By the time this issue of REASON appears in print, California voters will have decided the fate of the Briggs Initiative. Named after the conservative state senator who sponsored it, the measure would make the practice or advocacy of homosexuality grounds for firing public school teachers.
Thus, even heterosexual teachers who, on their own time, take part in gay-rights activities would be in jeopardy of losing their jobs. And single male teachers would be in particular danger of harassment by disgruntled students, lobbing false accusations of homosexuality to "get even" for low grades or disciplinary action. The horrendous possible consequences of such a law led many fair-minded Californians—including conservative former governor Ronald Reagan and most of the state's newspapers—to oppose the initiative.
Yet because homosexuality was involved, the measure was supported by some people otherwise firmly committed to individual liberty. One such person, a long-time libertarian, told me that he'd do whatever it took (within the law) to make sure that no homosexual would ever teach his six-year-old son. And although he is sending the boy to a private school, he planned to vote for the initiative in sympathy with parents of the same views who cannot afford private schools.
Some would dismiss this line of thinking as obvious bigotry, but they would be prejudiced to do so. They would be open to the charge that they ignore the very real values and concerns of millions of Americans, many of whom honestly believe that sexual identity is a character and personality trait parents should cultivate in their children. The issue is not one that a responsible parent can just leave to the current trends in public policy, because the proper upbringing of one's child is not a matter for public policy.
Nevertheless, there are several strong arguments against laws like the Briggs Initiative. First of all, for the State to be able to punish people for their point of view is a dangerous power—no one who values liberty should find it difficult to appreciate this.
Second, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that just being a homosexual engaged in teaching math, history, music, etc. need have any role-modeling function—any more than being a liberal or a democrat or a racist need have such a function when one is engaged in teaching. And when we consider that schools expose children to many types of personalities, with a great variety of character traits, we can assume that parental influence plus a child's independent judgment could still manage to offset whatever impact this exposure might create.
Third, there is no clear evidence that homosexuality, as opposed to paranoia or kleptomania, for example, is a psychological or moral shortcoming. Those who practice it cannot simply be judged sick or evil. Nor is homosexuality, per se, an aggressive disposition; so taking special legal action against homosexuals absent aggressive conduct constitutes an advance assumption of guilt.
Fourth, as the Supreme Court long ago affirmed in Brown v. Board of Education, the 14th Amendment will not permit laws that require or permit tax-funded institutions to arbitrarily exclude one segment of the tax-paying public—and homosexuals are taxpayers and citizens like the rest of us.
The real problem with this issue lies in the nature of public schools. By definition, such schools seek to be all things to all people and, of course, end up being not very much to anyone. What one set of parents wants for their children is seldom the same as what others want. And not all children, even from the same family, benefit from the same type of educational arrangement. The three Rs versus progressive education, strict discipline versus complete freedom, religious values versus a value-free orientation—how can any single school system satisfy such a diversity of demands? The honest answer is that it cannot, and we should cease trying to make it do so.
The "homosexual teacher" battle has been fought time and again in American public schools, under other names. A few of its recent versions include:
• The school prayer controversy
• The whole sex-education battle
• Evolution versus creationism in science classes
• Secular humanism (especially in the social science series "Man: A Course of Studies" [MACOS]).
But it surfaces even in more mundane fights like whether or not to give spankings or serve "junk food" in the cafeteria.
This should not be surprising, though. Socialist institutions—ranging from the public schools to the post office to Moscow's GUM department store—are notoriously unresponsive to diverse needs. They are set up to serve the masses, in a mass-produced, least-common-denominator fashion. They do not respond to the preferences expressed in the marketplace, since their customers are essentially forced to deal with them.
We do not supply food in this brute-force, inefficient way, even though food is presumably a more basic necessity of life than is schooling. We have left the production and distribution of food (largely) to the marketplace—and with overwhelming success.
The same can and should be done with education. People may differ on the best means of breaking the public school monopoly—whether by means of vouchers, tax credits, encouraging mass withdrawals from public schools in favor of home tutoring, or what have you. But there should be no disagreement on the ultimate goal: the complete desocialization of American education.
The late, great libertarian writer Frank Chodorov remarked at the height of the McCarthy era that the way to get rid of Communists in government jobs was to get rid of the government jobs. Those who don't want homosexuals teaching their children should take Chodorov's message to heart.