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Hemant Mehta

Views & Voices

Illinois Family Institute issues ridiculous back-to-school warnings for parents

Wednesday, August 8, 2012
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Before you go back to school, the Illinois Family Institute wants to remind Christian parents everywhere how they can go after those damn teachers who challenge students’ thinking.

No joke. Laurie Higgins‘ piece is entitled “Challenge teachers, not books” (PDF). Because, as we all know, teachers who discuss banned books are the real problems with our schools.

Parents can object to teachers rather than texts. Here are some suggestions for parents who are fed up with the subtle and not so subtle messages that activist teachers of a liberal bent work into their classroom teaching…

My favorite piece of advice to parents has to be this one:

Students usually know who the liberal, activist teachers are. Liberal teachers develop reputations, often as the “cool” teachers.

NOOO! NOT THE COOL ONES!

Umm… I work with students (unlike anyone at IFI). If you talk to them, then you know that they never say, “Mrs. Whatever is cool because she’s a liberal activist.”

The cool teachers, in their minds, are the ones who can teach effectively. The ones who make you work harder because you want to do well in their classes. The ones who remember what high school was like and can empathize with students’ struggles. The ones who challenge students’ thinking from all sides and make them see things in different ways.

The cool teachers are not the ones who wear their personal politics on their sleeves and make conservative Christian students feel like shit. Those teachers — if they existed — would be just as unpopular as any who promote their Christianity in the classroom (which, by the way, IFI is perfectly fine with, seeing as they thought teacher Bradley Johnson was just presenting “diverse viewpoints that include God’s place in American history and culture” when he hung Christian banners in his classroom).

And I think Higgins is going after me again, because she has it out for triangles, the devil’s favorite shape:

If parents have children who have already gone through the school or have already completed a year or more, they should ask those children and/or their friends or friends’ parents which teachers are known for bringing their politics into the classroom or who displays a “Safe Space” sticker, the inverted pink triangle, the rainbow flag, or the lower case Greek letter “lambda” on their desk, classroom door, or wall.

No lambda?! Oh no! Conservatives are now going after Physics and Chemistry classes, too!

Maybe I should replace all the x’s in my math equations with lambdas, just to freak IFI out. Or rearrange my desks in the shape of a triangle…

And what’s the problem with “Safe Space” stickers? Is IFI that afraid to let LGBT students know that they have nothing to fear in the classroom? Would they rather those students feel isolated, abnormal, and lost? Because that’s how they tend to feel now, in large part thanks to the propaganda pushed by evangelical churches. It’s disgusting how much contempt IFI has for teachers who make minority students feel loved and accepted.

Finally, this step borders on crazy:

Parents can go to their middle school and/or high school websites and find out which teachers sponsor gay and straight alliances and liberal political activist groups (e.g. AWARE).

Why? What would it matter? Teachers are legally allowed to be sponsors of those groups. If the GSA needed a faculty sponsor, I’d step up. If an atheist group ever formed at my school, I’d sponsor that, too. And if a Christian group couldn’t find a sponsor, I’d bite my tongue and help them out because they also have a right to meet after school and discuss their beliefs.

This must appear in Laurie Higgins’ nightmares.

Just because teachers are sponsors of religious or political groups doesn’t mean they endorse the groups nor does it mean they espouse those views in the classroom.

But IFI won’t say that. They know damn well that the Equal Access Act says exactly what I just did — that teacher sponsorship of a club isn’t the same as endorsement, that political/religious student groups have a right to form in schools, that expressing concern for bullied students ought to be encouraged instead of condemned, etc. — but instead of explaining all that in a balanced way, they just try and scare Christian parents into thinking that liberal teachers ought to be avoided at all costs. (And, presumably, that IFI needs money to keep fighting this fictitious battle.)

This is the unfortunate (for them) position IFI has put itself in. They have to make up problems to solve because no real ones exist. Anything they accuse liberal teachers of doing, they know Christian teachers have done the exact same things in a much more egregious way.

For example, IFI wants to stop things like the student-led Day of Silence (for LGBT students and their allies) because it’s an example of “politicizing the classroom.” But that argument gets them nowhere because conservative Christians already promote the “Pro-life Day of Silent Solidarity” in the classroom, and IFI has never said a word against that event whatsoever.

They want to rail against liberal teachers — even ones like me, who keep our religious beliefs out of the classroom — but they’re silent when it comes to Christian teachers who proselytize instead of teaching. And you can bet that happens far more often.

They’re hypocrites who refuse to acknowledge it and school districts know better than to take them seriously.

That’s why IFI has to make up fake enemies. That’s why they go after atheist teachers and English departments and pink triangles and lambda symbols. Because the teachers who preach atheism or Islam or Hinduism in the classroom don’t exist. Preaching instead of teaching is something certain Christians do, not the rest of us.

And if you’re a Christian and you agree with me, then say something about it to them. Stop being silent. It’s not like they care what atheists have to say.

On the brighter note, IFI staffers won’t be teaching in any public schools this fall.

But I will be.

Me and my evil, liberal, hippie, godless, proof-loving, triangle-drawing, “cool” ways.

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