Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Homosexuals in History

I first ran across this little tidbit of news in a series of news briefs on the side column of a USA Today and frankly was a little skeptical as to its accuracy. Since then, I have seen it numerous other places, enough to confirm its unsettling accuracy. California has apparently become the first state to mandate the study of the "contributions of gays and lesbians" to history. Aside from the more obvious and natural outrage over the government mandating social acceptance through indoctrination (which strengthens my resolve to keep whatever children I may someday have out of the public school system), I have a number of more reasoned objections to the idea of teaching homosexual history that should be shared even by the more socially liberal among us.

1. Curriculum reform cannot stop bullying.

It is shocking to see how heavily the above linked article hammers home the idea that this agenda is being pursued in an effort to stop the social ostracism and bullying of homosexual students in schools. One is left to wonder whether liberal lawmakers are being deliberately deceptive or are in fact really so deluded as to believe that curriculum reform will fundamentally alter social dynamics among adolescents. The idea is ludicrous and defies every ounce of human experience. After all, history textbooks are littered with the contributions of studious intellectuals, and yet we find that nerds are still bullied with startling regularity in schools. Certainly the presence of Grover Cleveland and Howard Taft in the lectures has never stopped fat kids from being disproportionately targeted in dodge ball. It as if lawmakers reason that if they could only teach teenagers about some obscure but influential figure with acne that no child would ever be called "pizza face" again.

Perhaps they are just unwilling to admit that pubescence is to some degree inevitably nasty, brutish, and short. That is not to say that bullying is somehow a fact of life that should be accepted, only that it cannot be corrected by subliminal positive messages about people like the objects of bullying. Appeals to the better nature of teenagers through positive education rejects the fundamental reality that people--and particularly adolescents in our society--are raised to understand reality in terms of in-groups to be protected and outsiders to be suppressed. If you want to stop bullying so radical that it has suicide as an occasional consequence, the answer is stricter discipline (or, heaven forbid, better moral education from parents) not subtle marketing ploys. (Curiously, other socially marginal groups with less political currency have been committing suicide in quiet obscurity for decades. I must have missed the push for legislation to protect those students.)

2. Homosexuals, as such, contribute almost nothing to history. Neither do women or blacks.

As incendiary as that statements sounds, the truth of it is all but incontrovertible and can be extended even to men and whites. These incidental features of human existence rarely assert themselves particularly on the face of history because the importance of historical events are rarely so minutely conditioned. In other words, it is not homosexuals, blacks, women, men, whites, or septuagenarian vegetarians who make history. It is people.

What the study of "minority" history ultimately aims to do, and what frustrates me as a historian much in the way that the moral implication frustrate me as a Christian, is to impute artificial importance to an irrelevant characteristic. If Obama had been the most successful president in history, it would not have been because he was black and frankly it would be insulting to make that kind of causal connection, but that is precisely what minority history attempts to do. It says, "Look Marie Curie discovered radiation and won two Nobel Prizes. Also, she was a woman." It isn't as though being a woman has anything to do with Marie Curie's historical importance. The fact of her chromosomal structure is incidental to her importance in the history of modern science.

It would be and is different when the aspect in question is relevant to someone's historical importance. Martin Luther King Jr. is important because of his work as a black man in the black community advocating for black rights. His skin color is relevant to his historical contribution. But, if Alexander the Great was gay (as he is so often supposed to have been), what precisely does that have to do with his conquering the known world?

3. Gay is in the eye of the beholder.

Alexander the Great makes a nice transitional figure to speak of yet another pertinent objection. Unlike race and sex, which are apparent, the question of sexuality is often the product of imaginative reconstructions by historians. Was Alexander gay? Was Shakespeare? Was Socrates or Plato? (After all, if contemporary practice is any indicator, it is possible that Socrates had non-penetrative sex with his adolescent pupil. Is that nugget from the history of homosexuality fitting for our middle school classrooms?) It is really anyone's guess, and scholars have taken that license as a free pass to make assumptions about any historical figure's sexuality. Just how prominent homosexuality and its practitioners becomes in history is entirely at the discretion of the textbook writers. They will arbitrate in an evidentiary void the sexuality of history's greatest figures with the result that we may all live to see the day when our textbooks are adorned with an orgiastic image of the founding fathers exercising the inalienable rights endowed on them by their creator.

4. Sexuality is not the measure of historical importance.

Finally, mandating homosexual history imposes an artificial standard for what merits historical importance. No one is contending that there is some great, overlooked aspect of history relevant to the kind of general studies pursued in grade school. The important contours of history which constitute the historical grounding of a liberal education are not being neglected. Children prior to this law were (in theory at least) able to graduate high school with a basic understanding of the history of Western civilization in general, the rise of the American nation in particular, and the generally inscrutable means by which our government functions (when it feels inclined to function).

By insisting on the inclusion of homosexual figures in the history texts who would not have been otherwise included, lawmakers have essentially dictated for historians what constitutes historical importance. It is no longer enough to be a person of sufficient historical impact as to merit the attention of young minds. If one did not rub genitals with the appropriate members of the same sex, such a person is likely not to make the cut of a rubric of relevance that weighs sexuality no less than influence or innovation. Certainly legislators are not allotting extra time and resources for the study of homosexual history; inevitably something presently being discussed because of its independent historical worth must be cut. The ultimate result is an educationally impoverished generation of thinkers in a time when this country can hardly afford any more blows to their collective academic worth.

Laws like this are shocking for their political rather than educational character. As legislators and special interests groups with a social agenda are rejoicing, students are slowly being acculturated to a warped society. With this accusation, I do not even have in mind particularly the idea that homosexual behavior is morally incorrect. My problem is here more the indoctrination with fundamentally distorted views of history: a false causal link between homosexuality and historical import, a skewed representation of the historical importance of homosexual events relative to the scope of history, a revised history of human sexuality, and a false sense of hope that education can solve the cruel realities of life, especially adolescence. I am less concerned with raising up a generation of homosexuals than I am of creating a generation of ignorant, self-deluded social the ones in the California state government. The latter is a more fundamental corruption of human character than the former.

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