Friday, July 8, 2011

What will Governor Moonbeam Do? (Part 2)

Governor Jerry Brown has a controversial  bill on his desk awaiting his response. SB48, according to Equality California (a group which favors this legislation) will:
... amend the Education Code to include social sciences instruction on the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. This bill would also prohibit discriminatory instruction and discriminatory materials from being adopted by the State Board of Education.
(The full text of the bill may be found here.)

In my previous post, I discussed the impracticality and even inhumanity of injecting identity politics into the classroom.  The California Catholic Conference voiced its opposition to the bill on those grounds last April.

But the debate over SB48, nicknamed "The Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act" is not simply a debate about how to encourage politeness in schoolchildren.   It's not really even about bigotry.

When schools teach about the Women's Suffrage or Civil Rights movement, they usually do so in a manner that constitutes an endorsement. In the process, students rightly learn that institutionalized sexism and racism are dehumanizing and therefore socially unacceptable.  It is wrong to discriminate against human beings because of a state of being such as skin color or gender.  Skin color does not make a person good. It does not affect the state of his or her soul. Women may in general be physically weaker than men, but that does not make us morally inferior. While there may be evidence to suggest that men have more inclinations toward violence, that does not mean human males are born into a state of moral inferiority when compared to women.

A person's moral inferiority comes from choices, not from the way the way he or she was born. A man who, for example, cheats on his wife does so not simply because he has a male inclination for unfathfulness; he does so because he chose act upon it.  The action is where the moral problem lies, not the inclination.

So what will schools be endorsing when they teach about the LGBT movement if it is given the same treatment as the Civil Rights movement?   The LGBT movement's goal is the acceptance of certain behavior, not merely the acceptance of a state of being or an inclination. If the school treats that goal as laudable, it is essentially endorsing the homosexual lifestyle as something morally acceptable. This will most certainly come into conflict with the religious and cultural values of many students in California schools.

That is what makes this issue different. It is not simply about how one is born, or whether a person has certain desires, tendencies, drives, or inclinations.  It is about how one chooses to live and act, and whether a school, as an agent of the State, has the right to tell parents and students how to define sin.

In short, the debate over SB 48 is a debate about the role of the state in defining the sexual morality of private citizens and their children.

This becomes an especially sticky issue because teachings on sexual morality are often (though not always) faith based, which means this is also a question of free exercise of religion.

Though schools are often important for the social development of children, parents are the first and most important educators, especially in matters of faith and morals, and they are right to object when a particular school or and entire school system seeks to undermine what they teach their children in good conscience. 

It gets even stickier when students become old enough to choose whether or not to believe as they were raised.  It is not unheard of for a student to be raised in one faith, but convert to another in her teens. At the secondary level, a public school has to avoid infringing upon the constitutional rights of the student as well as the parents. The state has no business telling a student that she cannot believe what her faith teaches.

Schools and their employees cannot fulfill the requirements of this bill, and remain neutral with respect to the morality of homosexual behavior. This creates serious problems for parents, teachers, and students, whose reasoned moral objections to homosexuality and the LGBT movement come in conflict with this legislation.  Whether legislators in California like it or not, individual citizens do have a right to work in an environment that does not force them to choose between their consciences and their employment or education. It is not the place of the public schools to engage in social engineering or to judge the beliefs and opinions of students, though efforts to do so are nothing new, historically speaking. It is a practice that goes as far back as the 19th century.

As I pointed out in my last post, the state is much more likely to reach its stated goal of reducing bullying if it sticks to the more neutral path of instructing students in the very useful principle of respect for one's fellow human beings.  It is actually possible to teach kids to be polite to others, even in the face of serious disagreement or even fear, without injecting oneself into the religious instruction the student receives from his or her family.

Specific moral instruction is best left in the purview of parents, but there are many in education and in politics who believe they and the schools have a duty to subvert parental teachings with which they do not agree, especially if those parents embrace traditional Judeo-Christian morality.  In my own experiences at multiple public schools, I observed that this prejudice is so pervasive within the world of public education, that many of my colleagues were not even conscious of how it affected their attitudes toward parents and even toward their own students.

Contrary to what some among my former colleagues believe, it is possible to have strenuous moral objections to someone else's choices, actions, or lifestyle, without losing sight of that person's humanity.  With effort, one can even express such disagreements politely. It is even possible for young people to manage this with proper instruction.   But the purveyors of "tolerance" seem as unable to tolerate this concept as to tolerate the suggestion that there is even such a thing as objective morality.

Tolerating the idea of objective morality means living with the possibility of falling from grace, and this is not terribly compatible with modern thinking.

In fact, our fallen nature is really our most ancient and universally recognized trait.  From Shakespeare's plays to Lord of the Rings, fall and redemption make up the thematic material of some of the greatest literature ever written.  Even the Ancient Greeks had their own story of  a "fall" in the form of Pandora and the infamous box of furies. As G.K. Chesterton noted, it wasn't until recently that people began to suggest that there is no such thing as sin:

Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. Some followers of the Reverend R. J. Campbell, in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street. The strongest saints and the strongest sceptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat. (Orthodoxy)
I suspect that this bill is less about bullying, and more a part of an effort to teach the next generations to deny both dirt and cat.

Update: Read about what Archbishop Gomez has to say on this topic.

No comments: