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Teaching about homosexuality in public schools

Why it is such a difficult topic to teach

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Teaching about homosexuality -- an absolute mine field:

One of the main goals of any educational system is to help students understand:
bulletTheir culture's past,
bulletThe diversity within their present culture, 
bulletThe ways in which their own culture is evolving, and
bulletDifferences between their culture's past, present and current trends, when compared with those of other countries.
Armed with this information, students will be able to respond better to cultural conflicts as adults.

As noted in this essay's source menu, homosexuality is a particularly challenging topic to teach.

bulletWhenever the public holds conflicting and passionately held beliefs, each side will want to have their own viewpoints included in any school course that is offered to their children.
bulletSome will want other viewpoints suppressed.
bulletSome will want the entire topic to be avoided. They may believe that if their children remain ignorant of homosexuality, they won't be tempted to experiment with it.
bulletSome equate teaching about homosexuality with promoting homosexuality.
bulletSome want to teach their children at home; they feel that a school setting is not appropriate for any topic related to human sexuality.
bulletHomosexuality involves three very "hot" topics:
bulletHuman sexuality itself. This is a scary subject for many people.
bulletThe behavior of sexual minorities. Many people want their sexual behavior to be absolutely normal; they may feel threatened by those who are sexually different in any way.
bulletYouth sexuality. Many parents have difficulty looking upon their teenagers as sexually active persons approaching adulthood.
bulletMany people hold their beliefs about homosexuality and other human sexuality topics very rigidly.
bulletPeople differ greatly on such basic factors as:
bulletThe cause(s) of homosexuality;
bulletWhether it is a behavior -- what a person does -- or an orientation -- what a person is.
bulletWhether it should be considered a criminal act, or simply a way of expressing love that is normal and natural for a minority of adults.
bulletWhether it is changeable, relatively fixed, or absolutely fixed.
bulletThere seems to be no possibility of a public consensus on homosexuality anytime soon.
bulletThe stakes are very high:
bulletThe suicide rate among homosexual youth is much higher than for the general population. Depending on content, a sex-ed course may exacerbate or ameliorate this situation.
bulletUnprotected anal sex, a sexual practice engaged in by many male homosexuals -- and probably more female heterosexuals -- is a relatively efficient method of transmitting HIV and other STDs. Gay youth need to be armed with information.

Homosexuality may be the most difficult topic to teach in middle school or high school. Perhaps only the teaching of abortion is as challenging as homosexuality.

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Separation of church and state issues in homosexual education:

The drive to preserve the status quo on homosexual rights, -- and perhaps to revert to the pre-2003 situation where homosexual behavior in some states was a criminal act -- is primarily driven by the conservative wings of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other religions. Thus, it would be ludicrous to attempt to teach students about homosexuality without introducing the topic of the diversity of religious beliefs about human sexuality.

Some educators might be concerned about violating the First Amendment principle of separation of church and state by involving religion in class discussions. However, the U.S. Constitution does not require that public schools be religion-free areas.

In order to meet constitutional requirements, the following might be used as a rough guide for the design of class material involving religion.

It should have:
bulletA secular purpose, and
It should not promote:
bulletOne religion or faith group as superior to any other.
bulletA religiously based life as superior to a secularly based life.
bulletA secularly based life as superior to a religiously based life.

Teaching about homosexuality and other sexual orientations definitely has a secular purpose, just as teaching about gender, race, etc. All are needed to produce a well-rounded education. Students need to learn about human sexuality in general in order to help them avoiding traps that can adversely affect their emotional and physical health. Homosexuality is a major topic within human sexuality.

Describing the teachings of a wide variety of religions should satisfy the second criteria. If the beliefs of both the liberal and conservative wings of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc. are taught, then no one religion is being promoted over any other.

Including the findings of sexual researchers, therapists' professional associations, secular philosophies and belief systems like Humanism, Ethical Culture, etc., as well as those of a variety of faith groups, should meet the third and fourth criteria. Neither secular nor religious information sources will be promoted at the expense of the other.

The above is not intended as legal advice. The author is not a constitutional lawyer. For a legal opinion, we recommend that you consult a qualified specialist in constitutional law.

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Site navigation: Home > Conflict > Homosexuality > Religious impact > Teaching > here

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Copyright � 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-MAY-8
Latest update: 2005-MAY-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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