Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Idiots, Morons, and Losers

Sorry, I just wanted to make sure I put that into the title, so that it wasn't too close to this story about "No Name-Calling Week"...

Using a young readers' novel called "The Misfits" as its centerpiece, middle schools nationwide will participate in a "No Name-Calling Week" initiative starting Monday. The program, now in its second year, has the backing of groups from the Girl Scouts to Amnesty International but has also drawn complaints that it overemphasizes harassment of gay youths.

The initiative was developed by the New York-based Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, which seeks to ensure that schools safely accommodate students of all sexual orientations. GLSEN worked with James Howe, the openly gay author of "The Misfits" and many other popular children's books.

"Gay students aren't the only kids targeted — this isn't about special rights for them," Howe said. "But the fact is that 'faggot' is probably the most common insult at schools."

"The Misfits" deals with four much-taunted middle schoolers — one of them gay — who run for the student council on a platform advocating an end to nasty name-calling.

GLSEN is unsure how many schools will participate in this week's event, but says 5,100 educators from 36 states have registered, up from 4,000 last year. Participation in a related writing-music-art contest rose from 100 students last year to 1,600 this year; the winning poem was written by Sue Anna Yeh, a 13-year-old from Sugar Land, Texas.

"No Name-calling Week" takes aim at insults of all kinds — whether based on a child's appearance, background or behavior. But a handful of conservative critics have zeroed in on the references to harassment based on sexual orientation.
I think both the promoters and the conservative groups are off track here. First, having one week where kids aren't supposed to call one another names implies that civility should not be a concern the other 51 weeks of the year. Hell, later in the article, one of the promoters actually acknowledges this fact, but seems to think "raising the visibility" of the issue is more important. Yeesh. In all seriousness, wouldn't it just be better if schools actually promoted civility year-round?

Second, there's a stench of hypocricy on both sides to this. Many of those protesting the idea of tolerance for gays being taught actually come from religious backgrounds that teach tolerance, so one might think twice about looking at this in the same way. In the meantime, many of the same folks promoting such a program would be the first to find an ACLU rep and sue if someone tried to teach tolerance using quotations from a Bible in a public school.

Finally, I'm really tired of victim mentalities. Is middle school a tough place? Heck yes. But so's the real world. People can be cruel for absolutely no reason -- for example, some people actually expect me to work for my paycheck. Someone's calling you a name? Worse things will happen to you. I'm not saying that kids aren't particularly vulnerable to adverse effects from insults. But promoting a one-week break is hardly the way to solve their problems. Do they spend the rest of the year wearing earplugs?

Finally, focus on this quote from one of the promoters:
"People who would criticize this, regardless of who came out with it, are people with bad hearts," said Jerald Newberry, who directs the NEA's health information network.
Hey! You insulted me, in the middle of No Name-Calling Week! I'm gonna tell!


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