Back to School: An Ally’s Perspective on Welcoming Schools
September 30, 2010
This post is part of our Welcoming Schools “Back to School” blog series. Welcoming Schools, a project of the HRC Foundation, offers administrators, educators and parents/guardians the tools they need to ensure their elementary schools welcome all students and families. This post comes from Dr. William A. Howe, past-president of the National Association for Multicultural Education and a Welcoming Schools advisory council member: Why Should a Straight Guy Like Me Care About an LGBT Inclusive Approach in Elementary Schools?
As an educator for 35 years now, I have watched our schools grow into a microcosm of our larger society - more colorful and more inclusive. Trained as an elementary and special education teacher, I started my career working with mentally and physically handicapped students warehoused and hidden in institutions. Those institutions are gone and now these students share the same public schools with other students. Walking the halls of schools today I often see what I hope will be the future of our country - recent arrivals practicing English, students speaking multiple languages, children of all colors playing and learning together, able-bodied students pushing the wheelchairs of their classmates. Teachers are preparing students for a vastly different world, where skills in working with diversity are just as essential as the three R's.
As an educator and an activist, I have worked with Jewish students taunted with anti-semitic comments, Muslim students who were called terrorists, disabled students shunned by peers, children of same sex parents brought to tears by cruel comments, gay and lesbian students driven to attempt suicide by callous fellow students and, yes - teachers. As a human being how can I not care? My students’ problems are mine too. Their success in life depends on learning in a school environment where they feel safe, both physically and emotionally. An inclusive approach to education introduces students to the full spectrum of American life that does not always mirror the world as a Norman Rockwell painting.
An LGBT inclusive school teaches students that differences in family structures are not deficits. Students are learning about life at a younger age. As an educator I have learned that as young minds, beliefs and values form we must guide them to make their own, informed decisions. We hold our breaths hoping that they will grow up to be compassionate, empathetic, accepting and caring human beings that take a stand against bigotry of all forms. That, for a teacher, is just as important as academic success. Non-traditional families - single parent, same-sex parents, bi-racial, multicultural, multi-ethic, two-religion -- loving families are now a part of the grand experiment of democracy envisioned by the founders of this country. A multicultural, LGBT inclusive America presents the best opportunities for our children to succeed in a global economy and diverse workforce.
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