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    Stephen Miller at IGF posts about an Advocate column responding to the murder at school of a cross-dressing fifteen-year-old who lived in a facility for troubled youth.

    Of course, it’s partially Bush’s fault. No, really. Here’s part of Neal Broverman’s Advocate piece:

    “Part of the role of a school is to teach young people how to function in a democracy,” says Kevin Jennings, a former teacher and the founder and executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, a national organization working to ensure safe schools for LGBT students. “In a democracy we protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. Where are they going to get that lesson? They’ve got to learn it in school.” [Note unassailable logic of preceding sentences–SRK]

    But they don’t. At least not in the way they did before the No Child Left Behind Act was enacted by Congress in 2002 at the Bush administration’s urging.

    “There’s been a real retrenchment of antibullying and diversity programs since No Child Left Behind,” says Jennings. “What that’s done is establish standardized testing as the only measure of good schools. In the late ’90s there was a lot of momentum around multiculturalism and diversity. That was really reversed by this imposition of standardized testing. A lot of educators are frustrated because they understand the importance of addressing some of these larger [social] efforts, but when they try to they’re told, ‘You’ve just got to get the math scores up.'”

    Is standardized testing the only measure of school performance that’s currently given weight? I’m no education expert, but my understanding is that schools are still rated according to their safety standards; it’s hard to believe that a pattern of violent bullying that goes unpunished wouldn’t be factored in there–assuming the reporting administrators are being honest. Keeping schools from finding ways to cook the numbers to make themselves look better has been a major issue since the program was first implemented. Still, that doesn’t mean the shift from trying to teach kids huggy multiculturalism to trying to teach them math is in and of itself a bad one.

    There was a violence prevention program in place at the school that attempted to teach kids how to manage their emotions and empathize with others. Would a gay-straight alliance or more explicit attention to tolerance of gay kids have helped? Possibly.

    Broverman delivers the usual coarse generalities about “violence as a solution to conflict” (bad, very bad), but he raises the common-sense point that maybe King’s elders should have taught him a bit more caution when it came to wearing heels and eye makeup and adopting a flippant, teasing persona in a school full of teenagers. Miller reports that a cadre of social welfare busybodies naturally flipped out:

    Braverman [sic–his name is Broverman according to the by-line] raised serious issues that are certainly worth discussing. But his piece provoked strong criticism from certain activist quarters, as in this Open Letter to The Advocate from “lawyers, advocates, and child welfare professionals” who declare “hiding fuels hatred” and that “We cannot keep children safe by hiding them. Succumbing to fear creates an environment in which hatred thrives. Invisibility is just another, more insidious, killer.” [A dumbfounding thing to say in connection with a child whose flamboyance just got him shot–SRK]

    That sounds a awful lot like the kind of sloganeering that is meant to stifle open discussion rather than foster it. Gay adults know that, if they choose, they can walk hand in hand down a street of a non-gay neighborhood–and they know that in a great many neighborhoods they will risk getting beaten (or worse) for it. That’s a choice adults can make.

    I think Miller shows impressive restraint. What kind of moron do you have to be to go around telling children that they can just go around expressing themselves however they like and expect the world to love them for it? Or even to expect those who do love them for it to be able to bail them out every time they land themselves in trouble? I daresay that most people go through junior high school hiding what they are to some extent; that’s how you get along. Teenagers learn through trial and error, as their personalities are gelling, how much they’re willing to hold back in order to avoid making waves and how much they’re not. This is not just a gay issue.

    In a free society, the authorities aren’t policing everywhere you go and everything you do. You can go about your business as a law-abiding citizen without being watched all the time, but the trade-off is that you can get yourself into dangerous situations when no one is in a position to help you. It only takes minutes to get beaten up, and less than that to get stabbed or shot. (In this particular case, one of the issues is how McInerney managed to get a gun onto school property undetected; but then, if he was that much bigger and stronger than King, he could probably have broken his neck or banged his head hard enough to kill him without a weapon.) Eliminating the real dangers gays face is not going to be achieved by griping that they shouldn’t exist and teaching young people to pretend they don’t.

    Added on 2 April: I originally characterized the junior high school in the story as being for troubled youth because, for some reason, I read the article that way. Thanks to Joanne Jacobs for pointing out that it appears actually to have been a regular old junior high school with some kind of anger management program. I’ve excised the two misleading sentences above, and while I hate to be told I’ve made a stupid mistake, I’m actually kind of glad to learn that particular information about the school. I was originally utterly baffled that counselors would tell a fifteen-year-old that a school for troubled kids was a good place for him to start cross-dressing. I still think they were irresponsible, but I guess I’m a bit less baffled now.

    3 Responses to “Visibility”

    1. I’m fairly sure the boys went to a regular junior high. The victim was living in a shelter for abused and troubled kids — it’s not clear why — and was bused to the local school. The killer came from a violent family with a druggie mom.

      Schools had a lot of trouble dealing with gay bashing before NCLB. They still do. There’s no evidence that the programs designed to prevent school violence or build tolerance actually work. I happen to know that because my daughter worked for the California Education Department for a summer; part of her job was to help schools apply for grants for anti-violence programs and to report on the research (which turned out to be non-existent) on effectiveness.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      You’re right, Joanne–I think I was running together the information about his school and about his residence. Thanks for pointing that out, because it does matter to the story.

      What you say Allison reported about tolerance programs sounds like what people say about D.A.R.E. Artificial thought experiments and things may start some interesting discussions, but they don’t affect behavior.

    3. Maria says:

      Sean, I tried posting this at the IGF posting area and it kept giving me a fatal error, so this is actually in response to your posting and others from that blog.

      There have been many valid points made on this subject. In the big overall picture of a more perfect world, McInerney wouldn’t have been able to get his hands on a gun. Hand-to-hand combat is so much easier to break up when there isn’t a deadly weapon involved. In terms of Sean’s point regarding the teacher should have noticed McInerney being agitated: I know from working with at-risk youth, including emotionally and behaviorally disturbed adolescents, that they can be masters of disguising their emotions, so there may have been no indication whatsoever that McInerney would be pulling a gun.

      In regards to the idea that King should have been educated and prepared about the dangers of the “real world”–he may have been told, and still chose to express himself the way he did. You can’t force someone to change their personality. Some personalities are more bold than others.

      It’s a very unfortunate situation all around. Clearly, McInerney had his own issues that weren’t being effectively addressed. We don’t know what exactly was going on in the killer’s head. He may have hated King, regardless of what King said or did. If it hadn’t been King, it could’ve been someone else. Children, and that’s what they are, are impulsive. “The temporal lobes of the cortex (of the brain)that play major roles in emotions and language do not develop fully until the high school years and maybe later.


      …it takes at least two decades for the biological processes of brain development to produce a fully functional prefrontal cortex (Weinberger, 2001). Thus, middle- and high-school students still lack the brain development to balance impulse with reason and planning” (Woolfolk, A.(2007). Educational Psychology. Boston: Allyn and Bacon., p.24).

      As for the students not turning King in for sexual harassment of McInerney–come on, we all know no one likes a narc, especially at that age.

      So, no, blaming the victim doesn’t work, blaming the group home doesn’t stand, nor does blaming the school. My question is why don’t they prosecute the parent/guardian of McInerney along with the boy? He is a minor. His parent/guardian is responsible for him and that person allowed his/her child to obtain a weapon, whether it was unbeknownst or not to the adult,–the guardian is still responsible… These were two boys, not men. Current neurological understanding of the human brain shows that they were both several years away from having fully developed brains, especially their pre-frontal cortex which is responsible for controlling emotion.

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