I appreciated reading Happel-Parkins and Esposito’s (2015) article on using pop culture texts to help teachers address gender and sexuality-based bullying in schools. At the very end of the article the case of an eleven year-old boy who hung himself just miles from the university where one of the authors teaches pre-service educators is conveyed (Happel-Parkins & Esposito, 2015). One of the authors reflects on how it’s likely she taught some of the teachers who work at the boy’s school (Happel-Parkins & Esposito, 2015). The authors use this anecdote to underline the urgency and importance of pedagogical advocacy for gay and lesbian rights (Happel-Parkins & Esposito, 2015). This struck a chord in me and I spent some time reflecting on the implications Happel-Parkins and Esposito (2015) raise. It makes me think about schools, school systems and school staff that don’t stand against homophobic bullying and other abuse. I’ve been in schools, both as a student as well as a staff member where bullying (including homophobic bullying) has been actively ignored. And it would be a lie for me to say, as I now understand the scope of it, that I have never been a participant (“That’s so gay!” “Don’t be a faggot” etc... were once phrases in my vocabulary but also after I removed these phrases from my vocabulary as a teacher, I initially ignored them coming out of students’ mouths).
For me, one way of looking at this issue is like this: Individual teachers may not be prejudiced or homophobic themselves. But they may work in schools where some staff or the system intentionally ignores the problem of homophobic bullying. They are still part of a machine, or an organization that allows that bullying and abuse to occur.
Oftentimes when it comes to big, challenging issues like this, people resign themselves to the attitude “what can I do? It’s too big a problem!”. I’ve been one of these people too. But this article made me think about schools and teachers. I don’t think schools can or should police language and increase monitoring to identify and intervene in every single instance of bullying that arises. Nor do I think that approach could ever effect change. But, of course, the main purpose of schools and teachers is to teach! And I do think this is where teachers can actually make a difference.
Happel-Parkins and Esposito (2015) advocate using popular media texts to engage students in thinking about and critically analyzing the rights of youth who are GLBTQI. I think engaging pre-service teachers in this kind of critical media literacy work, as Happel-Parkins and Esposito (2015) call it, not only helps them better understand the issues, but it also gives them the tools to facilitate the same kind of learning with their students. And that’s where I think an effective change can be made.