Loud and Clear

Though I took a hiatus for a few posts from talking about education, I still have more to say about the subject, so I turn again to that.

One unfortunate reality of public education is the overwhelming influence of the National Education Association (NEA). The NEA describes itself as “the nation’s largest professional employee organization” and its purpose as “advancing the cause of public education.” That troubles me, and it should trouble you. Why? Because the NEA’s focus seems to be on almost everything but student learning. That is not to suggest that the NEA never addresses learning, but it certainly does not seem to take the focus.

Last July the NEA held its annual convention in Atlanta. At that convention the NEA adopted this resolution, listed as New Business Item 30: “NEA will encourage all states and NEA Affiliates to use existing means of communication to promote developmentally appropriate instructional resources in order to help all educators integrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) history, people, and issues into their instruction such as, but not limited to ‘Unheard Voices’ an oral history and curriculum project for middle and high school students created in collaboration by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and Story Corps.”

There were ninety-three new business items on the convention’s agenda, all of which can be seen on the NEA web site. Here are a few examples of those items that were adopted…

* The NEA shall encourage the Obama administration to ensure all legally married people have equal access to federal benefits regardless of their state of residence.
* Using existing resources and publictions, the NEA shall educate its members about the problem of homelessness among U.S. military veterans and publicize the work that organizations including “Soldier ON” are doing to combat it.
* A lengthy resolution on what the NEA could do to end the cholera epidemic in Haiti.
* NEA will gather stories of members who have been victims of age discrimination and other workplace harassment, share them using existing communication vehicles, and provide members with a toolkit they can use in this situation.
* NEA will support efforts to fully restore and extend to all states the effective protections of the Voting Rights Act, to fight state legislation that assaults voting rights, to support state legislation that expands voting access, to mobilize our members, to partner with other organizations to maximize civic participation, and fight voter suppression.
* NEA will use existing resources, assist state affiliates in urging policy makers on the district and state level to push for legislation similar to California’s FAIR Education Act (Senate Bill 48) that requires schools to integrate factual information about social movements, current events, and history of LGBTQ people and people with disabilities into existing social studies lessons along with all historically underrepresented groups.
* NEA will write an article through existing digital communication to elevate awareness around the need for state laws to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
* The NEA RA commend Texas State Senator Wendy Davis for her courageous filibuster to protect women’s rights and her continued ongoing advocacy on behalf of students and staff who serve in great public education.
* NEA stands in solidarity with striking Bay Area Rapid Transit Workers. NEA supports Service Employees International Union 1021 and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 now on strike against Bay Area Rapid Transit Management and will send a letter of support to them acknowledging the just demands of striking workers….
* The process for NEA’s approval of sponsors of major giveaways and corporate partners of the NEA shall include a preference for companies who have an active union presence among their workforce unless labor unions are not actively organized in an industry.

Not much in there about actual teaching and learning, is there? Now, there were a few things in the new business items addressing teaching and learning, but most of them were about high stakes testing, Common Core State Standards, and support for making physical education a mandatory subject nationwide.

By the way, what did Wendy Davis do in Texas? She filibustered for thirteen hours, attempting to derail a law that imposes some of the toughest regulations in the country on abortion clinics. A proposal submitted to the NEA convention to “prohibit the use of dues money to support abortions,” by the way, was squashed, after attendees booed that pro-life educators introducing the proposal. The NEA kept in place, though, its support for “school-based family planning clinics.”

I am incredibly tempted to comment further on the NEA, the influence it has on public education, and the warning sign that should be for any parent truly concerned about their children are taught at school, but I think I am going to take the less-is-more route here; I think the NEA has pretty well spoken for itself…loud and clear.

“An environment welcoming all teens”

I would love to say that I have not blogged in nearly two weeks because there has simply been nothing so troubling as to warrant me taking to the keyboard to share my thoughts in the matter. As if! As the expression goes, “life happens,” and life for me the past couple of weeks has been extremely busy. But I am not going to talk about what’s going on in my life. I am not even (for now) going to talk about the government shut down. What I am going to talk about is the American Academy of Pediatrics.

This organization represents more than 60,000 pediatricians across the country. According to its own web site the AAP is “dedicated to the health and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.” In late July the AAP posted on its web site a technical report entitled “Office-Based Care for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth,” written by Dr. David Levine of the Committee on Adolescence, and also published in the July issue of Pediatrics. The article provides recommendations for pediatricians on how to answer questions from youth with questions about their own sexuality or that of their parents, relatives and friends.

Specifically, the article states, “Pediatricians should have offices that are teen-friendly and welcoming to sexual minority youth. This includes having supportive, engaging office staff members who ensure that there are no barriers to care.” Notice what this says if you read between the lines: not having an environment that is welcoming to “sexual minority youth” and not having staff members who are supportive of such behavior is a barrier to care. Furthermore, the article states, “For transgender youth, pediatricians should provide the opportunity to acknowledge and affirm their feelings of gender dysphoria and desires to transition to the opposite gender.” In other words, pediatricians and their staffs need to ” express agreement with or commitment to” and “support” the desire for a young person to transition to the other gender. That is the definition of affirm. And remember, failing to take this supportive approach is a barrier to care!

The article further states that LGBTQ youth are most damaged by the heterosexism that is the “societal expectation.” One has to wonder where Dr. Levine and his colleagues live, though, because he also writes, “Pervasive in our culture, homophobia is institutionalized in stereotypes promoted in the media and in casual conversation.” Oh really? I think what is promoted in our media aggressively and, unfortunately, successfully, is the notion that homosexuality and other “alternative lifestyles” are quite acceptable and normal.

Levine writes, “Pediatricians have a role in helping teenagers sort through their feelings and behaviors. Young people need information about healthy, positive expressions of sexuality, and pediatricians should assist adolescents as they develop their identities and to avoid the consequences of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), regardless of sexual orientation. Research suggests that LGBTQ youth really value these opportunities for discussions with their pediatricians or primary health care providers.” I would agree with the doctor if this statement could be taken at face value. However, we must remember what he writes elsewhere in the article. Remember, according to Levine and the AAP, pediatricians and their staff members cannot help adolescents through the difficult teen years and the sexual questions that may emerge unless they affirm and embrace every version of sexual relationship–Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning. They cannot help teens avoid sexually transmitted diseases unless they are willing to affirm that kind of behavior in any pairing. Forget encouraging abstinence or suggesting that sex should wait until marriage; after all, that might damage someone’s psyche and result in lifelong mental anguish.

Later on in the article Levine writes, “Pediatricians have the responsibility to provide culturally effective care to help reduce health disparities.” Seriously? I would think medically effective care would be the standard. It seems to me that the pediatrician’s foremost responsibility would be the health of the patient. Apparently not, or least not that exclusively. Now, the care provided must be “culturally effective.” Translation: do not even think about taking any attitude other than affirming the “alternative lifestyles.”

Levine writes, “Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning, is not a ‘problem’ or ‘risk behavior’ in itself.” That’s interesting. Let’s set aside the fact that homosexual behavior is a sin, which certainly qualifies it as a “problem.” Levine’s statement is interesting because prior to making this statement he spent a considerable chunk of his article addressing the mental health disparities, eating disorders, substance abuse, sexual and reproductive health disparities and general health disparities of LGBTQ young people. It would seem, then, to the uninformed (like me) that this is a risk behavior “in itself.” But as I said, I am evidently uniformed. The problem comes not from the behavior, but from the fact that parents, physicians and the culture as a whole fails to embrace and affirm LGBTQ youth, thus driving them to homelessness, despair, poor self esteem and, eventually, highly risky behaviors.

Levine says, “One of the challenges to health care is removing barriers to care and creating an environment welcoming all teens.” By that he means, of course, that LGBTQ teens must feel welcomed. One of the ways to do that is to use gender-neutral terms when questioning or discussing sexual topics with patients. Why? Well, because… After all, “A nurse asking a teenage girl who is in a relationship with another woman about her boyfriend may be interpreted as nonaccepting of her relationship.” Furthermore, the office needs to be decorated in such a way as to welcome LGBTQ youth. “The office environment can be made welcoming for all teens by placing in the waiting room items such as brochures on a variety of adolescent topics, including sexual orientation, posters showing both same- and opposite-gender couples, and notices about support groups, if available in the region. … Even a small ‘rainbow’ button (often a symbol of acceptance of sexual minority individuals) or decal on an office bulletin board or door symbolizes openness and acceptance of diverse sexual orientation and will be appreciated by sexual minority teens and their parents.” Of course what Levine overlooks, or ignores, is that this kind of behavior and this kind of decor will absolutely not make the office welcoming to “all teens.” Many teens and parents would be offended by the things Levine describes. But remember, that is our insidious heterosexism.

Levine concludes his article with these statements: “Pediatricians have an obligation to ensure that sexual minority youth have access to a full range of appropriate health care services. As with all adolescents and young adults, sexual minority youth need honest answers and compassion in dealing with issues and questions around sexual orientation, identity, and sexual behaviors.” Of course pediatricians must provide all necessary medical care for their patients, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation; no sane person would argue otherwise. Levine, however, completely misses the fact that his entire article goes about making sure that pediatricians their staff members do not provide honest answers about “sexual orientation, identity, and sexual behaviors.” We cannot both tell people what to think, what to say and how to act and encourage them to be honest. We cannot tell people that what is sin is simply an alternative and then ask them to be honest. But then neither can we tell doctors to do everything they can to welcome and affirm lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and simultaneously tell them make sure all patients feel welcome and comfortable.

Every human being is entitled to be treated with dignity and should be cared for when their health is endangered, regardless of who or what they think they are or claim to be. Beyond that, though, Dr. Levine and the AAP are no better than the elixir salesmen of the Old West; they’re saying a bunch of stuff that sounds good but has no legitimacy and no substance, and they’re promising something that just ain’t gonna happen.