By Georgianna Reilly, LMSW
SJS Staff Writer
Recently, a middle school teacher in the Detroit, Susan Johnson, area played a the song “Same Love” in her performing arts class at the suggestion of a student. The song’s lyrics support and promote diversity, by supporting same sex marriage and mentioning the harassment faced by homosexual youth. The songs lyrics do not contain foul language or violence, yet after a student in her class complained about the song Ms. Johnson was promptly suspended for three days from teaching, including two without pay.
Is this a type of censorship? Is it Bigotry and ignorance on the School’s part? I for one would say yes and the ACLU and the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Michigan seems to agree:
” “While we are still investigating this incident, it appears that the South Lyon Community School District is taking a stance against diversity and love,” said Emily Dievendorf, Director of Policy for Equality Michigan.
“Suspending a teacher for playing a song with lyrics like ‘love is kind’ and ‘if I was gay, I would think hip-hop hates me’ says more about the school district’s intolerance towards same-sex love than the teacher’s judgment of her student’s music tastes,” said Dievendorf.
“I cannot help but wonder if they would have suspended her for playing a song which speaks positively of opposite-sex love or provides observations on the oppression faced by certain religions,” she added.”
This is what I would want in a teacher, someone who attempts to push the envelope and discuss ‘taboo’ topics while supporting diversity and acceptance. To break the cycle of harassment, hatred and violence we need to start with the youth in every way possible. Unfortunately, many people aren’t ready for this, for the acceptance of others and facing the diversity the surrounds them, and this is a pity.
I think we as social workers should support anyone from any profession who tries to do what Ms. Johnson has. A united front has power than individual entities, and this goes far beyond simply the core values and ethics of social workers or teachers. This is an issue for all professionals to address. I appreciate Ms. Johnson’s attempts at promoting diversity and wish her the best in her efforts in the future! Hopefully this will not hinder her from further lessons in the future.
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Yet should a government-funded, public school teacher be able to push a political agenda during school time? Personally, as a Libertarian I’m fine with same sex marriage. But politics do not belong in schools- pro-gay and anti-gay marriage songs don’t belong in schools, any more than pro-or-anti gun right songs. Proposing a free discussion of issues- I’m OK with that. But I’m not OK with strongly biased positions presented by teachers. If you’re an extremely Christian student and objected, how would you know how much of your next grade is based on your school work, or political backlash?
I completely disagree with Michael. Based on the initial statement that Georgia posted, the teacher allowed a student to share something with the class that was important to them. Based on the Common Core Standards, under which this state educates its children, this can completely be used as instructional material. Students could use it to open the forum for discussion of this issue, relying on textual evidence from the song as well as other sources to support an academic discussion of the issue. Michael has assumed that he knows that the teacher was in some way pushing an agenda, which there is no evidence of, and based on what I’ve now read of the situation, is anything but the case. The religious beliefs argument is also not relevant, considering this is an important issue in politics today. Just because an issue is for some people connected to religion does not make it inappropriate to discuss the issue in a public school setting. Let’s remember that we all learned about various religions in our high school Global History classes in order to understand the history of the world. Understanding contemporary political issues teaches students to think critically and support their arguments effectively, which is now the gold standard through which students in the US are assessed. The decision to suspend the teacher is entirely inappropriate in my opinion because it seems that there was little attempt to explore what actually took place in the classroom, and instead there was another attempt to please angry parents that don’t understand what they’re talking about.
But was there a discussion in class? And THE TEACHER singing a political song supporting one viewpoint over another is hardly a neutral stance. Now, if she played songs from both sides, that would be fair. Sorry, but your bias shows when you utterly dismissed the feeling of religous people. They have rights as well, even if you don’t like them. Heck, I don’t agree with them on the gay rights issues- but if we are to live in a truly free and open society, NO SIDE should be able to unilaterly impose it’s view in a public school setting. Even if you believe yuo are morally superior to your opponent. In fact, it that case, it should appply doubly so.
Here’s the thing though, how many times have teacher’s played songs that were based on male/female relationships at the request of their students without getting suspended because it took a position on sexuality (no pun intended)? The thing to keep in mind here is that this teacher was suspended because the song spoke about sexual equality. I suspect that had she kept the music per status quo she wouldn’t have been suspended as it would have been a non-issue.