March 10, 2006

Media mayhem in Miami

Today's Miami Herald tells the story of Miami Sunset Senior High business and technology teacher Donna Reddick, whose anti-homosexuality comments in a student-journalist video series have sparked discussion of whether out-of-classroom remarks by school employees in a student-journalism project is protected speech or makes it difficult for her to teach gay students (or, more properly, difficult for them to trust that she'll treat them in a non-discriminatory fashion).

Her comments were in the last segment of a video series shown at the school, on a topic the students chose (views towards homosexuality). Previous segments had included views of students and other staff that were positive or neutral, and according to news reports Reddick's statement was part of a segment featuring comments critical of homosexuality. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sexual sins, which included homosexuality, she told the student journalists.

More on the jump...

If the reporting is accurate, here are the salient facts:

  • Reddick's comments were not made in class.
  • Reddick's comments were in response to a request by the student journalists and helped them fulfill an assignment.
  • Reddick did not address or attack the integrity of individual students.
  • The series sparked plenty of discussion in the hallways of the school.

First, it's clear that the student journalists succeeded spectacularly in prompting discussion on the topic. I suspect that most gay students at Miami Sunset will learn that their peers support their rights to an equal education and life outside school, as do a majority of teachers (if less flamboyantly than students). Might some feel uncomfortable around Reddick? Yes, but I don't think discomfort is a reason to punish a teacher for comments made in response to a direct request by students. (Apparently, school district administrators haven't ruled out disciplinary action against Reddick.) Teenagers are old enough to know about "sticks and stones."

Second, the context is important. I could see far greater grounds for concern if the comments had been in her class, directed at specific students, or in environment with preexisting anti-gay violence where similar remarks might be a red cape for those bent on hate crimes. Her comments were not made in class, were not in a context to elicit or provoke violence (or even discrimination), and were made where refusal to grant an interview to students by all of the teachers with similar views would have made the students' assignment impossible to fulfill: How do you illustrate diverse opinions on a topic if people holding one perspective silence themselves?

(Tip from Andrew Rotherham. Also see a local CBS station story.)

Listen to this article
Posted in Academic freedom on March 10, 2006 7:03 PM |