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No Name Calling Week?

“There is a special place in hell for people like you!”

These words were directed at me by a teacher during this past summer’s National Education Association convention in Washington, D.C. This delegate to the NEA convention made his prediction in response to my presence at the NEA’s Ex-Gay Educator’s Caucus booth in the convention exhibit hall. His cheery salutation caught me off-guard given the message of tolerance and acceptance I had been hearing around the exhibit hall. This teacher disagreed with my views of sexual orientation and made sure I knew it.

I thought of this encounter as I perused the list of organizations that have teamed up to bring us “No Name Calling Week” during the week of January 24-28, 2005. Based on a fiction book called The Misfits by James Howe, the purported purpose of NNCW is to raise awareness among school children of how destructive name calling can be. I noted that the NEA was one of the co-sponsors of the week. I had to chuckle as I wondered if this event would be observed at this delegate’s school. While the NEA delegate did not technically call me a naughty name, I don’t think he meant his prediction of a special place as a random act of kindness.

Another sponsoring group is the Gay Lesbian and Straight Educators Network. In fact, the president of this group, Kevin Jennings, is also a national spokesperson for the NNCW. Curious, I have read that Mr. Jennings knows how to call a name or two. In fact, several years ago, he used language in a speech to supporters that might have gotten him expelled from many schools. In the speech, Mr. Jennings was audio taped discussing his feelings about those he labeled, “the religious right.” Concerning those who disagreed with him, Mr. Jennings told the audience:

"We have to quit being afraid of the religious right. We also have to quit -- ... I'm trying to find a way to say this. I'm trying not to say, '[F---] 'em! which is what I want to say, because I don't care what they think! Drop dead!" (Speech at Marble Collegiate Church, New York City, March 20, 2000).

Mr. Jennings and GLSEN have been called upon by numerous school districts to provide in service training concerning sexual orientation. Perhaps the NEA delegate who talked about my “special place in hell” attended one of those training meetings.

GLSEN’s news releases are filled with words like “bigot” and “hateful” and “homophobic” describing people who disagree with them. Hence I am surprised at the choice of Mr. Jennings as a national spokesperson for the NNCW.

Mr. Jennings and GLSEN tirelessly inform us that many students are bullied and verbally attacked at school based on perceived homosexuality. Of course, all such name calling is wrong and schools should insist on a safe environment for all students. However, it does not seem an improvement when the response to name calling is more name calling.

The irony of all of this is that the main purpose of NNCW does not seem to be ending name calling. It is about telling the story of Joe, the “gay character” in The Misfits, the book from which NNCW is derived. According to author James Howe, who is gay, he wanted the Misfits to put a more positive slant on being gay in middle school.

Thus, ideology is the real issue here and not name calling.

In an interview with author Howe, published on childrenslit.com, he says concerning Joe: “I wanted him to be a kid who sees himself as cool, who sees nothing wrong with being attracted to the boy who sits next to him in art class as opposed to the girl on the other side of him. He understands, as do the other "misfits" in this story, that the problem isn't with himself, it's with the attitudes and ignorance of others.”

Mr. Howe’s representation of Joe is not simply an incidental device to encourage civility to those who seem different in some way. Rather, it is a clear bid to change beliefs. Mr. Howe wants kids everywhere to come away from this book seeing “nothing wrong” with homosexuality. In actuality, Joe is not a misfit, he is a teacher, making sure those who disapprove of him get the message that they are plagued with incorrect “attitudes and ignorance.”

Now I know why GLSEN is involved with this event.

It appears that NNCW may be another effort on the part of GLSEN and other event organizers to tell those who object to homosexuality on religious or philosophical grounds to “drop dead.”

Adults: want to end bullying and harassment in the schools? Don’t call names, don’t pit groups against each other, enact anti-harassment policies covering all students and then enforce them. Oh, and do this year round, not just during NNCW.

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Warren Throckmorton, PhD is Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of Counseling at Grove City College (PA). His columns have been published in over 60 newspapers and his research has been published in journals of the American Psychological Association. He can be reached at [email protected]

Warren Throckmorton, PhD

Christian Post Columnist