Thursday, April 15, 2010

Gay Day of Silence a Waste of Tax Dollars, Critics Say

Thousands of public schools nationwide will allow students affiliated with a gay and lesbian advocacy group to sponsor an anti-bullying "Day of Silence" on Friday, a demonstration some socially conservative family organizations say is a disruptive waste of taxpayer dollars and a reason to keep kids out of school.

GLSEN — the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network — is organizing the 15th annual Day of Silence for April 16, encouraging students to remain mute during classes to call attention to verbal and physical abuse of gay students.

GLSEN says students at more than 5,000 middle and high schools are expected to participate, and over 30,000 people have joined a Facebook group promoting the effort. Many sport T-shirts or hand out literature promoting alliances between gay and straight students.

But family advocacy groups warn that GLSEN is using the day to try to indoctrinate kids and force a pro-gay agenda into schools — something they want kept out of class entirely.

"I think that we shouldn't be exploiting public education for this," said Laurie Higgins, director of school advocacy for the Illinois Family Institute. "There are better ways to use taxpayer money. We send our kids there to learn the subject matter, not ... to be unwillingly exposed to political protest during instructional time."

Critics say the anti-bullying message could have been spread after hours and off-campus, but GLSEN's choice of venue shows the group's intent for the schools.

"Obviously this is intended to make an impact on the educational environment — otherwise they wouldn't be doing it at school," said Bryan Fischer, director of issues analysis at the American Family Institute. "The only impact it could possibly have would be to interfere with class."

Higgins and Fischer are calling on parents to withdraw their children from classes that participate in the Day of Silence, a move Higgins compared to "civil disobedience" after years of being ignored by school officials.

"This is definitely a last-resort option," she told, "but school administrators have not listened to parents and teachers. Teachers who object to this are afraid to say anything, afraid of personal and professional repercussions."

But GLSEN says feedback from schools has been positive and that teachers are still in command of their classrooms, no matter how many students choose to take part.

GLSEN distributes materials online outlining what students may do during class to support the Day of Silence, and it urges them to contact teachers and administrators before Friday to avoid running afoul of speech laws.

Lunch period is one thing, but during actual classes students "do not have the right to refuse to speak — instructional time is instructional time," said Eliza Byard, GLSEN's executive director. Supreme Court decisions have denied free speech to students inside classrooms — and that precludes any right to silence.

Byard said the Day of Silence has resonated with so many students over the years because it is a peaceful and non-disruptive way for them to make a difference.

The day began as the creation of a college student at the University of Virginia and has spread to thousands of institutions since 1996. GLSEN, which took over organizing the event in 2001, provides organizing instructions to students — even teaching how to create press conferences promoting the Day of Silence.

But GLSEN says urgent action is still needed to address the dangers gay and lesbian students face on a daily basis. A survey conducted by the group in 2007 found that 86 percent of homosexual students reported being harassed at school, and that more than 60 percent felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation.

"The national picture still doesn't look good and the national numbers still remain unacceptably high," Byard told

Byard, who expects this year to be "one of the biggest Day of Silence celebrations yet," said the event is far less disruptive than the backlash against it.

"Participants in Day of Silence go to school, go to class and answer when called upon," she said. "For a family to decide to take their child out of class, it would disrupt that child's learning and that would be a shame."

The boycott of classes is a new tactic being urged by conservative groups to hit school officials where they think it will hurt the most: in the wallet.

"Most schools get reimbursed on the basis of average daily attendance. In other words, they don't get taxpayer dollars for teaching students anything — they get taxpayer dollars for having fannies in the seats," said Fischer, of the American Family Association. "So if you have fewer fannies in the seats that's less dollars for school administrators and that's an incentive for them to do the right thing here."

The family groups also worry that GLSEN's reach into the classroom will continue after the Day of Silence is over. While Higgins agrees that bullying is a problem, she said it would "open a can of worms" to give the group free rein and allow public schools — and public funds — to "transform the moral beliefs of other people's children," she said.

"No decent people want any children to be bullied ... and I think they exploit that sentiment," she said.


"Anti elitist" British school system in fact entrenches elitism

The hated "Grammar" schools at least selected on ability alone. Not so the present system

Top comprehensives are more “socially exclusive” than grammar schools as parents play the system to make sure children get a place, according to research. The most affluent families still have “wriggle room” to get sons and daughters into leading schools, despite the introduction of beefed up admissions rules by Labour, it was claimed.

Academics called for the most popular schools to allocate places by lottery to give all children an equal chance of gaining a place, irrespective of their background.

The recommendations – in a study commissioned by the Sutton Trust charity – come just weeks after almost 100,000 children were rejected from their first choice school.

Some one-in-six 11-year-olds failed to get into the state secondary of their choice for September amid intense competition for the most sought-after places.

Sir Peter Lampl, the trust’s chairman, said a wave of new schools being proposed by the Conservatives should all adopt random “ballots” to stop them being dominated by children from middle-class families.

“Deployed alongside other select criteria, ballots are the fairest way of deciding school places in over-subscribed schools,” he said. “There has to be some way of choosing which pupils are admitted and ballots offer the same chances to all children irrespective of their background.”

In the latest study, academics from Buckingham University analysed the proportion of deprived pupils at each school – and compared numbers to the social make-up of the local community.

Prof Alan Smithers and Dr Pamela Robinson found that the most popular comprehensives, which are not supposed to select pupils, were "more socially exclusive" than England's remaining academically selective grammar schools.

The 164 most exclusive comprehensives took only 9.2 per cent of pupils from poor backgrounds, even though around 20 per cent of children living in their surrounding area were “income deprived”. By comparison, some 13.5 per cent of children from 164 grammar schools were from poor homes.

The study suggested that grammars – which select pupils on the basis of the 11-plus entrance exam – were more transparent as they identified pupils “with talent, irrespective of their backgrounds”.

Comprehensives, which normally admit children by distance to the school gates, give parents more chance to play the system by moving "close to the desired school”.

Faith-based comprehensives, which select on the basis of religious observance, can also be more easily manipulated by parents who “can take pains to demonstrate they are active members of a particular faith”, the study suggested.

Labour has attempted to close loopholes by repeatedly updating its admissions rules. But the report – Worlds Apart: Social Variation Among Schools – said there was “still wriggle room for schools that want to ensure a favourable intake to enable them to show up well in league tables”.

“Our view is that the principal means [of admission] should be by ballot,” it said. “It would be fair and lead to a more equitable education system. “It could be used in conjunction with other criteria, for example ability, faith or location.”


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