromised by the ideological directions that so often govern it. Only intellectuals imprisoned within the academy (no offence) can’t see it.

You”re not engaging at all with the actual ideas that Sophie has presented. You run the risk of being seen to simply spit self-defensive ideological venom.

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

For goodness’ sake, Mark! A paedophile is ORIENTED towards having sex with children. They can be of either heterosexual or homosexual tastes, but their orientation is paedophilic. They are not ORIENTED towards adult sex.
Perhaps the word means something different to you than to me, if you like. That’s all. The line you quoted from me says exactly that: I do not care if a teacher is gay or straight, as long as they’re not a paedophile. And either homos or heteros can be!
It’s boring to be arguing over semantics and having to underline every damn word I said(which I thought was fairly clear), when really what I wanted were people’s reactions re the new climate of fear and repression in our schools. How about it, folks?

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“The Dept of Ed can’t on the one hand tell principals they have to be utterly vigilant in watching out for any possible paedophilia or inappropriateness in any shape or form, sniffing out the witch in fact, and then pretend they’ve got nothing to do with it when some dumb principal overeacts. And the prac teacher’s not some kid fresh out of uni, she was 49. Surely she should have realised what was going on in schools and not put her foot right in it!”

She acknowledged that she had a female partner Sophie, in response to 11 and 12 year olds asking her if she was gay. She should have the right so to do. Her version of events claims that discussion continued for no more than 5 minutes and was largely about kids observing that they had gay rellies etc. You must surely accept that there would never have been an issue here had she not been lesbian.

I’m sure you’re right about the paranoia in schools around inappropriate behaviour but I don’t accept that a teacher should have to deny her totally lawful and appropriate relationship bond with another adult as a result.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

The implication of your post, Sophie, as with comments made by a number of people on the other thread, is that non-hetero teachers are primarily sexual beings who need to tightly discipline themselves, or be disciplined. I’ll leave aside the implications of your describing pedophilia as a sexual orientation – it is not – it is a disorder which appears to be reasonably evenly distributed in the population regardless of sexuality. But the implications of this – and the similar point made by observa on the other thread – is that gay people are unable to understand propriety, and are hypersexual. That’s untrue on both counts, and picks up on all sorts of dismissive stereotypes about being queer.

I fail to see how my grade 5 teacher telling us she was marrying another teacher did us any harm, or was in any way improper. As a number of people have said, this would not be in the papers if the woman in question had been picked up by her husband or boyfriend, and I really doubt you’d see it as an issue if someone mentioned it to you.

Would you care to offer instances of teachers not knowing “how difficult it is to behave normally” which don’t relate to their sexual preference?

It seems to me that you are saying that it’s ok to be gay and be a teacher, but don’t tell anyone.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

The further implication of being “discreet” in the sense of hiding one’s sexuality is that this implies that it’s somehow shameful, or deviant. This reinforces the power of the closet, and the message gets to kids. Open discussion of the varying sexual orientations in society, and education about it, by contrast, promotes tolerance, respect and acceptance.

Schools are part of the wider society, and you can’t build a wall around them. If you do, with regard to these issues, all you’re doing is reinforcing and reproducing prejudice.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

“I’m moved to say, like jason in a different context, Mark, that this remark of yours pisses me off rather more than a little. Why do you assume that your much-vaunted research is worth more than Sophie’s practical experience in the classroom? How many primary shcools have you visited lately? We all know about advocacy research and how the very term ‘research’ itself has become compromised by the ideological directions that so often govern it. Only intellectuals imprisoned within the academy (no offence) can’t see it.

You”re not engaging at all with the actual ideas that Sophie has presented. You run the risk of being seen to simply spit self-defensive ideological venom.”

How do you know what quality the research is, Rob, if you don’t trouble yourself to look at it?

This is getting beyond a joke. Any social science research is apparently “ideological” and “biased” if you don’t like the findings – you prefer anecdotal evidence. Well, I know parents with kids, teachers, and (shock, horror) have worked in education research and even taught in a Faculty of Education.

Far from it being I who’s “spitting ideological venom”, what I’m trying to do is take the argument away from assertion, preconceptions and anecdotal evidence. I am utterly opposed to homophobia, and I get passionate about it.

I’d note once again that none of the people on one side of this debate have seriously engaged with the fact that it’s been demonstrated over a long period of time, in numerous studies, that non-straight kids in many cases suffer horribly as a result of persecution, lack of acceptance, and teasing at school. The suicide rate is much higher for instance. These are serious issues, Rob, and ought not to be a foil for you and Kevin to use in your conservative crusades.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

I would have thought Sophie’s point was fairly clear. That the undeniably gross over-reaction of the principal sprang not so much from RWDB-generated hysteria about gays as from a more generalised hysteria about child sexual abuse. It may also be true that a heterosexual teacher mentioning the existence of her partner to her pupils would not provoke the sort of reaction that this woman experienced (as Geoff H observes). The two points aren’t mutually exclusive. Society has always exhibited a degree of homophobia (or at least double standards about gayness), and I seriously doubt that it’s gotten worse in recent years. In fact I think the opposite is the case (although clearly it still exists and is very unpleasant for its victims to deal with, as measured by suicide rates etc). But again, Sophie’s point is that most likely none of this emanates from RWDB/Howard government-generated anti-gay stances.

The operative public hysteria is that concerning child sexual abuse, which tends to get people in authority feeling twitchy, over-reacting and misjudging situations lest they be accused of failing to protect the childen under their care. That said, you would expect a school principal (a relatively well paid executive position) to be able to distinguish between allegations involving a possible risk of child sexual abuse and those involving what was at most a relatively minor professional misjudgment. On the other hand, you also can’t blame the principal for being nervous. He knows the politicians wouldn’t hesitate to scapegoat him if public reaction to the scandal made that the expedient thing to do, and with principals these days mostly being on contract-based employment they could hardly feel secure whenever a situation like this arises in their school.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

“I would have thought Sophie’s point was fairly clear. That the undeniably gross over-reaction of the principal sprang not so much from RWDB-generated hysteria about gays as from a more generalised hysteria about child sexual abuse.”

There’s no evidence of that, Ken, and I fail to see how you can draw that inference from the facts cited in the articles.

Far from Sophie’s point being clear, if she wanted to discuss moral panics over pedophilia, and issues to do with whether teachers can touch kids, and whether men are dissuaded from teaching as a career, she could have done so – and those are legitimate concerns and worth discussing – outside the context of the sexuality of teachers.

Sophie’s post didn’t need to raise these issues:

“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”

– which are the ones that have prompted discussion, not surprisingly given the link she made back to my post. I agree with Geoff’s questioning of Sophie’s “automatic seque into discussing pedophilia”.

Pedophilia is not a sexual orientation, as is clear from Sophie’s concession that the gender of object-choice is not relevant, but rather the age object-choice. In this case, semantics are important, and Sophie’s linking of this with “sexual orientation” plays into harmful stereotypes about gay people. I’m sure that’s not her intention, but the fact remains.

Had Sophie discussed the issues she’s interested in without adding this extraneous context, I’m sure this thread would have taken a very different course.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

” 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”

Sophie also wrote this, which again raises issues to do with whether non-hetero teachers should be out at school, and whether children ought to learn about the fact that there are other sexualities than hetero.

I’d also note that Rob’s contribution, in which he accused me of spitting venom, which I think hardly fair given that all of us ought to be passionate about ending discrimination and abuse on any ground including sexuality, doesn’t go to any of the issues Sophie states are her primary concerns.

Therefore, it’s wrong to claim that what people are talking about doesn’t arise from what Sophie wrote in the post.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Well, maybe we are getting a bit heated here and maybe we shouldn’t. But can I ask you this, Mark? Why do you seem to find it so difficult to accept that people of good faith, wide education, and extensive experience of the world (I’m not talking about myself) can come to opinions so apparently entirely contrary to your own without being part of a neo-con conspiracy or a ‘conservative crusade’? Maybe we just disagree with you, on the basis of our awfully unreliable anecdotes. After all, that’s all most people have to go on.

You say that on this issue you are ‘passionate’. Well, I think that’s unwise. Being passionate about any issue (other than the correct use of language, of course) is the one sure way of losing your perspective. Not to mention your sense of humour. :-[

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I do try to keep things in perspective, Rob, and I’m not questioning that others can form a legitimate opinion – just pointing out where I think they are wrong, and why.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I think the real test is whether you ask yourself whether they might be right, after all, and you might be wrong, after all. I do it all the time. That’s why I changed sides. Nasty RWDB, me. OT.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I do too, Rob. I’m not a “standard” leftie, though perhaps that doesn’t come across on Troppo. I think personal responsibility is incredibly important, and terribly and wrongly out of style at the moment, and I think the sorts of omnipresent sexualisation of everything Sophie’s worried about are a worry too. Of course, I attribute the blame to capitalism :)

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

I agree it’s getting unnecessarily overheated. My last comment was an attempt to cool things down, but doesn’t seem to have worked. I’m not entirely sure why tempers are getting frayed. I think it’s pretty clear that no-one on this comment thread condones either child sexual abuse or homophobia. It may well be that aspects of Sophie’s post caused those things to become a tad conflated, but I’m sure that wasn’t her intention. What about we all agree to make room for each other on the high moral ground and keep in mind that we’re all civilised, intelligent people discussing issues in an open forum with a select readership that has minimal effect on the course of world events. It’s not the UN Security Council debating whether to invade Iraq. It’s just a brain gym and cyber-salon when all’s said and done, and not worth getting hot under the collar about. None of us are the messiah, we’re all just naughty boys and girls.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“You”re not engaging at all with the actual ideas that Sophie has presented. You run the risk of being seen to simply spit self-defensive ideological venom.”

He is engaging with them Rob, so am I – and I think some ground has been conceded in regard to an intiial mischaracterisation of the teacher as some – presumably- dyke-on-bike “swaggering about her sexuality.” I don’t think that anyone has disagreed with Sophie’s portrayal of a hyper-sensitivity bordering on paranoia prevailing in schools in relation to inappropriateness. However, the more compelling debate – forced by Sophie’s featuring of the Melbourne case as an example of the sort of ‘stupid behaviour’ that just encourages hypersensitivity – is about whether a teacher acknowledging a perfectly legitmate relationship with another adult should be persecuted as a result. The question that interests me here is whether the same events would have unfolded had the teacher not been a lesbian and I suspect that in all probability they would not have – regardless of the no doubt all-too-real heightened sensitivity that Sophie speaks of.

I also share Mark’s irritation at what looks like Sophie’s blithe dismissal of gay-related bullying as just another instance of kids being kids. It’s real, insidious and can be utterly devastating to a kid caught in a double bind between persecution at school and a desperate desire not to acquaint his family with the reason why he’s being persecuted – because it will devastate and disappoint them. There is – too often- no way out. You just try to fit in. I did many years ago at boarding school because I was good at footy and swimming and could “pass. The quid pro quo was that I became expert in detecting poofter behaviour in other kids and wasn’t backward in joining in the bullying sessions on them. One “effeminate” boy hung himself and I recall the principal telling us later that it was very sad but the boy had,”had problems.”

My central concern could well be about estimating how far we’ve travelled when simply acknowledging that you’re a lesbian can basically still make you “the problem?”

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I’m in agreement with Geoff. A good friend of mine who was gay at High School also hung himself, and was discovered hanging from a beam under his house by his 14 year old sister. We only found out the truth of his sexuality after his death. I have no doubt whatsoever that he’d be alive today if there’d been any awareness of these issues when I was in High School. Perhaps people can see why some people get passionate on this topic – it can be an issue of life and death.

Ron
Ron
2022 years ago

And the effects of poofter-bashing, verbal and/or physical never leave you. Here I am today, 40 years out of school, stressed and anxious because of the this thread with the memories, fears and feelings it has raised.

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

Geoff, I certainly did not ‘blithely dismiss’ the bullying of gay kids at school. If you read my comment you can se that what I said is that I do not believe they suffer more than other kids who are bullied, for other reasons(not kids being kids, cruelty being cruelty actually.) I am prepared though to be convinced this is the case, if there are actual real figures about it(and I know that being gay in some places is much harder than othes, too–in our town it’s not that difficult, but perhaps in more remote or isolated communities it may well be.)
But cruelty is not just directed against gays. As I told you, we knew someone whose child–who was fat and constantly taunted at school–did end up killing himself as a result. I know of other kids who also killed themselves for other reasons, too.
I was also very badly bullied for a whole year at the first high school I went to–because I was a wog, because I was too eager about writing, because I was perceived to be a dag, because I existed, because this girl was a thorough-going bitch who loved power over others. It was a horrible experience–all my so-called friends deserted me, and the girl who was relentlessly bullying me was so clever she never got caught out by the teachers. I used to feel sick every morning, literally sick, and completely changed in a short time from being quite an outgoing child to a very wary one. In the end my parents had to remove me from the school. What this experience did was make me hate cruelty in all its forms and to be extremely strong against it.
I hate homophobia as much as you do, as I hate all forms of blind and horrible prejudice, and of turning a living person into some abstract thing to be kicked. But I just don’t feel that this case was a case of homophobia. I think the principal’s dismissal of the prac teacher was because of that perceived inapprotriateness of amny form or mention of sexuality at school–except in designated sex education classes. The principal was stupid, was far too zealous and overeacted but my point was Mark was wrong in attributing this to some kind of PC crusade, and then conflating it with studies about homophobia, and what gay kids suffer. I was taking up his point, and trying to explore what I think are really the issues.
Now I may well be wrong about what I think was the thrust of this case, and what it says about the wider debate in general re the hysteria about child sexual abuse, but I think that it is wrong also to therefore make assumptions about what I think and don’t think about gays. That is simply unfair.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

That’s a very moving contribution, Geoff, and I respect what you’re saying. Gay friends of mine have told me what it was like to grow up in the 70’s – how they felt they were the only ones in the world that felt as they did, before they discovered that they weren’t. And I don’t know what the answer is.

That said, I agree with Sophie. Our society has had to deal with a level of public visibility of matters sexual that no other has had to deal with (Greece and Rome notwithstanding). On an absolute scale of human rights it’s not doing badly, although of course its record is not perfect. Twenty years ago, in the public service at least, people sniggered when they knew a colleague was gay. Ten years ago they just shrugged. Now, I don’t think they even care. It’s just another way of being normal. Which, it seems to me, and I hope I don’t seem patronising, is the way it ought to be.

Even so, I think in some arenas and some professions, there is still truth in the old axiom that ‘discretion is the better part of valour’. You can be a swaggering gay in the arts or advertising; not so elsewhere. I think that’s just common sense. This teacher I think should have opted for discretion. This is not a view that will appeal to absolutists of any kind. Yes, it’s a compromise. But we all have to compromise. No-one ever gets it all their own way. You can’t ask for too much too soon or force the natural pace.

I don’t proclaim my love of opera in the workplace for the very same reason.

People’s natural sense of decency will get them to the right place in the end – which really does, when I come to think of it, sound horribly patronising.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Sophie, I continue to maintain that the PC moral panic would have been a contributing factor in the incident under question, and my reasoning is most clearly set out in my comment at the beginning of the thread in response to Andrew Norton.

If you want “real figures”, you could contact the research centre whose spokesperson was quoted in the Age feature to which I linked. I’m sure she’d be more than happy to email you a copy of the report. I suspect it’s probably available on the web. It might help if people were to do some research to get to grips with the dimensions of the problem.

I didn’t mean to suggest that you and Rob were motivated by an anti-PC crusade, but I think Kevin Donnelly is. He’s found his niche in the ideas market, makes a living from it, and will defend his position regardless of the evidence. But I think the broader point about the disinclination to let kids participate in open discussion about non-hetero sexuality has been proved in spades on these threads.

Ron’s comment should show how serious this issue is.

Few people commit suicide only because of individual problems. There’s usually a pattern to bullying. In your case, it was perceived difference in ethnicity. In the case of your friend’s child, it was their weight. In the case of gay kid’s, it’s their sexuality, and as Geoff rightly observed, they’re more often than not caught in a double bind because they don’t feel able to tell their parents why the abuse is happening. In all these cases, strategies put in place by schools to address prejudice and bullying help immeasurably.

Because sexuality, and ethnicity, are often factors in prejudice, such strategies should bring these issues out in the open. But that’s increasingly difficult because people like Dr Donnelly, sundry right wing op/edsters, and Dr Nelson will start squealing about “normalising unnatural homosexuality”, “preaching multiculturalism” and so forth. So there is, I’d argue, a direct link between the PC Culture Wars and the victimisation of children because attempts to educate fall victim to political beatups, or are not even attempted – the Principal’s concerns, let’s remember, were about what parents would think and how this would play given all the stuff about “values” in schools. If we want to ensure that all children have a right to learn in an environment free from prejudice (which is their right by law), then we must take these issues seriously.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Rob, it’s sad that you don’t openly proclaim your love of opera in the workplace. I suspect if you did, you might not encounter the negative reaction you anticipate.

I don’t know what “swaggering” sexuality is. If people go back and read my earlier post (link in the thread to my more recent post), it’s the case that a lot of queer folks are no different in behaviour and mannerisms from straight folks. And some straight folks have mannerisms that stereotypes equate with being gay. Some sorts of “swaggering masculinity” are widely condoned, if not praised – I’m thinking of the Rugby League players I went to school with. If the teacher wanted to have short hair, or spiky hair, or whatever people think are the visual signifiers of her sexuality, then so what? Most people of whatever sexuality understand how to dress and present themselves appropriately in the workplace, and any “signs of difference” are fine as far as I can see. As usual, it’s only with queer people that the issue gets raised.

My High School economics teacher, who was a beefy league enthusiast who wore his Valleys scarf to school in winter was never thought of as deviant.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“You can be a swaggering gay in the arts or advertising; not so elsewhere.”

You forgot hairdressing Rob, but no matter :)

The teacher in question appears to have restricted any latent “swaggering” tendency admirably. On the face of it, she simply owned her sexuality on enquiry and participated in a 5 minute disussion about the kids’ freely-offered knowledge of gay aunties and the like. That was it.

I see absolutely no reason why she should not have been able to do so.

Naomi
Naomi
2022 years ago

Argh, Sophie, your meaning was just not that clear from your posts. You did bring in issues of paedophilia, and they don’t belong in a discussion about gay teachers in schools. I didn’t say the teacher was young or naive, but NOVICE and there’s a difference. And I know that teachers get dismissed for living ‘in sin’, but that’s not right either (unless the school has a clearly articulated religious-moral code), and certainly doesn’t make this case acceptable.

I completely agree with the numerous posters here who have asserted that it wouldn’t have happened if she wasn’t gay. Again, no parent or principal would have gone ‘pedophile alert, there’s a hetero woman in the school and the kids know she’s got a boyfriend’.

I’m very mindful of Ron’s points about poofter bashing, and about the scars that it leaves. Also about the points made by the woman’s lecturer, who said that sending a message to kids that you can drive a teacher out of a school by complaining about her sexuality is a powerful message that will go with those children for life.

And I’m deeply sceptical about the insider claim (‘I’m trying to tell you what’s going on in schools’). We’ve all got a stake in schools, I’m a trained teacher of some experience, and many of us have kids.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

The report on same-sex attracted kid’s experiences of victimisation and another report on suicide among gay youth are available (free) for download from the website of the Latrobe Uni research centre here:

http://www.latrobe.edu.au/arcshs/downloads.html

I’d encourage people to read them.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

“And I know that teachers get dismissed for living ‘in sin’, but that’s not right either (unless the school has a clearly articulated religious-moral code), and certainly doesn’t make this case acceptable.”

In Catholic and Lutheran schools, for instance. I once turned down a job in Employment Relations with the Brisbane Catholic Schools commission because I didn’t want to be involved in this practice – ie dismissing teachers for their sexuality or for having a partner to whom they’re not married. The issue of whether exemptions to Anti-Discrimination law for religious schools ought to remain (and Peter Beattie to his credit – whatever people say about his supposed conservatism – had the courage to raise this issue) is a separate one but discrimination has no place in public schools.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Well, I think it comes down to that pitiless figure of 1.3 (or if Kevin’s research sources are right, 1.6) per cent. And if anyone tells me this makes me homophobic I will start throwing things.

When society at large gets the feeling that homosexuality is being privileged, it’s going to jack up. Not because it’s homophobic, but because gay-ness has absolutely nothing to do with 98% of the population. Don’t push it. Any more than opera lovers should.

I’d say that is the no. 1 thing for the gay community to be worried about: appearing privileged. Don’t do it; most of all, don’t insist on being privileged. You’ll upset people, like the teacher did. It won’t help you; there’ll be a backlash, like in this case.

Recognising that I have probably stopped making sense, I shall now go to bed.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

No idea where this 1.3% figure comes from and it makes no difference whatsoever as to whether or not queer people should be out, or obviously out. If anything, all the signs are that the more queer people come out, the more prejudice is dispelled. The point here is that it’s a politicised distinction. There may be 10% of the population who have red hair (I don’t know, just guessing) but because we don’t make any judgements about people based on their hair colour and it’s not said to define their identity, it’s irrelevant. Ideally, no matter what the percentage of queer folks in the population, they should be able to express themselves as they choose, and it should be irrelevant too.

But if anyone’s interested, here’s an excerpt from the report on the research I quoted in my post last year:

“Australian National University sociologist Shaun Wilson, however, has begun to open the closet. “The population is much more diverse than the cliche suggests,” says Dr Wilson who has outlined new research in the Monash journal People and Place.

Outside the so-called gay ghettos of Melbourne and Sydney, he says, may reside a “less visible” homosexual population defined beyond the conventional markers of a modern gay community made up of urban professionals and service workers.

In sheer size, too, they are probably stronger than the official statistics would suggest.

The census, which does not pose a specific question on sexual orientation, lists only same-sex couples living in a de facto relationship within the same household. At last count, this covered only 37,774 people – or 0.25 per cent of the population.

But Dr Wilson says this is an underestimation. Last year he polled 2100 adults on their sexual orientation and found close to 3 per cent were same-sex or bisexual. Indeed, based on US precedents it was not improbable that the level was as high as 5 per cent.

So what defines Australia’s same-sex population?

For the record, they don’t appear to cluster around occupations such as floristry or hairdressing. Neither urban geography nor education and employment categories were much of a predictor of homosexuality or bisexuality in Dr Wilson’s sample.

The research does, however, suggest that the same-sex population might be younger and less religious than society at large. More males than females also tend to identify as gay or bisexual.
The population is much more diverse then the cliche suggests.

Interestingly, a class division also emerged in Dr Wilson’s study. While middle-class workers tended to identify outright as gay or lesbian, blue-collar workers were more likely to say they were bisexual.

“This may suggest that gay and lesbian identity is more accessible to the affluent and educated,” Dr Wilson says.”

http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/12/16/1102787212389.html

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

“When society at large gets the feeling that homosexuality is being privileged, it’s going to jack up. Not because it’s homophobic, but because gay-ness has absolutely nothing to do with 98% of the population.”

I just don’t get it. If “gay-ness has got absolutely nothing to do with 98% of the population”, then why worry?

The argument against “homosexuality being privileged” – which is meaningless – what it appears to mean is that people live their lives openly and that others discuss and recognise this – seems to me to be a sub-species of the anti-gay rhetoric used to great effect in the States about queer folks claiming “special rights”. Whatever. All I’m saying is that there are queer people, that everyone has a right to their sexuality, and that it would be great if this were recognised in schools.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“I’d say that is the no. 1 thing for the gay community to be worried about: appearing privileged. Don’t do it; most of all, don’t insist on being privileged. You’ll upset people, like the teacher did. It won’t help you; there’ll be a backlash, like in this case.”

Have you got a handy guide for poofs who want to avoid inadvertently appearing “privileged” Rob?

Ron
Ron
2022 years ago

What’s this privileged crap? How about equality in our so-called egalitarian society?

As for the 1.3, my life experience says 10%. Figures around 1% are usually sourced from right wing and/or Christian sources (and if they don’t appear to be one of those dig a little deeper).