Cover Story

Troubling trends

"Troubling trends" Continued...

Issue: "Back to School," Sept. 7, 2013

The kids learn at home and at church that God created the world, and that God’s design for marriage is one man and one woman. But Lin can’t shield them from what they see at school: A classmate of her 11-year-old son has two mommies. Still, Lin says she’s found many Christian teachers at the school by talking to other parents at church. Once Lucia walked into school with her AWANA vest on, and the magnet coordinator said, “Oh, my husband leads AWANA at my church.”

But even good teachers have little recourse now that Gov. Jerry Brown has signed AB1266: The new law allows students K-12 to use school facilities based on their perceived “gender identity” rather than their biological gender. For instance boys who feel like girls will be able to use girls’ bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms, as well as join girls’ sports teams.

“That’s scary,” Lin said. “What’s the line for gender?” Maggie Liu, a fourth-grade teacher at Vintage Math and Science, said she could just imagine how uncomfortable the new rule would make her elementary-aged students: “My girls, they would be screaming if they saw a boy in the bathroom.” When she first heard of the bill, though, her biggest concern was for her daughters in the sixth and 11th grades who attend local public schools. She fears boys will take advantage of the free pass to the girls’ bathroom. “For me that’s totally wrong.”

Tiffany Wada, who teaches science at a charter high school in South Los Angeles, notes that many students will not want opposite-gender students in their bathrooms: “When the government says it’s trying to protect all students, you are going to choose which students will feel hurt or offended or violated.” Wada always saw working with at-risk low-income students in the school system as her life’s calling, yet says she plans on homeschooling her own children. She wonders why her school allows lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) clubs but won’t allow Christian or other religious clubs, and she asks why LGBT advocates should “push that upon Christians. It’s a double standard.”

Gay advocates are still trying to implement their victory in 2011—requiring history classes to include gay historical figures in the curriculum of all grades—in the face of the school system’s bigger problems: high drop out rates, underperforming students, and an inability to discipline. Christian teachers feel exasperated, yet still see how their presence makes a difference.

Tom Carrano, a eigth-grade history teacher at Hollenbeck Middle School in Los Angeles, said his curriculum looks exactly the same as before the law passed. His class already has so much to cover to pass standardized tests that it’s incomprehensible to add extra material: “Right now all [the school’s] energy is not focused on gender or diversity, but the Common Core [standards], to get them up to speed with the rest of the nation,” Carrano said. “There’s bigger fish to fry.”

And that bigger fish is the sobering fact that of Carrano’s students, 99 percent of whom are Hispanic and low-income, only about 60 percent are expected to make it to graduation day. California public schools are dealing with budget cuts and teacher shortages: Carrano has taught in three different schools in the past six years and has watched principals moving in and out.

Teachers have some autonomy in what areas of the state standards they focus on in the classrooms. For Carrano, a Christian, this means he can dwell on topics like ancient Hebrew history, have students read the primary text of Isaiah 53, and study its connection to the Christian faith. During a section on the Second Great Awakening, he shows video of pastor Greg Laurie’s Harvest Crusade to show modern-day Christian gatherings. This could all change once standards include LGBT material, or when new textbooks are published, although with budget constraints, the time line is uncertain.

Carrano said teaching in the public school setting is often demoralizing. Many of his students aren’t disciplined by their parents at home, so they’re often unruly, rude, and unwilling to learn. Carrano said a culture of bullying pervades his school, including not just other students but also teachers. With a new law in the Los Angeles Unified School District banning suspensions, Carrano said he has his hands tied in terms of what he can do to discipline his students.

Sarah, an eigth-grade math teacher whom WORLD agreed not to name because she has legitimate fear of reprisal from her school administration, said the heart of the issue is that “as a believer you know what is right and wrong, but the school doesn’t have that kind of compass so it’s very cloudy when you’re trying to discipline the students. You’re not supported in any way.” Students talk back to teachers and sometimes come to class on drugs, but she cannot discipline them unless she finds the drug on them.

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