NEW YORK City is planning to open a gay high school to ensure gay youths a safe and supportive learning environment.
As a parent, and taxpayer, I am completely in favor of a safe and supportive learning environment for all children. Then why am I feeling a little funny about this proposal?
Adolescence is a tough period for most children. Typical kids deal with many social issues: divorce, unemployment, substance abuse and an array of other ills usually created by adults. In addition, teen-age years are fraught with anxiety on how to fit in.
Gay youths are dealing with the same current social issues created by others. But they have an added burden when it comes to fitting in. To have the added pressure of the critical eyes of peers who not only recognize but exploit differences for sport is excruciating and damaging. For gay youths, who they are becomes the greater issue.
Bullying is a sick and shameful part of our culture that most reasonable people believe to be harmful. Yet it survives. From big brothers sitting atop little brothers and torturing them to the well-known disdain by military schools for female enrollment, there seems to be a penchant, for some, to dominate others with intimidation. Gay bashing seems to start in the playground when the name-caller doesn't know the meaning of the nickname. But he learns.
Some people believe that opening a school for gay youths is akin to having separate schools for fat children, tall girls, kids with glasses or any other group that is teased. I disagree. Likening gay bashing to other teasing may look similar on the surface, but it's not. The difference is that many seemingly rational, nice people regard homosexual acts as taboo. It may be inconvenient or unhealthy to be short or obese, but it's not taboo.
Is it necessary to separate gay youths so that they may concentrate on their studies instead of daily harassment?
There lies my concern. Harassment should not be tolerated in schools, public or private. Many schools have issued zero-tolerance policies in order to maintain discipline. What is missing in our schools that a separate school must be created to keep children safe from persecution? My best bet is that something is missing at home.
Just like the television public service announcements drill into us, children listen to their parents. If a parent is homophobic, chances are that his or her child will ingrain the fear and prejudice toward homosexuals.
Let's talk family values. Should it not be incumbent on parents to teach and expect respect from and for our children in their learning environment? Respect is the foundation of any healthy relationship. Whether that relationship is within a family, a classroom, a neighborhood or a country, respect is the cornerstone of learning and embracing our sameness and our differences.
Parental involvement is essential to healthy, well-adjusted kids. Most of us are involved with our own children and their friends in some way. Whether we volunteer at school, drive in a car pool, coach soccer or deliver the snacks, it is our responsibility as adults to intervene when children shame others.
Adolescence is an important time when children independently continue learning, strengthening and believing the core values their parents taught them. Do we, as parents, want to convey that someone different than ourselves should be isolated for their own good? What does that say about us and about our children?
Shaun Borsh lives in Columbia.
Columnist Jules Witcover is on vacation.