Queering classrooms, curricula, and care: stories from those who dare

Karleen Pendleton Jime´nez*
School of Education and Professional Learning, Trent University, Peterborough,
Ontario, Canada
This article explores the potential of students and teachers to disrupt heterosexist
schooling practices with queer interventions. Through a critical investigation of
four vignettes, taken from the collection ‘Unleashing the unpopular’: Talking about
sexual orientation and gender diversity in education, a progression of possibilities for
queering elementary education is articulated. In particular, I examine how
student and teacher decisions and interactions can alter the course of the
curriculum. Examples of strategic practices and institutional locations for queer
innovation are provided. The subjects act amidst a tradition of queer repression that
saturates school systems and punishes the queers. Finally, I offer the possibility of
subverting and claiming ‘care,’ a core value of the teaching profession, for queer
education.
Queer stories of schooling
Toronto, Ontario 2007 (Katerina)
Katerina Cook, age nine years, sits in Grade Four English class, absorbing her first telling
of a Shakespeare play. When the teacher reaches the very queer and exciting kiss between
Olivia and Violet, a girl beside her says:
‘Ewwww, they’re so lez,’ and made a face, the same face that they would have if they were
picking their nose, except they were smiling at the same time.
I yelled, ‘Shut up!’ but the teacher didn’t do anything about it. The teacher was surprised
and was just looking down at us with big eyes. Silence. I was even surprised that I didn’t get in
trouble for shouting ‘Shut up!’
I felt like I wanted to kill Fleur. I was looking at her. She was smirking at me. She was
thinking, ‘You’re gonna get in trouble because you just yelled ‘shut up’ at me.’ My face was
probably turning red because that’s what my friend Zoe told me after.
Pause.
And then I was told to go outside to calm down, but the other kid wasn’t told to go outside.
And then I was crying in the hall and this grade 5 boy came along and asked me if I was crying
because I was getting punished. ‘I’m not getting punished.’
‘Then why are you here?’
I didn’t really answer. My head was against the wall.
He ran to join his friend.
I thought about how evil Fleur was. I thought of her being tortured by me. Because I am a
violent child and I’m not afraid to say that. I didn’t really like being outside in the hallway. I
didn’t like older people looking at me and being puzzled why I was crying, so I just went back in.
(Cook 2007, 19)
ISSN 1468-1811 print/ISSN 1472-0825 online
q 2009 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/14681810902829638
http://www.informaworld.com
*Email: kpendletonjimenez@trentu.ca
Sex Education
Vol. 9, No. 2, May 2009, 169–179
‘Small-Town Texas,’ 1981 (Barbara)
As a 7th-grader, I had no sense of myself as a sexual being, no awareness of any such
drive or desire. I failed to understand the fuss about boys; I didn’t dislike them, I just
found them fundamentally uninteresting. But I didn’t find myself attracted to girls, either. I
knew that I preferred their company, and felt more comfortable with them; but I didn’t
connect that to anything physical. Mostly what I cared about was horses. It was Texas,
after all. And I cared about science. My favorite T-shirt had a detailed image of a strand of
DNA in white on a navy blue background. When I wasn’t riding, I was in my room with
my watercolors, rendering molecular structures, mitochondria, double helices. And that
was where she came in.
She was the Life Science teacher. An imposing woman: sharp, trim, very butch (though
I didn’t know that word then), with a couple of fierce silver streaks in her short black hair.
A tough grader (the challenge excited me, though few of my peers shared the sentiment).
She told me I was ‘hyperanalytical,’ which was true and I was happy to accept it as high
praise. And she awarded me first place in the class science project competition.
I walked past rows of black lab tables and up to her desk to claim the prize. When she
gave it to me, she also gave me a really nice hug. I felt completely blissed out in that
moment: warm and special and honored and close to her. I felt a sense of connection. I
wanted to preserve that feeling, to give it a form, and to share it with her. So I wrote the
letter. I told her how much it meant to me, that connection, how good it made me feel. I
hoped it would please her. She took it, as I believed then, all wrong. She took it, as I
understand now, pretty nearly right.
After school the next afternoon, I was sitting in the living room with my brother,
watching The Partridge Family, when my parents came in looking grim. They’d been
called in to talk with the principal. Did I know why? I didn’t, I said. I hadn’t done
anything wrong. They asked very seriously whether I’d written a certain letter to my
science teacher. Yes, I had. What did that have to do with anything? And how did they
know? She never said a word to me about it, then or later; but she’d given away my letter
to the principal and the school counselor, who showed it to my parents at their meeting the
following day. The counselor felt it was beyond her. The recommendation was regular
sessions with a shrink. (Brush 2007, 30–31)
The story that followed for Barbara chronicled the loss of all her friends at school, and a
series of appointments with psychiatrists, one questioning her clothing choices and another
informing her that everyone feels like an outcast in junior high.
Outside Portland, Oregon, 2003 (Lisa)
Ms Ortiz, armed with her special education expertise, had no difficulty obtaining a
teaching position.
I sat on a cushy, floral-print sofa in front of an antique table, laden with an eclectic array of
cups, a plate of homemade cookies, and a pot of ginger tea, waiting for the inquiring masses to
arrive. The intimate space [the principal’s office] was made smaller by hundreds of cards
papering every wall; mobiles, fairies, and streamers enlivening the air; Celtic music
whispering in the background. This was the scene for a most unorthodox interview. I knew the
school needed me . . . my credentials that is, and the interview was just a formality . . .
I have always been out and proud. Some say overly so. Stare at me and I would hold my
girlfriend closer or maybe even kiss. Whisper to your friend, point or laugh, and I might
approach you . . . dare you to say it to my face. I was a coordinator for Pride in a large
metropolitan city. I worked with queer youth. I was a leader in my university LGBT [lesbian,
gay, bisexual, and transgender group] and hosted dozens of events. I’ve sat on panels – from
an advisory group for the superintendent of city schools to educational panels for teachers. I
have facilitated anti-homophobia (Challenging, Learning about, and Understanding
Heterosexism, CLUH) workshops for businesses, youth groups, and universities. I’d never
been in the closet in my life and wasn’t about to start. They would know what they were
getting . . . (Ortiz 2007, 56)
170 K. Pendleton Jime´nez
Shortly after she accepted her position, Ms Ortiz began to face ongoing requests, as well as
administrative maneuvering, to make her relationship with her partner invisible to her
students. The requests, punctuated with subtle threats, became increasingly outrageous
and slowly eroded her sense of pride.
Fear returned in another closed-door session, when Cathy [the principal] told me about a fight
on the playground. Evidently, one boy had called another boy a ‘fag’ and a fight ensued.
Parents were called in and the offending boy’s father said, ‘What do you expect? You even
have a gay teacher. We’ve seen the bumper stickers.’ OK, I know what you’re thinking. This
is ridiculous. Yeah, I started out laughing, too. By the end of the discussion, though, Cathy
was warning me that she feared ‘a tidal wave of protest . . . media . . . wah, wah, wah, wah,
wah . . . wouldn’t want anything to happen to your family.’ Fear. As I drove home, anxiety
kicked in full throttle. I was looking behind me to see if I was being followed, and took a
rambling route home via the police station. Visions of the terrible possibilities – the many
ways my family could be taken from me – flashed through my mind. I was crying, near
hysterical, when I got home. Georgia ‘honey, honeyed’ me and forbade me from removing my
stickers. But she didn’t understand. She couldn’t. Everything depended on me.
The next morning, armed with a knife hidden in my bag, I drove halfway to work and pulled
over on the side of the road. I couldn’t do such a thing in front of my own home. Not in front of
my baby. I looked at the proud rainbow strip under my rear window . . . teacher-perfect,
‘Celebrate Diversity’ on a rainbow. If I was going to remove one, I would remove them all . . .
‘Attitudes Are the Real Disability.’ I sliced and pulled and scraped . . . and bawled.
(Ortiz 2007, 58)
London, Ontario late 1990s (John)
The Incident: Graffiti as an Act of Violence
In the late 1990s, while I was a grade 5 teacher in an elementary school in Canada, twice
within one week threatening and homophobic graffiti was written on the outside of our
classroom. (I was teaching in a portable.) The first piece of graffiti said, ‘We Will, We Will,
Get You.’ The second, stretching the length of one outside wall, read, ‘Fuck you Mr. Guiney.
Suck your gay dick. Remember me.’ My students and some colleagues, as well as a parent
who was present, were visibly disturbed by the graffiti. Not wanting to appear intimidated, I
initially responded in an almost dismissive manner to the graffiti.
Celebration: A Restorative Response
Following a discussion with my students, in which I invited them to share how they felt about
the graffiti, it became clear that a more restorative response was necessary. My students
expressed a feeling of being invaded and violated. They said that the graffiti had been done to
their classroom and their teacher. I decided that celebrating Lesbian and Gay Pride Week
would be a way for my students to reclaim their classroom and their teacher. When I suggested
this to the students, they responded with considerable enthusiasm. I asked for volunteers to
serve on the planning committee; at least nine students raised their hands. The planning began.
In an open letter to staff, I outlined what had happened and the restorative action my students
and I were taking.
Individual and Institutional Blocks: Other Forms of Violence
Celebrating Lesbian and Gay Pride Week with my students did not happen that year, because
my principal was ‘uncomfortable’ with the idea. Although I outlined why this was needed,
what I would do, and why we didn’t need a ‘Heterosexual Pride Week,’ I did not achieve any
positive results. I persisted, however, and my principal requested a lesson plan for what I was
intending to do, a lesson plan that would have to be approved by my superintendent. Although
I had never been asked for such a plan in any of my previous equity/diversity work, I agreed to
provide it. ‘And,’ my principal said, ‘it has to be good for students. It’s not good enough that
it’s good for you; it has to be good for students.’ At that moment, something changed in my
professional and emotional landscape. While it took hours to process it, I experienced that
statement as discriminatory. As a teacher who was also an ‘out’ gay man, I believed that
Sex Education 171
statement suggested that I may be planning the celebration of Lesbian and Gay Pride Week
with my students because it might be good for me and not because of the educational and, in
this case, healing value for students. My motivations for my work as a teacher had never been
questioned before. (Guiney Yallop 2007, 111–2)
Mr Guiney Yallop proceeded with his vision of creating a Gay Pride celebration in
collaboration with his students, even as he faced hurtful administrative ‘stumbling blocks’
at every step of the process.
Introduction
The bodies and words of these queer teachers and students cause disruption. In each case
their existence and expression threaten the ‘normal’ course of the classroom. It is not only
their sexual identities (three of the four identifying as gay or lesbian) that queer their
classrooms, but also their refusal to proceed with business as usual. Katerina’s outburst,
Barbara’s love letter, Lisa’s bumper sticker, and John’s pride celebration demand
recognition that queers exist, possessing passion and courage, alarming their school
communities, and debunking the myth of heterosexism in the classroom. Their queer
interventions serve the intention of queer theory to ‘locate and exploit the incoherencies in
[sex, gender, and desire] which stabilize heterosexuality’ (Jagose 1996, 3), and, in doing
so, create more inclusive classrooms.
These four vignettes, taken from the collection ‘Unleashing the unpopular’: Talking
about sexual orientation and gender diversity in education (Killoran and Pendleton
Jime´nez 2007), offer a progression of possibilities for queering elementary education.
They reveal how student and teacher decisions and interactions can alter the course of the
curriculum. They offer examples of strategic practices and institutional locations for queer
innovation. They act amidst a tradition of queer repression that saturates school systems
and punishes the queers. In this paper, I will search the narratives for queer interventions,
and investigate the possibility of subverting and claiming ‘care,’ a core value of the
teaching profession, for queer education.
Context
This week two lesbian mothers were punched, bloodied, and bruised in a city nearby me
(Oshawa, Ontario), as they were dropping off their six-year-old son at school.
The perpetrator was the father of one of their sons’ classmates; he committed the assault in
front of the school and the children. Last week the state of Arkansas voted to ban
unmarried couples (targeting same-sex couples who do not have the right to marry) from
adopting children. Over the past few months, Californians have watched adverts for a
proposition that is to ban same-sex marriage; it is expensive, hate marketing. In one advert,
a child comes home from school with the book King and king are getting married in hand
and tells her disapproving mother that the teacher taught them about gay marriage in
school. These displays highlight the heterosexist obsession of keeping queers and queer
education away from children. Keep queers away for fear they will contaminate and
threaten the normal development of the general population (Foucault 1990). In schools,
boundary maintenance against queers works within a broad framework of removing
bodies, emotions, and sexuality from classrooms. A western tradition of schooling
proposes that classrooms serve the intellect alone (hooks 1994). Because queer is often
associated with bodies, desire, and sexuality, rather than lessons about families, history,
and civil rights, teachers may have no idea how to respond, and/or respond from a place of
172 K. Pendleton Jime´nez
fear. In addition, McCaskell and Russell (2000) identify lack of activism, invisibility,
hyper visibility, anti-discrimination policy (or lack thereof), inexperience with other
equity issues, and fear of parental reaction as some of the barriers to successfully
supporting LGBT students, teachers, and parents in schools.
Queering the classroom
O Spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou,
not withstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe’er,
But falls into abatement and low price,
Even in a minute! So full of shapes is fancy,
That it alone is high fantastical. (Shakespeare 1985, 6)
Queer theory offers particular insights into the meanings of the four narratives. How the
stories are read is part of a queer educational project. They are queer autobiographical
narratives that ‘aim to subvert a heterosexualizing culture and society that deprecates us in
a defaming, exclusionary litany: outsiders, outlaws, deviants, and sinners’ documented in
order for queers to ‘attain the rights and privileges of full citizenship’ (Grace 2001, 100).
However, if they are interpreted as stories of victimization, then educators may fail to
recognize the power of queer intervention of heterosexist discourses of schooling. While
stories of harm awaken unknowing teachers to the need for queer education, understanding
the agency of these four students and teachers reveals moments of change. Queer theory
provides a focus on how these students and teachers engage with school power and
authority, and assert their knowledge into the learning of the day.
There would be no stories to narrate if not for the confidence each narrator possesses as
they express their truths. Barbara states clearly, ‘I hadn’t done anything wrong.’ She
responds with shock and indignation to her parents’ interrogations over her letter of
admiration. Her shock is echoed by Katerina, Lisa, and John. Katerina does not have any
answer for the boy who asks why she was standing in the hall after telling her homophobic
classmate to ‘shut up.’ She does not know; she describes her response and the teacher’s
response as surprise. She knew to stop the other girl’s homophobic comments about
Twelfth night, and after that the knowing stops. Before Lisa’s fear sets in about protecting
her family, she initially laughs at her principal’s threats, and thinks that the homophobic
response to her bumper stickers (among other aspects of her life) is ‘ridiculous.’ She has no
sense that anything about her love and family could be construed as something to hide.
John’s response to the hate graffiti is to first dismiss its importance, and second to begin a
discussion with his students on how to fight back. Despite being exposed to a socialization
process of popular and institutional heterosexism, all of the narrators are certain that they
are correct in their affirmation of queer lives.
This confidence in queer affirmation (in Barbara’s case she does not have this language
or understanding but still believes in her right to express her love and admiration for a
‘butch’ teacher) is the foundation for further queer intervention. As both students and
teachers they have already stopped conversation, moved attention from heteronormativity
to queerness, and in so doing called to question carefully constructed categories of gender
and sexuality. As Sears notes, ‘A cornerstone of teaching queerly is to deconstruct these
sexual and gender binaries (deployed and reified through social text and grammar) that are
the lynchpins of heteronormativity’ (1999, 6). As categories of sexual identity break open,
other categories follow. Both Katerina and Barbara will not play the proper social roles:
Sex Education 173
Katerina will not be the proper child, ‘Because I’m a violent child and I’m not afraid to say
that,’ and Barbara will not serve as the dutiful patient of the psychiatrists, refusing to take
their suggestions or buy into their credibility as doctors. Lisa momentarily buckles under
the pressure in order to protect her family (later she chooses another job where she does
not face such threats), but John, with history and job security in his community, pursues a
curricular response to the graffiti. When the administration repeatedly attempts to prevent
their planning, he refuses to be the obedient teacher, and continues advocating for the
learning of his class until they achieve their goal. Initial disruptions of sexual categories
leads to the breakdown of other social roles: child, patient, and teacher. Why submit to the
constraints of these roles when they have already refused to submit to heterosexist
hierarchies? If they have already stood up for themselves, speaking their truths, in one area
of their lives, why not stand up for themselves in other areas? Sears predicted this
expansion of categorical questioning when he defined queer education as ‘creating
classrooms that challenge categorical thinking, promote interpersonal intelligence, and
foster critical consciousness’ (1999, 5).
In two of the narratives, curriculumsupported the queering of education. ‘Queer teachers
are those who develop curricula and pedagogy that afford every child dignity rooted in self-
worth and esteem for others’ (Sears 1999, 5). Shakespeare’s Twelfth night is a model for
learning about sexual orientation and gender diversity. As a respected work of the canon, few
question the play’s central place in an English course, even while it highlights bodies,
pleasure, love, cross-dressing, and same-sex (accidental?) desire. The choice of text opened
up the possibility of queer discussion through literature, rather than blanket silence and
omission of queer lives. Such representation in course content is essential in providing
Katerina, as a daughter of lesbian parents, ‘dignity rooted in self-worth’. However,
the narrative above also shows that queer curriculum needs support from a strong facilitator.
The teacher had little sense of how to direct discussion, once it emerged.
Subsequent to the incident described, one of Katerina’s parents met with the teacher,
and discussed queer educational strategies that could follow up the incident. The teacher
expressed sorrow over not navigating the Twelfth night discussion with more thoughtful
education about LGBT lives. She took a couple of weeks to ponder her next step and then
provided an anti-homophobia workshop for the class. Queer education requires queer
curriculum, but also educators who seriously take the time to consider and return to
upsetting moments. When queer content does find its way into the middle of heterosexist
classroom routines, it can do so unexpectedly and with great force. I suspect that the force
is probably necessary in order to break through the carefully constructed boundaries. For
educators, this can mean complicated queer surprises that catch them off-guard. Queering
elementary education is an expectation of the unexpected, and the use of time to search for
paths to return and respond with more knowledge and empathy.
In John’s narrative, he too was unsure how to teach through the difficult moment when
the class encountered the hate graffiti. He took time and discussion with his students in
order to decide upon the most meaningful recourse. Through dialogue with his students, he
came to realize that the graffiti had wounded all of them, and they needed a collaborative
response. Together they developed ‘restorative’ queer curriculum to guide the course.
Queering elementary education builds upon the notion of learning as a collective, an
integral component of critical pedagogy (Freire 1999). What is powerful as well is this
class’s decision to create a week’s worth of curricular activities. They chose multiple
projects of inquiry and presentation, educational responses richer than a single workshop
or lecture. And, rather than a focus on the hate graffiti, they chose the cultural practice of a
pride celebration, an embrace of diversity and life.
174 K. Pendleton Jime´nez
Claiming a queer caring
Queer Elementary classrooms are those where parents and educators care enough about their
children to trust the human capacity for understanding, and their educative abilities to foster
insight into the human condition. (Sears 1999, 5)
A couple of years ago a friend of mine, a retired principal, told me a story. One day at her
school a young boy asked to bring in his gay father for show and tell, in order to talk about
his life as a gay man and parent. The teacher did not know whether this would be OK, and
therefore asked the principal. The principal did not know whether this would be OK and
called the superintendent’s office. The superintendent answered my friend that this would
not be appropriate and the father was not allowed to present with his son. If she had not
called for approval, the father could have spoken in class. She may have faced angry
parents and perhaps the wrath of a superintendent, but she would have provided an
inclusive school environment that showed proper care and respect for this student and his
father. She told me that it was the only night in 30 years on her job that she could not sleep.
The notion of care is often considered an integral duty of the teaching profession. The
Ontario College of Teachers (2006) Foundations of professional practice identifies care as
the first of four ethical standards. ‘The four ethical standards – Care, Respect, Trust and
Integrity – establish the core ethics of teaching and are implicit in the Standards of
Practice for the Teaching Profession’ (Ontario College of Teachers 2006, 5). Care is not
only a core value of the profession, it is infused in a teacher’s identity. I think my friend
could not sleep because she had failed to live up to her understanding of who she was as a
caring educator. Queer education skills and knowledge may have aided her through the
presentation, but ultimately I believe that it is her ethos of care that would drive the work.
I have discussed what types of actions, sensibilities and curriculum might serve to queer
education, but I want to extend the project to include a claim on this central component of
a teacher’s identity. What if I could convince elementary educators that unless they queer
education, they are unable to live up to their professional identity/responsibility of care?
It is a moral project, also supported by the laws and regulations governing the teaching
profession. The Alberta Teacher’s Association warns teachers of the liabilities they face if
they neglect to approach their profession with care.
The concept that the teacher is acting in loco parentis has gradually evolved through legal
precedent. This means that the teacher stands, in relation to the student, in the position of a
caring parent, as an unofficial guardian. This concept not only allows the teacher some of the
privileges of a parent but also brings with it added responsibilities for the protection of pupils.
(Alberta Teacher’s Association 2008)
Further, case law in both the United States and Canada has found in favor of LGBT
students who have filed lawsuits against educators, administrators and school districts that
failed to protect them (Cook 2007). Care is considered both a value and obligation of what
it means to be a teacher, and I have rarely encountered resistance or disagreement with this
notion. However, how exactly care translates into practice is up for debate. The Ontario
College of Teachers Foundations of professional practice elaborate: ‘The ethical standard
of Care includes compassion, acceptance, interest and insight for developing students’
potential. Members express their commitment to students’ well-being and learning
through positive influence, professional judgment and empathy in practice’ (2006, 9).
The policy is straightforward; the practice is convoluted. For example, how can an
educator show interest and acceptance of an LGBT student, or child of LGBT parents, if
LGBT issues are never mentioned in the classroom? School standards of silence, omission,
and the lack of curricular representations of LGBT lives are institutional failures to care.
Sex Education 175
Fear of sexuality and queer sexuality in particular prevent teachers from performing their
fundamental professional duty. I am reminded of the ‘forbidden love’ of pulp novels,
translated to ‘forbidden care’ of LGBTstudents in schools. Ateacher’s basic responsibility of
care (for LGBTstudents) is perceived as dangerous, exotic, the unspoken. Some children then
become the recipients of care in schooling while others become targets, ‘diminutive GI Joes
and Barbies become star quarterbacks and promqueens, while the Linuses and Tinky Winkys
become wallflowers or human doormats’ (Sears 1999, 5).
Such failure to care for LGBT students (and students with LGBT parents) is situated
within broader conflicts embedded in educational discourse. From my perspective if there
is any value that holds equal or greater importance than the role of care, it is the obsession
over professional boundaries. Teachers are expected to maintain both care and
professional boundaries, as if the latter is a tool to express the former, and not in conflict.
‘Remember . . . a caring professional relationship always helps a student to learn. But this
relationship has boundaries of time, place, purpose and activity’ (Elementary Teachers
Federation of Ontario 2008). The Elementary Teachers Foundation of Ontario guides its
members through the meaning of ‘professional boundaries,’ while conceding that the term
is ‘not easily defined’.
Unacceptable Behaviours
In general, activities which take a teacher beyond the expectations of the employer could
easily qualify as boundary violations. These include: becoming too personally involved with
students – friend, confident, surrogate parent; seeing students in private or non-school
settings; writing or exchanging notes, letters or emails; serving as a confidant with regard to a
student’s decision about his/her personal issues; giving gifts or money to students; inviting
students to one’s home or cottage; having students stay overnight in one’s home/cottage;
driving individual students to or from school; giving one student undue attention; being alone
with a student with the exception of an emergency situation; sharing your personal problems
with students; sharing personal information about a student with a third party; and initiating
physical contact. (Elementary Teachers Fedration of Ontario 2008)
Finally, the instructions note that ‘the most extreme form of boundary violation is that
of sexual abuse against a student. Sexual abuse represents the ultimate breach of the trust
reposed in a teacher.’ While none of these rules (on the surface) would prevent a teacher
from raising LGBT issues in the classroom, the anxiety over the presence of any type of
sexuality emerging in a classroom can silence the instinct of care for LGBT students. As
Luhmann notes, we exist within ‘the repressed state of sexuality within the realm of
education and of the marginalization of lesbian, gay, and bisexual subjects in the
classroom’ (1998, 143; see also hooks 1994). The conditioning of such boundary control
follows from forceful, ubiquitous epistemologies; European colonization emphasized and
depended upon racial purity as a practice for maintaining the most evolved human
species (e.g. sexual desire must be controlled and expressed with specific peoples) (Lesko
2001), and normal heterosexual desire must be maintained for social order, not to
mention the formal and informal naming of sexual sins within religious institutions. In
combination, I believe that our teacher unions, school districts, teacher education
programs, churches, nations, courts, psychiatrists, and scientists have overwhelmingly
convinced our teachers that keeping any kind of sexuality out of the classroom, out of
discussions, activities, and curricula, is probably the only safe way to conduct oneself.
Teachers continue to confuse and equate queer pedagogy with talking about sex. It does
not matter that Katerina only needs a teacher to support her right to defend her lesbian
mothers; the teacher is conditioned (consciously and unconsciously) to avoid any
discussion of sexual identity in order to protect the classroom and her job from the
corruption of sexuality.
176 K. Pendleton Jime´nez
Consider the actions and inactions taken by the educators and administrators in the
four narratives. In each case, it is not the initial expression of homophobia that harms
the authors; rather, it is the teacher’s and/or administrator’s failure to care for them. It is
the sense that the educators/administrators have either neglected to protect, or actively
silenced, the queers under their authority, which inflicts the pain.
Katerina, at only nine years old, possesses the confidence to confront a classmate’s
homophobic remarks. At the moment she responds to Fleur, she is loud and angry,
glancing toward the teacher for further direction. The teacher’s silence, and consequent
decision to send Katerina, not Fleur, into the hallway, leads immediately to Katerina’s
tears. With Lisa, she is not shocked by the common schoolyard insult of ‘fag’ hurled
between boys, nor the parent’s reaction to her ‘celebrate diversity’ rainbow bumper
sticker. It is her principal’s insistence on the removal of her bumper sticker, drawing upon
barely veiled threats of possible harm to her family, which drives the tears and anxiety.
John and his students are not crushed by the vulgar and hateful graffiti directed toward him
as a gay man, instead he experiences trauma when the administration blocks their attempt
to respond to the hate through education. Finally, Barbara’s confessions of youthful
passion are subject to homophobia specifically because of her teacher’s decision to bring
the letter forward to the administration, coupled with the administration’s dissemination of
such precious information to family and community.
The narratives challenge the work of teaching, and what it means to be a teacher. The
authors express the devastation resulting from the perception of a lack of pedagogical care.
In theory, I should be able to just compare the narratives above with this definition of care
to prove that LGBT consciousness and curriculum is necessary in all classrooms. All four
authors would have benefited from a pedagogical approach informed by ‘compassion,
acceptance, interest . . . empathy.’
Perhaps the teacher acting in loco parentis is only an aspiration. Perhaps it represents
the fiction of handbooks and not the complexity of human activity. Regardless, it is a
fiction that these authors seem to be invested in. In particular, the illusion of warmth and
comfort in the principal’s office frame Lisa’s narrative:
cushy, floral-print sofa in front of an antique table, laden with an eclectic array of cups, a plate
of homemade cookies, and a pot of ginger tea, waiting for the inquiring masses to arrive. The
intimate space [the principal’s office] was made smaller by hundreds of cards papering every
wall; mobiles, fairies, and streamers enlivening the air; Celtic music whispering in the
background. (Ortiz 2007, 56)
And in junior high, Barbara’s passion for learning and confidence is driven by her
teacher’s recognition of her work, an intense experience of comfort and care.
She told me I was ‘hyperanalytical,’ which was true and I was happy to accept it as high
praise. And she awarded me first place in the class science project competition. I walked past
rows of black lab tables and up to her desk to claim the prize. When she gave it to me, she also
gave me a really nice hug. I felt completely blissed out in that moment: warm and special and
honored and close to her. I felt a sense of connection. (31)
In the other two narratives, while the sense of pedagogical care is not directly documented,
the shock in response to its absence leads me to believe that both Katerina and John had
been conducting themselves on the basis of an expectation of care. The administrators,
educators and students appear to be deeply invested in symbols and practices of care, even
when there is a failure to provide it. Finally, Katerina’s teacher, through her workshop on
homophobia, and John’s collaborative LGBT pride celebration are subsequent
pedagogical acts to restore care to their classrooms.
Sex Education 177
The narratives question the teacher’s professional role. Which rule/discourse should the
teacher follow: providing the duty of care for all students, or maintaining a classroom free
from any notion of sexuality? I believe that the notion of care is a potentially powerful tool
for queering elementary education. These narratives call upon the educator to fulfill the role
of the caring teacher despite the conflict. These narratives demand more. It is my hope that if
teachers are convinced that their responsibility of care necessitates the caring of LGBT
students, that it implicates the very core of their teaching identities, then they might access
the LGBT resources readily available in print and on the internet. They would feel obligated
to express care for their LGBT students, care for their heterosexual students to learn about a
more complicated and accepting world, and care as ‘showing interest in the knowledge
available’ (Howse 2008). It goes beyond the inclusion of LGBT curricula and ‘draws on
pedagogy’s curiosity toward the social relations made possible in the process of learning’
(Luhmann 1998, 141). It is a queer attempt to claimpart of the most sacred of teacher’s roles;
many teachers feel love and pride in their role as nurturers. It is an offering of a comfortable
role beside uncomfortable issues. It is a destabilizing and conflicted request for teachers to
step up, and embrace, more thoroughly, their professional responsibilities.
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