I don’t normally do memorial posts, but I have to type a brief note on Howard Zinn due to the impact he had on my life and my academic path. I was never a big fan of history, see. I kind of hated it, which now is hard to believe, but the history you learn in grade school is pretty narrow. In 11th grade, though, we read a chapter of A People’s History of the United States and it blew my mind. This guy was for real. Since then, I went on to get a degree in history, and I think the exposure to Zinn was a big part of the turning of the tide. So hats off to you, Sir, for daring to tell a fuller version of the story. And if you haven’t read A People’s History, pick up your copy today.
I saw a blurb on my Google Reader this morning from the Times book review about a book where one man argues that college is not for everyone and another that college should stick to the basis. Those arguments always get to me, and here’s why.
The basics are what you learn throughout school. Obviously they’re fundamental, which is why they’re required. It’s probably not a bad idea to have a core curriculum in college as well. However, by the time you get there, you know whether you like/are good at math, science, english, and social studies already. If you like them, go for them! But if you don’t, you should have other opportunities. I think college is for everyone, if you find the right environment, are able to get financial support, and find a subject you really love.
Even within the basics, there are branch offs I imagine the back to basics folks might cut. For example, art history, creative writing, poetry… I’m afraid I can’t speak with authority on math or science, but there are certainly some “off beat” things there, too. What about computer science? For me, I hated history right up until 12th grade, when I took AP European. Suddenly, there was history that was interesting! And if my school had offered Middle Eastern or African or some other histories besides Europe, America, and a wee bit of Asia, I would have been thrilled!
And then there are the subjects outside the basics that most high schoolers don’t even know about. I tutored a junior high student for a while, and she wasn’t interested in college. But when I started telling her about the kinds of things you can study, I could see an interest sparking. She was kind of going in an English direction, so I told her about creative writing, journalism, communications, etc. and she’d never even considered these options. For me, I wish that I’d discovered sociology and anthropology earlier but I didn’t even know what they were, really, until late in my final semester of college and never got to take a class. Languages – we should be offering more, not fewer! People get really interested when a school starts offering Arabic. For me, going from UMBC to law school at Iowa, I wish that I had gone here for undergrad whenever I look at the course catalogue. Whole classes dedicated to a single poet! Israeli literature! History of the Islamic religion in the context of human rights! Croatian! Don’t narrow the curriculum, folks. You’ll get more kids like me who as sophomores, are seriously tempted to drop out, no matter how smart they are, because there’s just nothing there. Do we really want that?
There’s been a story circulating around the Internet about how the principal of a South Carolina high school chose to resign when students chose to form a GSA (Gay Students Association). Now I personally don’t have a problem with the man’s choice. It seems like he handled it very well – he made it clear that it was for personal and religious reasons that he was leaving, he decided to stay out the term until 2009, and he indicated that he wouldn’t be mentioning to the students his specific reasons for leaving when he made the announcement to the school. He also, as far as I can tell, didn’t block the formation of the GSA in any way.
The part of this news that made me think, though, was something in his letter of resignation. What troubles him is that this and no other club deals with students’ “sexual orientation, sexual preference, and sexual activity” and that the way he sees it, the club requires acknowledging that students are sexually active with a certain sex, whether the same, different, or both.
Wait, what? Back that train up, please. Besides the obvious problem that others have pointed out in blogging about this article with sexualising the gay movement in general, I’m a little concerned about this specific context. Coming out, to yourself or to others, doesn’t mean anything about how sexual you are. Whether or not you are attracted to someone of the same sex is relevant, but sexual experience is in no way required to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or anything in between – including straight. If sexual experience were the only indicator, I’d be straight, and I’m sure as hell not.
But it’s not just that alone that bothers me, it’s the inherent assumption here. In order to be gay, he seems to be saying, you have to admit that you’re sexual with someone of the same sex. Is the same true in order to be straight? I actually think it might be almost all right if we just said, no one is anything until they have sex (putting aside the obvious huge problems with basing orientation entirely on experience). It wouldn’t really be accurate, but at least it would be equitable. Instead, I think what we obviously say in society is that everyone is straight by default. Straight is the presumption, that has to be rebutted. How do we rebut it? By having sex. Hmm.
So what we’re saying, I suppose, is that people are straight until they have a same sex experience. You can’t have an abstinent gay person. And I suppose it would be problematic to require straight people to have sex to prove their straightness, because, well, if you fall into a certain religious group, they’re not supposed to be having sex in the first place until they’re married. Queers can’t get married, so they might as well go have sex? Oh, I don’t even know.
Thinking back, I realise that I encountered this attitude quite a lot when I was younger. I said I was bisexual (which is how I identified till I was 21 or so) and people would say oh, okay, that’s great, well you don’t really know until you’ve tried it, but good luck! Even people who were completely okay with LGBT folks, my family included, would put it that way. This may have been because I very aggressively tried to be cool as a kid, and cool included being girly and boycrazy, so I seemed rather obviously straight, but even so, I think all this really does is encourages kids to go out and have sex to prove you wrong (whether they’re ready or not). Now that I’m older, people assume that, because I say “I’m a lesbian,” that I’m sexually experienced with women. The fact is that I’m not really, mainly because of timing (my one serious relationship with a girl was in high school) and the fact that I’m very picky about relationships and enjoy being single, so I’m less experienced than some people my age. I don’t really mind that assumption so much, but I think that in general it’s a good rule of thumb not to assume. Sex and sexuality are obviously related, but there’s no correlation between sexuality and how much sex you have.
Just food for thought.