If you haven’t heard this story yet, let me catch you up. An English teacher in Piasa, IL, Mr. Dan DeLong, was suspended for giving his Sophomore Honors students an article to read about homosexuality in the animal kingdom. Unsurprisingly, it takes ignorant, paranoid parents to create a situation like this. (You can check out today’s update on the story on Towleroad and then come back here for my analysis.)
Let’s break this thing down and see how insulting the whole thing is.
First let’s take a look at the article itself: The Gay Animal Kingdom. It describes sexual behavior in animals. It’s a science article about sexual behavior in animals, so, I think it would be pretty hard to describe the pertinent sexual behavior in animals without, you know, describing the pertinent sexual behavior in animals. The result of taking a sincere look at these sexual behaviors leads to some really interesting conclusions:
According to Roughgarden, gayness is a necessary side effect of getting along. Homosexuality evolved in tandem with vertebrate societies, in which a motley group of individuals has to either live together or die alone. In fact, Roughgarden even argues that homosexuality is a defining feature of advanced animal communities, which require communal bonds in order to function. “The more complex and sophisticated a social system is,” she writes, “the more likely it is to have homosexuality intermixed with heterosexuality.”
There should be absolutely nothing controversial about reading an article like this. It’s a scientist sharing her research with surprising results. I would think it very easy to understand why Mr. DeLong would offer such an article. Developing advanced English skills like you would in an Honors English class means being able to comprehend new ideas and respond to them. What better than a science article that totally warps a lot of preconceived notions both in society and in science to create space for critical dialogue in the classroom!
So, what happens next? The parents complain that this is “inappropriate material for sophomores,” the teacher get suspended, and the School Board actually asks Illinois Child Welfare Authorities to probe whether Mr. DeLong’s actions constituted child abuse. Oh, and we can’t ignore the fact that the biggest concern the opposed parents had is that Mr. DeLong exposed the students to “his agenda.”
I’m sorry, but I really struggle to connect those dots. I would hope by the time the students are 15 and 16 they would have learned what sex is (because some of them have already been having it for a couple years). This is an article from a science magazine. I would hope that the school library does, in fact, provide access to science magazines for its students. This is an Honors course, the point of which (I think I can safely assume) is to challenge students and hold them to higher expectations of learning. So what is Mr. DeLong’s horrid agenda? To make his students learn and think about the world—to be able to read about it, discuss it, debate it, and write about it. That’s what good teachers do.
Last night was the big meeting of the school board, and what was the result? We would hope that they would appreciate the innovation and modernity that Mr. DeLong offered his students, who rallied pretty hardcore for him thanks to a Facebook support page. But no, they gave him a remedial warning and made him apologize:
“I agree with the Board that the material in my class was not age appropriate for my sophomores and for that, I apologize. I understand the Board has decided that I shall receive a Notice of Remedial Warning,” he said in the statement.
DeLong also said that the administration’s concerns centered not on “sexual preference or homophobic condemnation,” but rather “the age appropriateness of the material.”
There are probably gay kids in Mr. DeLong’s class who figured out their identities a couple years ago, and by the time they’re sophomores, students are fully functional sexual beings. I fail to see what is not “age appropriate” about studying the behavior of animals and considering how new knowledge would affect the way society thinks.
You know, for as much security as university professors have with tenure and academic freedom, there seems to be little to no trust for educators in public grade schools. Mr. DeLong should have been defended for his teaching, not chastised to cater to homophobic paranoid parents who are afraid of their children learning anything new. He should apologize for nothing.
Our nation needs to grow up. Sex can’t always be taboo. It’s a part of our lives. We can’t hide from it and we can’t treat it like it’s dirty. These kids should be applauded for their scholarship and for the respect they have for their teacher. The school and community should be ashamed that they don’t appreciate what they have in Mr. DeLong.