***N.B This is a draft post of some musings. I will be refining it further following twitter discussions and masters submission, but publishing now as I need to link to it in my masters reflection!***
For a while now I have agreed with Simon Blake’s (CEO of Brook Charity) assertion that non heterosexuality should not be treated as a sensitive issue in education. I’d also add in we need to stop treating such topics as “controversial”. To do so causes teachers to worry and tiptoe around such conversations and only reinforces stigma.
Remember same sex marriage is now legal, and the Equality Act (2010) supports equal rights for those who are LGBT. Whilst there maybe religious perspectives against non-heterosexuality, all religions promote tolerance and respect, and many people within different religions either are LGBT or support LGBT equality. Also the vast majority of parents want their children to learn about sexual orientation as part of sex education (Morgan, 2000, Mumsnet, 2012). Therefore allowing the views of vocal minorities to skew the provision of such education about something so simple as the actual existence of people who are LGBT to children and young people, is morally wrong in my opinion.
Since writing up my masters dissertation exploring the evidence base for challenging homophobia in schools I have been considering this “moral debate” in more detail so I thought I would share some of the academic perspectives here
(Partly because word count means I need to cut them out of my dissertation – sob)
On one side of the debate are arguments like Archard (1998), Petrovic ( 2002) White (1991), Jones (2011a and b) argue for a liberal approach to sexuality education giving overt support to the view that non-heterosexuality is morally legitimate or unproblematic. On the counter argument side academics such as Halstead and Lewicka (1998), Reiss (1997) (there are more but no time to add them all!) who argue non-heterosexuality must always be positioned as a controversial issue.
Hand (2007) explores some of these arguments about how issues can be defined as “controversial” using behavioural, epistemic, political or moral criterion, and argues that the only educational defensible criterion for defining non-heterosexuality as controversial is the epistemic one- where a view can only be controversial if contrary views are held upon it and where the disagreement is reasonable and rationally defensible. The paper explores many of the differing viewpoints and concludes there are no rational credible objections to non-heterosexuality and therefore we should be “unapologetic in our commitment to promoting this view in the moral education of children and young people”(Hand, 2007 page 85).
Funnily enough I agree with him.
The counterarguments from Halstead and Lewicka, (1998), Reiss, (1997) include arguments that teaching about such issues must only ever be treated as a sensitive controversial issue as teaching about sexual orientation requires specialist teacher skills, and to not teach it sensitively including a balanced exploration of perspectives on non-heterosexuality, may inflame rather than inform students. i.e. it could make homophobia worse.
However I’d argue that these positions are insufficient as teaching an issue sensitively (as one would with any aspect of PSHE or SRE as it is good practice) is different to treating it sensitively which actually translates into ignoring it as an issue wherever possible for fear of backlash. The former is very important and the latter is inhibitory. While in some cases it maybe appropriate to explore different opinions on non-heterosexuality, teachers do not need to try and sit on the fence and provide perfect balance in all cases. We are role models who can be clear that we uphold the value of equality for all according to the laws of the land, doing so can change perspectives (simple peer pressure and social norming!).
(Of course there are a minority of teachers who are homophobic – such teachers do need to be very careful in how they decide to address this topic remembering that that teachers working in schools have have a legal duty to advance equality and cannot discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.)
Therefore whilst I acknowledge teachers may need specialist support and training to discuss such issues confidently (and sensitively where need arises), they should try to avoid treating nonheterosexuality as a special, sensitive or controversial issue, as to do so continues to allows bigotry to prevail.