It's a bit dated (from Aug. 2003) but I found the points that this article made about the Harvey Milk School still very relevant. Especially in conjunction with this more recent article (Sept. 2008) about a "gay supportive" school in Chicago (make sure your read the comments there, which are especially interesting.)
I'm curious what others think. And what has experience in the last six years taught us?
Harvey Milk High: It's Not the Answer
by Jennifer Vanasco
First published August 13, 2003, in the Chicago Free Press.
We all know that young gays, bisexuals, lesbians and transgenders have a particularly hard time. At their most vulnerable moment, the time in which they are exploring and creating their independent identities — and the time in which many come out to themselves — they have very few safe spaces. Worse, those safe spaces usually don?t include the classroom.
At school, GLBT students are bullied verbally and harassed physically. They see few images of themselves reflected in classroom study or in open, happy gay teachers (who often themselves fear for their jobs). They must also deal with anti-gay talk that permeates the hallways, whether or not it is directed at them: for example, when a straight student calls another straight student a fag, or when a student uses gay as an epithet.
And unlike workers, who may be able to change jobs if they find themselves in a hostile environment, public school students must stay where they are or drop out.
That's why many gays and lesbians are supporting the first gay public school in the country, the Harvey Milk High School in New York, which will open in the fall. It sounds like a good idea, right?
Not to me.
This surprises even myself, since I know the power of, well, homogeneity. I went to a women's college and I know the bonds that form when people who are similar in some way share an educational experience. I know the empowerment that comes from having strong role models and educational materials that reflect who you are. I know what a change it can make when the messages around you are all positive and nurturing.
I also know the statistics. Over 40 percent of LGBT students don't feel safe in their schools. 28 percent drop out annually. 69 percent admit they've been harassed. And they are still three times more likely to commit suicide.
Yet I don't find the Harvey Milk High School empowering. I find it disturbing. It is an admission of failure.
That's because this one school can simply not do enough to correct the problem. Only 170 students will be selected for admission to Harvey Milk, yet there are thousands of gay kids in the New York public school system. In fact, the Heitrick-Martin Institute, which will run the school in partnership with the New York public school system, estimates that there are 100,000 LGBT students in New York City. That means that very, very few, just over 1 percent, will be able to be in this new, nurturing environment.
Sure, those lucky 170 will be tucked safely away in their all-gay classes. But there will still be gay, lesbian and transgender students in the other New York City public schools — and I guarantee you, many of them will continue to be harassed and bullied. As Mayor Michael Bloomberg himself admitted in a press briefing, — I think everybody feels that it's a good idea because some of the kids who are gays and lesbians have been constantly harassed and beaten in other schools. It lets them get an education without having to worry. It solves a discipline problem. And from a pedagogical point of view, this administration — and previous administrations — have thought it was a good idea and we'll continue with that.”
The hearts of those who decided to start Harvey Milk are undoubtedly in the right place. But where are their heads? What will happen to those other students? This new school — and this new segregation — will take the pressure off teachers, administrators and Mayor Bloomberg to promote real reform. Because now, when faced with complaints, administrators, legislators and others will be able to simply point them toward Harvey Milk instead of doing the hard work of changing the culture in the schools.
Also, segregation is just a bad idea for public schools. That was true back when policy makers tried to separate black and white students and it's true now. It might solve administrative hassles, but it hinders social education.
Public schools are under funded — and the children who go there are often under educated. But the one advantage to public schools, especially urban public schools, is that kids get exposed to all sorts of cultural, ethnic and, yes, sexual orientation diversity.
And the more students are exposed to different kinds of people in a non-threatening setting, the less likely they are to grow up to be racist or homophobic themselves.
Also, high school is when a lot of students start to question their sexual orientation. Some gays and lesbians have known all their lives that they are gay. But heterosexuality is so deeply ingrained in our culture that many more don?t realize it until much later. Can you imagine the pressure of simultaneously applying for a school and worrying if you're gay enough to go?
Though the school will be open to all students gay and straight, the practical reality will likely be that only kids who are comfortable with their gayness or their straightness already — not those who are questioning — will actually apply. But it is exactly those students who will most positively affect the straight students around them.
Do gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender kids need a space where they can be with others like them? Yes. In a support group or a LGBTQ club.
Do they need a space where they can be free of harassment and bullying? Yes. Gay students should be safe in the classroom and hallways of any public school. We can't win that fight by simply shuttling them elsewhere.
|comments: Leave a comment|