Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Under Siege

Yesterday a parent filed a complaint with the dean’s office about my freshman U.S. history class. This irrate mother was shocked, SHOCKED!, that I assigned a history of gays and lesbians in World War II. She knows that I am pushing my radical, queer agenda on her innocent son. For this, she said, I should be fired. She stopped herself from asking for my immediate execution.

This morning I received a note under my office door from another student who wants to meet with me. She said that she is “concerned about the course content and direction.” I have a pretty good guess what she has in mind.

I don’t live in some never-never land. I know, for instance, that it is unlikely that Joss Whedon will ask my advice as he directs the Wonder Woman movie (but who will explain Reform Island to him?). It seems even less likely that he will ask me to star in it.

Given this healthy sense of reality, it does not surprise me that assigning gay and lesbian history causes hand-ringing among certain Texans. As I start each semester, I always try to prepare for some backlash against my classes.

What I find baffling about the first event, though, is the way parents perceive their role in universities. Federal Law prohibits universities from discussing a student’s academic performance with parents. Why? Because the law assumes that university students are adults. Yes, adults! Meaning that they are supposed to be able to make their own decisions about course work and studying.

Given the way many students behave, though, adulthood no longer seems to be the expectation. I am convinced that a few students still go home to breast feed, though I have no direct evidence.

I wish that I could claim an ingenious radical queer agenda. My goals for teaching history are modest: I want my students to be exposed to a wide variety of perspectives. Part of going to university, it seems to me, is learning about people and ideas that were omitted (or actively silenced) in their god-forsaken Texas high schools. On my syllabus, I spell out my expectations that we will read historians writing on Latino, African American, Asian, feminist, and queer issues. Naively, I expect that students will be excited to learn things about the past that they did not know. Every semester, however, I face complaints about all or part of these readings.

Fortunately, my department head and the administration supports my academic freedom and the books I assign (even if members of the department do not). For this I am grateful.

I know I could save myself this grief if I taught without assigning these things. I simply can’t teach “by request,” though. Ultimately, I have to do what I think is the most ethical.

Then again, maybe Mr. Whedon will offer me a career change. . .


000000000000000000000000000000000 said...

I think its so awesome thatd youd assign something on the gay and lesbian history. Im reading a book on lesbian history and its so amazing how much is not taught in school. Everything in the book is news to me. I would be so impressed if one of my teachers had assigned something like that in my class. Dont let two people out of how many get to you. We need more people like you teaching. History is history.. why not learn something new.. never before studied in a history course before. You rock! =)

GayProf said...

Thanks for the support! It means a great deal right now.

Greg said...

I wish there'd been more professors at my various colleges like you! There were, I'm thrilled to say, a couple, and it was their classes which made all the difference.

I know this post is a bit of history itself at this point, but I still can't stop myself from commenting to commend you on your efforts, against whatever slings and arrows may or have already come (and I know from the present that your Texas chapter ended unfortunately, well, except for your escape in the invisible jet).