- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
For students in the St. Maryís County public schools, summer ended yesterday. Today they are back in school.
For more than a thousand of them, this is indeed their first day of school. They are 4 or 5 years old and along with practicing their numbers and letters they will be practicing how to get along with strangers and without Mom and Dad.
They join about 17,000 other students who are beginning another year in their journey through school — a journey that is intended to give them the knowledge and skills they need to make their way through adult life.
Among those skills is the one the prekindergarten and kindergarten children are starting to learn today — how to get along with people who are not like them. It is in school that children learn social skills they will need to make their way in the world.
This year, during the first week of school, all students in all public schools are learning age-appropriate lessons in diversity. The aim is to teach acceptance, respect, appreciation and tolerance of people of other ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The lessons will not mention sexual preference.
Public school officials wanted to make that clear after a July 27 article in The Enterprise about the diversity lessons, which mentioned that the school systemís diversity and equity specialist was also looking into making available online lessons for teachers in gay and lesbian diversity and acceptance. Some parents objected, saying that homosexuality is contrary to their religious beliefs.
With same-sex marriage on the ballot for Maryland voters this November, the politics and emotions are white hot. Public school officials quickly backed away, cautious about being accused of advocating a lifestyle of which some parents disapprove. Discussion of sexual preferences would not be part of the mandatory diversity lessons during this first week of school, they emphasized.
But surely there are ways to address tolerance and respect that have nothing to do with advocating a lifestyle. Many of those who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds emphasize that they donít hate gays and lesbians even though they donít approve of their lifestyle. Love for other human beings, they say, is a central tenet of their faith.
A principle goal of these diversity lessons is to discourage taunting and bullying and keep the peace in the schools. There have been some ugly incidents in the schools in the past.
In middle and high school, surely there can be discussions about appropriate language and respect that cover sexual preference at some point during the year. There is a difference between advocating a lifestyle and preventing students from being terrorized and their lives made miserable because of their actual or perceived sexuality. Surely teachers and administrators can speak up when a student is being harassed. And surely students can be told before it happens that such harassment will not be tolerated.