October 23, 2011

Opinion: Teacher Under Fire For Pitching A Fit About Neil Patrick Harris


October is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History Month. Union High School in Union Township, New Jersey placed photographs of Virginia Woolf, Harvey Milk, and Neil Patrick Harris in a display to mark the occasion.

Neil Patrick Harris? Really? This school put a photo of Neil Patrick Harris in a display for LGBT History month? Does an actor coming out of the closet qualify them to be included in the LGBT Hall of Fame? If that was my school I’d pitch a fit too, so it's no wonder that a teacher did the same. Sheesh! I have nothing against the former Doogie Howser, in fact I’d argue that he’s probably one of the most talented working actors in the business today. I just wouldn’t characterize that “coming out” merits inclusion in a LGBT History display.

Now Virgina Woolf, that’s a different story. Her personal triumph over adversity, represented by her poetic novels, and unique narrative, makes her worthy of inclusion. Harvey Milk was the first out gay activist elected to public office. Assassinated at the start of his political career, he left an indelible mark on the city of San Francisco, the state of California, and our country.

High School teacher Viki Knox created an uproar on Facebook, across the country, in New Jersey, and in the school where she teaches. She committed the cardinal sin of publicly expressing her discomfort over the LGBT History Month display at Union High School, who also happens to be her employer.

The New York Times’ Winnie Hu wrote:

“A New Jersey high school teacher became the center of a Facebook controversy on Thursday after writing on the site that “homosexuality is a perverted spirit that has existed from the beginning of creation” and complaining about a school display recognizing October as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History month.

The teacher, Viki Knox, posted a photo of a display from the school, Union High School in Union Township, on her personal Facebook page last week. It included photos of Virginia Woolf, Harvey Milk and Neil Patrick Harris. When a friend asked if the school had really put it up, Ms. Knox wrote that it had, and “I’m pitching a fit!”

In subsequent posts, Ms. Knox, who teaches special education classes, defended her views in lengthy exchanges with other Facebook users, referring at times to God and her Christian beliefs.”

If the Union High School Administration had any smarts, they’d put a photograph of their Special Education Teacher, Viki Knox, in that display celebrating LGBT history. Her ill conceived remarks have been discussed across the country, and brought more attention to LGBT history month, than ever before.


The Newark Star Ledger Editorial Board wrote an opinion that warned teachers to beware of social networks. They said in part:

Teachers may think they’re only sharing with people they’ve selected as “friends,” but privacy settings change all the time. If you join a particular geographic network on Facebook, your postings may be viewed by thousands of strangers. Instead, be smart about it. Have a Facebook page or Twitter feed that you use specifically for students.

Sure, technology changes all the time. But as far as teachers are concerned, the internet is no different than a regular classroom bulletin board. Don’t stick anything on it that you don’t want your students to see.
I think what they say is true, but they’re ignoring a larger issue. When we send our children to school every day, there’s an implicit trust that we have in our local school systems, and that trust extends to the teachers employed by the school district. What this teacher did was violate that trust. The cardinal sin reflected in expressing her Christian beliefs - was that she was calling some of the students in her school “perverted” - as well as any other student wrestling with their sexual identity.

A Union High School student spoke at a school board meeting, about how these comments affected her.

Samantha Abreu, a 16-year-old junior at the school, said during the meeting’s public portion that she took pride in the display because she is gay.

"The exhibit kicked in with the new bully law, and it should have been accepted," Abreu said. "Then she bashed it and I felt disgusted and no longer felt safe."

She no longer felt safe - and that’s the real crime here. Teachers are supposed to set an example, and be above reproach. Can this teacher convince anyone that she can work with students without a bias?

When a parent enrolls their child in a public school --- We expect that every student is given an equal opportunity to learn and succeed, regardless of their gender, skin color, neighborhood, accent, sexuality, religion, country of origin, or socio-economic background. And we demand that our kids are provided an optimum learning environment where they feel safe and secure, free from harassment, bullying and violence - from other students, as well as teachers and school administrators.

Anyone can wrap themselves in scripture, to justify homophobia. Politicians do it every day. Does that make these comments acceptable? Viki Knox and her Christian views should be immaterial when it comes to doing her job, which is educating the students in her charge. If the teacher had made a remark in support of the ten commandments, or said a prayer, people wouldn’t be up in arms. Instead she proselytized, creating a hostile environment where some kids don’t feel safe, which is completely unacceptable.

The only course of action the school district has is to let the teacher go

PS: I was being a little sarcastic about Neil Patrick Harris - he’s a great role model and ambassador for our community!

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