It’s Still Elementary (ISE), a retrospective documentary featuring the motivations behind and public’s response to the controversial 1996 It’s Elementary (IE) film on homosexuality, premiered Wednesday, November 28th at none other than the National Education Association’s (NEA) Washington, D.C. facility. Groundspark Staff Producer Sue Chen publicly thanked former NEA President Bob Chase at the event for his long-time support of the It’s Elementary project during his time in office, saying “thank you so much for your courageous leadership on [It’s Elementary]. It took real guts. . .for the NEA to be out in front on these issues.”
The NEA has a prominent record of considering Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) discrimination a civil-rights issue that must be addressed in schools. The 2007 NEA Convention Resolution B-11 states that teachers should “Eliminate subtle practices that favor the education of one student over another on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identification, disability, ethnicity, or religion” and “encourage all members of the educational community to examine assumptions and prejudices, including… racism, sexism, and homophobia.” The 2007 NEA Convention Resolution F-1 also states that no public school personnel should be “employed, retained, paid, dismissed, suspended, demoted, transferred, retired or harassed” based on discriminatory factors, including “gender, sexual orientation or gender identification.” Not content with the fact that 29% of districts train teachers to deal with LGBT issues, former NEA President Chase argued at the premiere that with 71% left behind “there’s still an amazing distance to go.”
Groundspark, formerly known as the Women’s Educational Foundation, released its original IE documentary as a part of the Respect For All Project. Their website maintains that LGBT tolerance is an elementary school issue because “Anti-gay attacks are the fastest-growing hate crime in the United States. To prevent violence, it is critical that teachers and parents teach respect for all members of our communities.” It also argues that “Negative name-calling begins as early as first grade…[children] know that using these words is a way to put someone down. Schools aren’t introducing these topics” (emphasis original). The end of the 2007 ISE documentary features the statistic that 90% of male school shootings are perpetrated by boys who have born the brunt of hostile, gay-bashing slurs in school.
However, some psychologists believe that children are not capable of reasoning as adults until they reach (or surpass) adolescence. According to Jean Piaget’s theory of developmental psychology, children progress through four stages of cognitive development—sensorimotor (0-2 years), preoperational (2-7 years), concrete operational (7-11 years), and formal operational (11 years and up)—during which time children gradually develop the ability to differentiate between reality and fantasy and later develop abstract reasoning skills.
Chen denies that teachers are overstepping their grounds by discussing gay issues with young, impressionable children in grades as early as kindergarten. “All teachers have the right, and the responsibility, to weave respectful, age-appropriate messages about LGBT people and issues into their lessons and classrooms,” Chen said.
The “New Call to Action” handout issued by the Respect for All Project further asserts that “Educators should not need to seek approval or have parental consent to discuss LGBT people and issues in the classroom in age-appropriate ways, unless the discussion involves actual sexual practices.” Groundspark leaders suggested at the meeting that the 1996 IE documentary and LGBT tolerance-promoting curriculum be incorporated throughout America’s K-12 public school classrooms. Attorney Ruth Borenstein, a Groundspark Board Member, boasted at the event that the IE curriculum is already used in 25 U.S. States, “many of them Red States” and encourages donors to help “spread the word across the country.”
ISE commentators found little problem with teachers unilaterally choosing to incorporate LGBT discussions in their elementary classrooms. Safe Schools Coalition Chair Beth Reis said during the ISE film that teachers don’t need permission to inject LGBT-friendly material into the curriculum because “it’s in their mission statement” to foster safe schools. The SSC, an “international public-private partnership in support of [LGBT] youth,” was launched following the distribution of IE in order to “help schools…become safe places where every family can belong, where every educator can teach, and where every child can learn, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.”
Proponents of the 1996 IE documentary point out that It’s Elementary’s original purpose was to foster tolerance in the classroom, not to indoctrinate students, and has been misportrayed in the media. Chloe Moushey, a repeat participant in both documentaries, called the assumption that education about LGBT issues would teach children to become gay “absurd” and argued that “education is never wrong” because it teaches you to think for yourself. One ISE producer said during the documentary that the Right had mistakenly depicted the original IE documentary as a “calculated attempt by gay activists to recruit the next generation of sex partners.”
However, the 2007 ISE documentary falls victim to the same blanket generalizations and prejudices about the evils of the LGBT community’s own opposition—termed simply in the film as “the Right”— that the Respect for All Project claims to campaign against. After viewing the documentary, attendees are likely to have the impression that parental opposition to the use of the 1996 IE documentary in public schools originated largely within “radical” Christian Fundamentalist groups such as Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition. The new ISE documentary utilizes favorite liberal specters such as Pat Buchanan to communicate a message of uniform rightist bigotry against the LGBT community. Even more darkly, it insinuates that radical, bigoted Christians were ready to commit terrorist attacks against the innocent IE producers for their attempts to shine the light of tolerance into public classrooms. “At that time they were firebombing abortion clinics, so it was not beyond the realm of possibility” that they would come in one day to find out someone had blown up the building, IE Editor Shirley Thompson said during the ISE film.
Bethany Stotts is a Staff Writer at Accuracy in Academia
*I originally reported Samarina Abdul-Karim as saying “’education is never wrong’ because it teaches you to think for yourself.” The correct speaker was Chloe Moushey.