Obama’s Safe Schools Czar Advocated ‘Queering Elementary Education’

Fred Lucas | October 27, 2009 | 9:34pm EDT
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Kevin Jennings, assistant deputy for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, U.S. Department of Education. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama’s safe schools czar wrote a foreword to a book in 1999 that called for elementary school children to explore their sexual identities, for teachers to incorporate homosexual themes in grades K-5, for discarding a “hetero-normative” approach to education and for “acknowledging children as sexual beings.”
Kevin Jennings, now the assistant deputy secretary for education who heads the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, began the foreword to Queering Elementary Education: Advancing the Dialogue about Sexualities and Schooling (Rowan & Littlefield Publishers) by writing about the Columbine school shooting in Colorado and comparing it to the beating-death of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming and, from there, to the issue of intolerance in schools.
“We remain silent in the face of intolerance,” wrote Jennings, then president of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, an organization he founded. “We do little to teach the values of equality and justice. We simply fail to set any kind of expectation at all that these young people must respect each other even (especially?) when differences among them are vast and profound.”
“Nowhere is this failure more evident than when it comes to antigay prejudice, and nowhere is that particular failure more manifest than it is in our elementary schools,” wrote Jennings.
The book for which Jennings wrote the foreword includes essays from gay and lesbian educators that advocate teaching acceptance of homosexuality in elementary school and kindergarten. (The book is edited by William J. Letts IV and James T. Sears, who also wrote essays for the book.)
In his foreword, Jennings rejects the premise that sexuality should not be taught in elementary schools by arguing that it already is taught, but to instill and promote anti-gay hatred.
“I often find myself confronted with people who attack me for ‘bringing this issue into our schools,’” he wrote. “How laughable this statement is, I think. The reality is that this issue--anti-gay bigotry--is already in our schools. Little kids are learning to hate, and they’re learning it right now in elementary schools across America.”
“Face it: ‘That’s so gay’ has become a mantra of elementary-school children, a mantra invoked whenever a child encounters something or someone they do not like or understand or appreciate,” Jennings wrote. “But the hatred and attitudes they express are not the exception--they are the rule. And we shouldn’t be surprised when troubled people vent their rage in murderous fashions on those they learned it is okay to hate.”

Jennings also criticized conservative political figures in the foreword. 

“I’ll admit that in a world populated by the likes of Jesse Helms and Gary Bauer and Pat Buchanan, we can’t blame our schools for all the prejudice we see visited upon queer people,” Jennings wrote. “After all, when the senate majority leader [Trent Lott] compares us to kleptomaniacs, it’s hard to blame bigotry entirely on one’s third grade teacher (although one wonders exactly who Mr. Lott had for his teachers given the profound level of ignorance that pours forth from his mouth).”

To accuse any individual who does not share Jennings’ opinion of hate is a means of silencing debate, said Gary Bauer, president of American Values, a pro-family advocacy group.
“I recall when Matthew Shepard was murdered and a number of people singled out James Dobson as being responsible,” Bauer told CNSNews.com. “Such charges are obscene. The only purpose is to try to silence debate and expression of traditional values.”

On page 9, one of the book’s editors, James T. Sears, states, “Acknowledging children as sexual beings or allowing males (particularly homosexuals) to teach in elementary grades dislodges the classroom from the ‘safe haven’ of heteronormativity.”

Sears, identified as an “independent scholar” living in South Carolina, continues, “Childhood innocence is a veneer that we as adults impress onto children, enabling us to deny desire comfortably and to silence sexuality.”

He also wrote, “Allowing children freedom to develop their sexual identities absent guilt or conditional love is an important attribute of queer households (and classrooms).”

"Heteronormative" is described in Chapter 9 as framing education in such a way that heterosexuality is normal while anything else is abnormal. On page 103, the chapter’s author William J. Letts IV, one of the other editors, denounces a text that explains the difference between boys and girls. He writes that schools push for boys to play with G.I. Joe action figures and girls to play with Barbie dolls as part of a larger social push. 

“Boys don’t have to stand to urinate (nor do girls have to sit--they could squat),” wrote Letts, adding, “that’s just how they got conditioned.” Letts is a former elementary school science teacher.

In Chapter 3, Kathy Bickmore writes, “The first reason to discuss sexuality in elementary school is that it is already present in students’ lives. Assumptions about children’s ‘innocence’ regarding sexuality are outdated.”

On page 21, Bickmore, who taught education at the University of Toronto, wrote: “Sexuality and homosexuality in particular, is generally seen to be unsafe content for young children’s classrooms. This assumption misjudges what many children already know about themselves and their world, and also misses the point of what helps an ‘innocent’ develop into a self-sustaining ‘citizen.’”

President Barack Obama speaks to a joint session of Congress on the health care plan he prefers on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2009. (AP Pool Photo/Jason Reed)

This month, 53 House Republicans sent a letter to President Obama asking him to remove Jennings from the Department of Education.

“As the founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Mr. Jennings has played an integral role in promoting homosexuality and pushing a pro-homosexual agenda in America's schools--an agenda that runs counter to the values that many parents desire to instill in their children,” the letter said. 

“As evidence of this, Mr. Jennings wrote the foreword for a book titled Queering Elementary Education: Advancing the Dialogue About Sexualities and Schooling. Throughout his career, Mr. Jennings has made it his mission to establish special protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students to the exclusion of all other students,” the letter said. 

“The totality of Mr. Jennings' career has been to advocate for public affirmation of homosexuality,” it said. “There is more to safe and drug-free schools than can be accomplished from the narrow view of Mr. Jennings who has, for more than 20 years, almost exclusively focused on promoting the homosexual agenda.”

Jennings’ foreword indicates what kind of agenda he brings to his government office, said Bauer. 

“A person’s history tells us a lot about what they will do in a position of power,” Bauer told CNSNews.com. “Most parents, including millions of people that voted for Barack Obama, will not be and should not be comfortable with someone like Mr. Jennings’ agenda for elementary school children.”
A spokesman for the Department of Education could not be reached for comment Tuesday despite repeated inquiries. 

Also, two pro-homosexual rights groups--the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation--did not respond to inquiries from CNSNews.com  about Jennings and the book.

Another essay in Queering Elementary Education says, “Choosing literature for children with explicitly gay and lesbian themes, characters and situations is a direct approach to including part of many children’s’ home lives.”

This essay by James R. King and Jennifer J. Schneider, both of the University of South Florida, further states on page 131 that, “Teaching homosexuality is precisely about differences, learning from differences and broadening the ways we understand others. The combined fears of sexual taboo and job insecurity (either real or imagined) have proved sufficient to keep homosexuality in the classroom closet. We can no longer afford the heterosexist elitism. Our students already know better (and worse).”

An essay by Kevin P. Colleary, who was a doctoral student in education at Harvard University, asserts on page 157 that, “Whenever a discussion of family or community occurs--both topics of greater importance in almost all grades K-3 social-studies curriculum documents--there is an opportunity to talk about gay and lesbian families, and/or specific communities or neighborhoods where many gays and lesbians lives in almost every major city.”

The book’s fourth chapter begins with a scene of kindergarteners reenacting Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It goes on to ask why not envision another reenactment. “Children have made a banner that says ‘Stonewall Inn.’” The reference was to a June 1969 riot by homosexuals outside the Stonewall bar, a riot viewed as a civil rights watershed event among gay activists.

That chapter was written by Betsy J. Cahill of New Mexico State University and Rachel Theilheimer of Manhattan Community College. The two go on to write: “Teachers can tell children about the lesbian and gay people they know or know about. In the video, It’s Elementary, a teacher and children brainstorm ideas about gays and lesbians. They listen to music by musicians such as Elton John and Melissa Ethridge. In a discussion the teacher points out that the musicians are gay. This is one example of how a teacher might formally teach about gays and lesbians.”

In Chapter 8, Eric Rofes, who taught at Bowdoin College, writes about whether he influenced any of his elementary students to become gay. He was only able to locate eight former students from an elementary class he taught 20 years earlier. He found that these students were not gay. 

But he said an openly homosexual teacher can encourage a new generation of activists. “Finally, the greatest influence of openly lesbian, gay and bisexual teachers may be on students’ relationships to political activism, and social movements,” he wrote. “By witnessing up close the importance of political advocacy on a teacher’s job security and social position, children’s understanding of the importance of activism and its relevance to their lives might be enhanced.”

In an essay addressing how universities can work with school districts, Kate Evans, a professional writer, wrote on page 245, “University administrators can place student teachers only in schools that include sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination policies. If university allies discover local districts without such policies, they can work toward change by speaking at school board meetings and talking with professional contacts.”

In the book’s final chapter, Margaret Mullehern and Gregory Martinez, both of Boise State University, write about the challenges of including homosexuality in school multicultural programs.
“As teacher educators, we feel responsible for educating pre-service elementary teachers about how they can help children understand the damaging effects of homophobia and the positive contributions of gays and lesbians,” they wrote on page 255. “Thus, the decision to include sexual orientation in our multicultural education courses was easy.”

“However, as this chapter details, teaching queerly required more than a conviction,” they continue on page 255. “Confronted with a lack of knowledge and remnants of the homophobia we had grown up with, we had to peel back layers of fear and discomfort and educate our selves.”
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