Accuracy in Media

It’s Still Elementary (ISE), a retrospective documentary featuring the motivations behind and public’s response to the controversial 1996 It’s Elementary (IE) film on homosexuality, premiered Wednesday, November 28th at none other than the National Education Association’s (NEA) Washington, D.C. facility. Groundspark Staff Producer Sue Chen publicly thanked former NEA President Bob Chase at the event for his
long-time support of the It’s Elementary project during his time in
office, saying “thank you so much for your courageous leadership on
[It’s Elementary]. It took real guts. . .for the NEA to be out in front
on these issues.”

The NEA has a prominent record of considering
Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) discrimination a
civil-rights issue that must be addressed in schools. The 2007 NEA Convention Resolution B-11 states that teachers should “Eliminate subtle practices
that favor the education of one student over another on the basis of
race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identification, disability,
ethnicity, or religion” and “encourage all members of the educational
community to examine assumptions and prejudices, including… racism,
sexism, and homophobia.” The 2007 NEA Convention Resolution F-1 also
states that no public school personnel should be “employed, retained,
paid, dismissed, suspended, demoted, transferred, retired or harassed”
based on discriminatory factors, including “gender, sexual orientation
or gender identification.” Not content with the fact that 29% of
districts train teachers to deal with LGBT issues, former NEA President
Chase argued at the premiere that with 71% left behind “there’s still
an amazing distance to go.”

Groundspark, formerly known as
the Women’s Educational Foundation, released its original IE
documentary as a part of the Respect For All Project.
Their website
maintains that LGBT tolerance is an elementary school issue because
“Anti-gay attacks are the fastest-growing hate crime in the United
States. To prevent violence, it is critical that teachers and parents
teach respect for all members of our communities.” It also argues that
“Negative name-calling begins as early as first grade…[children] know
that using these words is a way to put someone down. Schools aren’t
introducing these topics. (emphasis original).” The end of the 2007 ISE
documentary features the statistic that 90% of male school shootings
are perpetrated by boys who have born the brunt of hostile, gay-bashing
slurs in school.

However, some psychologists believe that
children are not capable of reasoning as adults until they reach (or
surpass) adolescence. According to Jean Piaget’s theory of developmental psychology, children progress through four
stages of cognitive development?sensorimotor (0-2 years),
preoperational (2-7 years), concrete operational (7-11 years), and
formal operational (11 years and up)?during which time children
gradually develop the ability to differentiate between reality and
fantasy and later develop abstract reasoning skills.

Chen
denies that teachers are overstepping their grounds by discussing gay
issues with young, impressionable children in grades as early as
kindergarten. “All teachers have the right, and the responsibility, to
weave respectful, age-appropriate messages about LGBT people and issues
into their lessons and classrooms,” Chen said.

The “New Call to Action” handout issued by the Respect for All Project
further asserts that “Educators should not need to seek approval or
have parental consent to discuss LGBT people and issues in the
classroom in age-appropriate ways, unless the discussion involves
actual sexual practices.” Groundspark leaders suggested at the meeting
that the 1996 IE documentary and LGBT tolerance-promoting curriculum be
incorporated throughout America’s K-12 public school classrooms. Attorney Ruth Borenstein, a Groundspark Board Member, boasted at the event that the IE curriculum
is already used in 25 U.S. States, “many of them Red States” and
encourages donors to help “spread the word across the country.”

ISE commentators found little problem with teachers unilaterally
choosing to incorporate LGBT discussions in their elementary
classrooms. Safe Schools Coalition Chair Beth Reis said during the ISE film that teachers don’t need permission to inject
LGBT-friendly material into the curriculum because “it’s in their
mission statement” to foster safe schools. The SSC, an “international
public-private partnership in support of [LGBT] youth,” was launched
following the distribution of IE in order to “help schools…become
safe places where every family can belong, where every educator can
teach, and where every child can learn, regardless of gender identity
or sexual orientation.”

Proponents of the 1996 IE documentary
point out that It’s Elementary’s original purpose was to foster
tolerance in the classroom, not to indoctrinate students, and has been
misportrayed in the media. Chloe Moushey, a repeat participant in both documentaries, called the assumption that
education about LGBT issues would teach children to become gay “absurd”
and argued that “education is never wrong” because it teaches you to
think for yourself. One ISE producer said during the documentary that
the Right had mistakenly depicted the original IE documentary as a
“calculated attempt by gay activists to recruit the next generation of
sex partners.”

However, the 2007 ISE documentary falls victim to
the same blanket generalizations and prejudices about the evils of the
LGBT community’s own opposition?termed simply in the film as “the
Right”? that the Respect for All Project claims to campaign against.
After viewing the documentary, attendees are likely to have the
impression that parental opposition to the use of the 1996 IE
documentary in public schools originated largely within “radical”
Christian Fundamentalist groups such as Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition. The new ISE documentary utilizes favorite liberal specters such as Pat
Buchanan to communicate a message of uniform rightist bigotry against
the LGBT community. Even more darkly, it insinuates that radical,
bigoted Christians were ready to commit terrorist attacks against the
innocent IE producers for their attempts to shine the light of
tolerance into public classrooms. “At that time they were firebombing
abortion clinics, so it was not beyond the realm of possibility” that
they would come in one day to find out someone had blown up the
building, IE Editor Shirley Thompson said during the ISE film.

 

Note: In my original column I wrote that “Samarina Abdul-Karim, a repeat participant in both documentaries, called the
assumption that education about LGBT issues would teach children to become gay ‘absurd’
and argued that ‘education is never wrong’ because it teaches you
to think for yourself.” Ryan Schwartz, Media Relations Coordinator for the
Respect for All Project (a program of Groundspark), notified me that the woman quoted
was Chloe Moushey. He did not correct the quotation or the context.

Schwartz did not point
to anything else factually wrong within my column.




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