In a few short weeks, my boys will be starting middle school. This eventuality doesn’t seem to be looming large in their world: they are live-in-the-moment kids, worried more about whether they can have a popsicle at 2 p.m. and watch a television show shortly thereafter. Middle school? That’s so two weeks from now.
Good thing I’m feeling enough fear for all three of us. When I see 8th graders about town, I can’t believe my little boys are going to be walking halls with these adult-sized children, some with full beards. I worry they will get lost at recess (do they even have recess?). I’m afraid they will not step up to the academic challenges they will face. I am especially worried that one son will wear that shirt on the first day: please god, not the shirt that will immediately mark him as a geek.
What do I not fear? That my boys will be indoctrinated by an evil public school system intent on taking away their ”God-given rights.”
But, apparently, according to Focus on the Family, this is what I should fear most.
In a recent marketing campaign, which includes emails, a new website, and a downloadable pamphlet, Focus on the Family is once again doing what it seems to do best: that is, making good Christian folks suspicious of their public schools, their government, anything that smacks of secularism.
The email I received promised, in its subject line, that it was “Empowering Parents to Protect Students.” The email suggested there would be a lot of conversation in public schools about bullying, and that’s a good thing, right? (Reason #1 I’m worried about my kids and middle school, after all.) But, the email tells us, we need to protect kids not only from bullying, but also emotionally and psychologically, too, which is puzzling, because bullying is so connected to a child’s emotional and psychological well-being. Isn’t it?
Turns out, according to Focus, programs that address bullying are often code for teaching children about homosexuality, which is why parents need to be empowered, and why Focus on the Family is sending out fear-based pamphlets letting parents know their kids are all being taught that LGBTQ students are human, too.
And how will a parent know when schools are “promoting concepts like same-sex relationships”? In the “True Tolerance” pamphlet, Focus lists words parents can look for in their school’s curriculum, so that they know when teachers are trying to sneak in unbiblical messages. These words include safe schools, health education, tolerance, and social justice.
Of course, if Jesus was against anything, it was social justice, so god forbid we ever teach our children anything about equity and justice.
The True Tolerance pamphlet presents a discombobulating array of messages that seem to contradict and undermine each other. We read that bullying is an important matter, and that children need to learn how to identify bullying behavior because, according to statistics, up to 30 percent of children will face some kind of bullying, and that “statistics indicate that race, ethnicity issues, and even opposite-sex harassment account for a large percentage of bullying issues.”
But, the next paragraph suggests that most bullying is not because of sexual identity, but because a child looks different than her peers: she’s overweight, or developing at a faster rate, or has a disability. The natural Focus on the Family conclusion? Although bullying programs in schools should not be about a “narrow political agenda,” they often are, trying to force gay rights on all children.
In other words, it’s those icky homosexuals again, trying to make us think they deserve “special protection” from bullying. As if including sexual identity in any kind of bullying discussion automatically means that LGTBQ folks are seeking special protection, rather than being treated as fully human, just like kids who are overweight or look weird.
I know too well that bullying happens: I was bullied as a kid for falling too far outside gender norms—in other words, for being too much a Tomboy. Back then, the school systems had no programs in place to deal with the way others were treating me, and I often felt like the treatment I received was my own damn fault.
In the last year, my sons have each have faced some kind of bullying in school, one for his skin color and the other for his size. In both instances, I was impressed by the school’s systematic and personal approach to dealing with the issues, and by the bullying curriculum they already had in place that helped my kids identify what was happening and tell us about it before the problem got even worse.
So I’ve seen what happens when schools don’t have a curriculum addressing bullying, and gratefully, what happens when they do. Which fuels my ire at Focus on the Family, an ire that burns deeper with each one of their presumed family-first campaigns, especially as these campaigns always come with a beg for money, as True Tolerance does.
Mostly, though, I fear that parents, at the urging of Focus’s “True Tolerance” campaign, will be suspicious of their schools’ best efforts to combat bullying, undermining the very good work teachers and administrators do to protect all students, the overweight ones, the disabled ones, the ones wearing geeky t-shirts, and the gay and lesbian ones, too. Because all these children were created in God’s image, and they all deserve special protection, no matter what Focus on the Family and its fear-mongering, money-making machine might say.