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School Board bullies 

Or, lost in Sunday School Land

If you want to dig down to the heart of the "culture wars," tune in to the ridiculous School Board arguments over bullying. Moreover, if you want to see how narrow views and repression can twist souls into odd, angry knots, look no farther than the three Republican members of the School Board -- Larry Gauvreau, Kaye McGarry and Ken Gjertsen. Their performances in the current bullying debates have been ignorant and shameful -- and offer a revealing look at the paranoid mindset of social conservatives.

First, some background. CMS, to its credit, is trying to find ways to reduce the extent of bullying in its schools. Research has shown a definitive correlation between school bullying and increases in teenage suicides, and a 2007 survey showed that an unexpectedly high 20 percent of CMS students said they'd been bullied at school during the past year.

Current CMS policy strictly forbids bullying, but simply having a policy on the books obviously isn't working. CMS's Equity Committee, a citizen-advisory panel, proposes a stronger process for reporting bullying, in addition to annual anti-bullying training and stricter recording of data on bullying.

I'm not too sure the panel's proposals will do enough to reduce bullying -- for instance, why will anti-bullying training only be held once a year? -- but it's at least a first step toward trying to protect kids who are picked on.

For the three conservative Republicans on the Board, the sticking point is the proposal to keep stricter records of bullying. Most people, I bet, would think that keeping better records of bullying is a simple matter of common sense -- it will make it easier to keep track of a problem the system is trying to eliminate. McGarry, Gauvreau and Gjertsen don't see it that way, however. To them, CMS, by recording incidents of bullying, is secretly trying to create a list of politically correct behaviors that can't be criticized on school grounds. In other words, it's all about the gays.

Of course, it's always about gays for social conservatives. Want to expand sex education so that kids are told about the real world they're supposedly being prepared for? "You're teaching that perversity is diversity!" Want to open school activities such as clubs and proms to all students? "You're ripping apart the moral fabric of this country!" And now, you want to keep a list of who's being bullied in schools? "You're promoting an aggressive pro-homosexual agenda!"

Here's where we get to the heart of the culture wars. For nearly a century in America, there's been a movement toward inclusion into mainstream society of people who were previously looked down upon and left out. Jews. African-Americans. Women. These days, that movement toward inclusion is benefiting gays, lesbians and transgender citizens. Progressives consider these changes a healthy thing, a recognition that being different shouldn't be punishable by social exclusion.

For conservatives of our School Board trio's mindset, however, times shouldn't change -- in fact, time should have stopped in the 1950s, preferably in the middle of an episode of Father Knows Best, when children were well-behaved and clean behind the ears, girls were demure and passive, blacks were invisible, and those icky queers were thrown in jail. These people live in what a friend calls "Sunday School Land," where everyone is well-dressed and the lawns are clipped. Sunday School Land inhabitants find the tenor of modern life threatening and, since it's gays who are most conspicuously benefiting from recent changes in public attitudes, the conservatives' fears of change now naturally coalesce around the perceived threat of homosexuality.

Board member Ken Gjertsen expressed conservatives' odd brand of paranoia at a recent meeting by proposing a strange "what if" situation. What if, he asked, a Christian student said, "I believe homosexuality is a sin"? A gay student, Gjertsen continued, might take offense at the statement and accuse the Christian kid of bullying. That would be a pro-gay agenda!

OK, time for a few reality checks:

1. No one in their right mind is going to consider the simple statement, "I believe homosexuality is a sin" as bullying.

2. In the real world, i.e., outside Sunday School Land, a confrontation in school over homosexuality will more likely go like this: the so-called Christian kid comes up to the gay student and screams, "You're a faggot and I'm going to kick your ass." And that's bullying.

3. Gjertsen, like other social conservatives, sees straight white Christians such as himself as semi-martyrs, constantly besieged by an "enemy," when in fact straight white Christians still generally run things and hold most of the institutional power in society.

Another, rarely mentioned, factor in the bullying debate is that Kelley Doherty, the Wachovia executive who chairs the Equity Committee which came up with the new proposals, is a lesbian and a CMS parent whose son has been harassed because of her sexual orientation. Ken, Kaye, Larry? It's time to get over yourselves.

For more commentary from John Grooms, visit www.theclogblog.com.

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