“That’s so gay!” yells one of the boys I babysit to his brother, who just missed a layup. The two boys, both in middle school, are fifteen minutes into a one-on-one basketball game. The younger one missed the shot, prompting the homophobic slur. I’m not calling him a homophobe; he doesn’t know any better, right? But then I wonder what kinds of values he learns in school and at home. “Boys will be boys,” their mother says when I bring it up later. But how, in 2017, are kids still keeping these slurs in their vocabulary?
We are currently experiencing a time of great political unrest. We don’t have time for “boys will be boys” or for children to grow up into homophobic adults. We need to be proactive, and we need to raise accepting children who will fight tomorrow for the rights of all. The current state of our nation is dependent on teaching the next generation to be accepting and loving people.
“There is no one you can’t learn to love once you learn their story,” says Andrew Stanton, a writer and director for Pixar. This quote has stuck with me since my English teacher showed it to our class in September. If students were exposed to and learned about all different cultures in elementary school, I am confident they would develop a deeper understanding of their own privilege. If we were to celebrate women and their history, not just in February, but actually as it happened along with our curriculum, I have a feeling girls wouldn’t be talked down to the way they are now.
I always thought piano music was kind of lame. After listening and truly paying attention to classical music and learning about composers like Scott Joplin and Myra Hess, I developed a greater respect for pianists and am now less inclined to call them nerds. Let’s bring that logic into our schools. If teachers can find a way to weave works from women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community into their English classes, children will be less inclined to call their friend’s ugly shirt “gay.” Respecting someone who is different from you stems from understanding their history and culture. When you call someone a “faggot,” do you realize the historical significance attached to that term? Do you realize gay people in nineteenth century America were attacked with burning bundles of sticks, called faggots? Despite the word’s manipulation into modern-day slang, calling someone by the word implies they should be burned at the stake. But I guess that’s okay if you’re just using it with your soccer pals, right? If history teachers take more than ten minutes a year to share the accomplishments of women throughout history, I guarantee the level of internalized misogyny and sexism in schools will decrease. I am not offering a cure to sexism, but I think men will respect women more if they realize their contribution to society over the years. There would be no moon landing or genetic engineering without them!
Look at me, some white suburban girl, writing the antidote to all oppression. No, that’s not what I’m saying. I am saying that we have an obligation to the future of our nation to open our arms and promote equality. We have an obligation to celebrate the great accomplishments all people have contributed to our society, and it all starts in our schools.
It’s no secret that our history classes, textbooks, and curriculums have a bias. Not necessarily a partisan bias, but certainly an internalized white agenda. We are allowed to remember leaders of our country for their accomplishments while accepting their faults. I am not trying to say that FDR was a racist, but we have to accept the facts with a grain of salt. He heaved the country out of the worst economic depression in history, but he also locked away Japanese Americans because of their race. We glided over that part in history, just like we glided over Reagan turning his back on the AIDS crisis because he lifted us out of an economic depression. Students need to understand the good and the ugly when learning history.
On the flip side, when we remember great women for their accomplishments, we are immediately pestered with their faults. “Susan B. Anthony was a racist!” Sure, she was, but so were most white men of this period, and I don’t see that being advertised. Learning history as it happened is extremely vital, but learning and leaving out key chunks of the truth with the excuse that “winners write history” perpetuates a white superiority complex in our society. If we want a future of acceptance and equality, we need to start in our curriculum.
We need well-educated and accepting people tomorrow, and centralizing curriculums to eliminate exclusion can accomplish this. Expose young students to books and poems written by people of color. Show us everything women have contributed to history. We don’t need teachers who deny the existence of Sally Hemings. We need teachers who celebrate works of art, writing, and literature created by all. We need to learn history as it happened, not just a narrow form of history that promotes the acceptance of hate and bigotry. Once we learn everyone’s story, we can continue onto a path of acceptance.