December 21, 2006
America's queer idea of free speech
Posted by: Chris
While the BBC is censoring anything that dares to "offend" minority groups, we see how back in the USA, limiting free speech usually works to the majority's advantage. In Charlotte, N.C., the school superintendent banned a book about two male penguins who raise a baby from school libraries:
"And Tango Makes Three," the real-life story of "the very first penguin in the zoo to have two daddies," has drawn objections in schools or public libraries in seven states. …
The district pulled the penguin love story without a formal complaint. [School Superintendent Peter Gorman] said a couple of parents had asked him about the book, in which two male penguins at New York's Central Park Zoo pair up and hatch an adopted egg, and Republican county Commissioner Bill James had e-mailed him.
James said he read an online article about the book and asked Gorman whether the district libraries had it. "I am opposed to any book that promotes a homosexual lifestyle to elementary school students as normal," he said.
The battle over "Tango" plays into a larger debate about whether exposing students to the existence of gay people necessarily involves discussion of sexuality that isn't age-appropriate for the pre-puberty set, or as the GOP commissioner put it, teaches that "the gay lifestyle" is "normal."
The job of schools, of course, is to teach students about the world around them and to prepare them for higher education and/or a job. Gay people are a part of the outside world, living in 99% of the U.S. census districts, and paying the taxes for public schools just like their heterosexual (and conservative heterosexual) counterparts. An increasing number of gay couples are raising children, as well.
Teaching the mere fact of gay people (or penguins) does not require a discussion of sexuality anymore than teaching the existence of straight couples (or penguins). The job of teaching what's "normal," whether that means natural or not sinful, doesn't belong to public schools; that should be left up to parents and their churches, synagogues and mosques.
It's also not the job of public schools to hide from students the existence of gay people out of deference to the private religious views of some parents, even if their beliefs are in the majority, anymore than schools should hide the existence of unmarried parents, interracial couples or single moms or dads.
The problem with "political correctness" — at least when government is censoring speech so as not to "offend" — is that the pendulum can swing in many different directions, depending upon who is empowered to decide what "offends." The better choice, for both the progressives in the U.K. and their conservative counterparts in the U.S., is to let speech with which they disagree be countered by more speech. Children should receive moral guidance from their parents and religious counselors, not from overzealous school superintendents or network TV censors.
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