American Family Association: More Stupid Than Scott Hochburg
Remember when being quiet in school was expected?
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network has registered five participating schools in Katy, at least two in the Clear Creek school district and more than 20 in the Houston area. The organization estimates that more than 6,000 schools and several hundred thousand kids will keep silent Friday.
Usually these students try not to speak the entire day, although some break their vow if required to participate in class. Many also distribute pamphlets or wear T-shirts, letting peers and teachers know why they're keeping mum. This year, students are protesting in the name of Lawrence King, a California eighth-grader who in February was shot and killed by another student, allegedly because he was gay.
The event began in 1996, but only started getting negative attention recently. In 2005, the conservative legal group the Alliance Defense Fund staged a counterprotest, called Day of Truth, which supports the "free speech rights of Christian students to present an opposing viewpoint to those organizations that promote homosexual behavior in the schools," according to the group's Web site. Then this year, the American Family Association sent an alert encouraging parents to keep kids home Friday if other students at their schools are participating in the Day of Silence.
We all know about politicians and lawyers and pundits, but I am astonished afresh at the sheer blind stupidity of school district superintendents on a regular basis. This week, Texas boasts a particularly inconsiderate specimen:
Alton Frailey, superintendent of Katy's school district, let all teachers know that -- though no one asked his district to participate in the silent protest -- if someone did, "my answer is no."
Apparently good conservative school superintendents -- these are the guys (and nationwide in districts with more than 5,000 students, something like 88% of superintendents are male, and something like 92% nationwide, in schools of all sizes, are white) can't afford to offend Reverend Wildmon's clique.
"There are a lot of misinformation campaigns originating with groups who recognize that the Day of Silence is a very powerful positive thing," said Daryl Presgraves, a GLSEN spokesman.
The AFA did not return a call seeking comment, but one form letter from its Web site notes "by allowing students to remain silent, administrations fail to protect the classroom from intrusive, political exploitation."
The superintendent's letter -- which created its own fair amount of angst among teachers, was accompanied by this comment:
"The degree of exposure and political posturing currently being generated is bringing more attention to this particular subject than is necessary," Frailey wrote Monday in an e-mail that also instructed teachers not to make exceptions for students taking vows of silence.
Lori Wilson was one of the Katy parents e-mailing school administrators. The mother of an elementary student said she started receiving forwarded e-mails about the silent protest back in March.
"It's sad because we can't have a day of silence for prayer, but we can have a day of silence for that," she said.
In Katy, students have zipped their lips in protest before — at least four schools registered last year. This just seems to be the first time the administration is getting involved. The move upset some teachers, even if it eased the minds of parents such as Wilson.
"I was greatly offended," said a gay teacher with the district, who asked not to be identified because he feared backlash. "What is the worst that can happen? Good Lord, how much instruction could you get done if kids were silent for a day?"
Meanwhile, in Dallas, a very different official reaction occurred -- at least in the adult world.
Usually, it's the other way around: Houston's a pretty wide-open town, and Dallas is one of the most uptight cities around. Being from here, I know Texas isn't a homogenous state -- but I have to admit I was surprised to find Big D, known for its conservatism and business-first attitude, taking the lead over the freewheeling Bayou City this time.