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I recently attended a town hall meeting during which an impassioned public debate ensued regarding the very controversial decision of our public high school superintendent and school board to permit the exceedingly obscene, pro-homosexual play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes to be taught in some senior English classes.
During this debate, the issue of censorship was brought up several times, following which I made the point that if the community were genuinely concerned about censorship, they would be in high dudgeon about the pervasive censorship of conservative ideas and scholarship on the topic of homosexuality. I pointed out that in our school, students cannot make it through freshman year without being exposed to liberal views on sexual orientation, and yet they make it through all four years without ever being exposed to conservative scholarship on this topic.
Following the community discussion, I spoke with a high school student who was covering the story for the student newspaper. I asked her what her peers would think about the censorship of conservative ideas on this topic and was discouraged to learn that high school students would not be offended by this pervasive censorship because they view conservative thought as hateful.
That is tragic and frightening. It’s tragic because these students have likely never read the ideas of conservative scholars. They have not read intelligent, compassionate, erudite arguments, and yet they’ve formed judgments. And it is frightening because it reveals a profound indifference to the process of intellectual inquiry which is essential to ascertaining truth and portends a future of disturbing ignorance.
Moreover, to censor the ideas of conservative intellectuals who are thinking deeply and writing intelligently, cogently, and eloquently is a pedagogical travesty and simply dangerous. Who decides which ideas embody truth and wisdom? Critical thinking cannot take place in an intellectual vacuum. And thoughtful, well-informed, challenging intellectual debate cannot take place without all positions being fairly presented. On the issue of sexual orientation, public schools are neither educating nor cultivating critical thinking. Activist ideologues are indoctrinating using the most superficial of ideas.
I think even our bright, mature, uber-sophisticated high school students might be surprised at what they don’t know. There are Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant scholars who hold conservative views on homosexuality, and there are purely secular arguments against the legalization of same-sex marriage. There are many conservative scholars who are writing from their positions in prestigious colleges, universities, law schools, and think tanks. Their arguments are well-reasoned, sophisticated, compassionate, challenging, and informed by logic, philosophy, history, theology, science, and literature.
If students think they know what the arguments of conservative intellectuals are from the sound bite-driven popular media, they are sadly mistaken. From our popular media, they will not glean even the skeleton of an argument. What they will get is an unsophisticated, editorial comment on an argument that a biased journalist has likely not even read.
I find interesting the oft-repeated suggestion that those parents who object to the inclusion of Angels in America ought to pull their kids out of public schools and send them to private schools. Well, actually, it’s not a very interesting suggestion; it’s a rather tired and tiresome suggestion.
I would like to suggest the radical proposition that when public money is used, those who have a deep longing to have their children study what most people on all ends of the political and philosophical spectrum acknowledge is an extremely obscene and controversial text, should pull their children out of public schools and send them to private schools.
People who are struggling against a depraved culture to inculcate in their children their faith, the beliefs that emerge from that faith, and what were once commonly shared values should not be compelled to subsidize the teaching of a text that undermines everything they hold to be true and good and beautiful. With public money, we should respect the voices of all, which is relatively easy to do with the plethora of truly great texts available that can cultivate sophisticated and critical thinking without assaulting the sensibilities of anyone. Even those who have no children in schools should not be compelled to subsidize ideas and images that they view as pernicious. Advocates and supporters of public education need to understand that they cannot take the public’s money and use it any old way they please. They ought not even attempt to teach material that much of the taxpaying public finds reprehensible.
It is those who seek to teach and study material that violates the consciences of many who ought to pursue private education. Those of us who are willing to accommodate the beliefs of most people by choosing resources that are rich, complex, compelling, but neither extremely obscene nor extremely controversial have the proper understanding of the freedom, limits, and ethical obligations that attend the use of public funds.