17 July 2011

The School Climate Survey

Eva Genevieve has posted something on her blog that I'd like for you to see--especially if you're in high school, have recently graduated or have children, friends or acquaintances who fit into either category.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network is doing its annual school climate survey.  Of particular concern are the bullying and harassment that too many LGBT students--or students who are simply perceived as LGBT--endure as part of their days at school.  Unfortunately, some students drop out of school because of the violence they experience.  I could have been one of them; the only thing that saved me from such a fate was becoming an athlete and intimidating other people.

Some people argue that young people--not only those who are LGBT--must learn how to endure the taunts, insults, threats and other forms of intimidation they experience.  I've heard more than one adult say that "bucking up" and "sucking it up" will build their character and make them tougher.  I've also heard plenty of other people say that gay boys should "butch up" or "man up" and that lesbians--particularly the "diesel dykes"--should make themselves more feminine.  You can only imagine what they say about trans kids.

I must confess that at one time or another, I said exactly the same things.  Such behavior, of course, was part of my "cover":  Even well into adulthood, I didn't feel safe in expressing any sort of sympathy, much less empathy, for "queer" kids (or adults, for that matter).  Plus, like too many other people who have endured misfortune, I told myself that it somehow made me better and stronger, and that others needed to do the same.  I guess it's a bit like those doctors who supervise medical interns and believe those interns need to experience as much sleep deprivation as possible because that is what they themselves experienced during their internships.

Suffering does not ennoble people, or make them more empathetic. Yes, some people do indeed become kinder and more understanding after suffering.  But it's not the suffering itself that does that; rather, it's the way the person who suffered internalizes and uses the lessons learned from the experience.  Some would argue that we are animals, programmed to strike back at whoever strikes us.  Perhaps we do have that collective memory, or whatever you want to call it, of more brutal times and conditions.  But, as humans, we also have choices as to how we respond or react to our personal and collective tragedies and sufferings.

Besides, if we're teaching kids that the only way to survive is to be mean and tough, and to strike back even harder than we're struck, what kind of a world are we creating?  If that's not Social Darwinism, I don't know what is.  I don't know anyone with an emotional age of more than twelve who wants to live in such a world--or, more accurately, who thinks that is the only kind of world we can inhabit.

If a child does not have a safe environment, I don't know how he or she can live up to his or her potential--unless he or she is truly exceptional.  And to say that someone has to be exceptional simply to have the right to live is, to me, profoundly disrespectful.  How can a society in which people say things like "Children are our future" allow any conditions that so inhibit the right of kids to grow and prosper--as the unique individuals they are?

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