Thursday, April 20, 2006
Some local homeschoolers have banded together to rent a room in a church for occasional group classes in subjects the parents aren’t capable of teaching themselves. This group’s bond is an extremely conservative brand of Protestantism. The students are high school aged, so their parents still have tremendous sway over what goes on in the ‘classroom’ they’ve rented. For the sake of simple verbiage, and in honor of Bitch, Ph.D., I’ll call this group The Peeps.
Anyway, The Peeps have contacted the college to have us teach a few classes to the high school kids this Fall, at their facility. Since we occasionally teach classes at other high schools, this is not out of the question. While we’ve had some give-and-take over which subjects would be appropriate – Calculus is fine, but they’re not entirely comfortable with General Psychology since it addresses sexuality – we’ve pretty much settled on some courses that they can accept without any watering-down on our part. (To our credit, I think, we have insisted that anything we teach will be taught the way we normally would. No alternate assignments for delicate sensibilities.)
One of the courses we’ve settled on – I’ll call it Plain Vanilla 101 – is usually taught by any of a half-dozen faculty. All of the faculty who teach it are highly capable instructors, with years of experience teaching diverse groups of students. No problem there.
Here’s the catch. One of the relevant faculty – I’ll call her Jen – is, um, very conspicuously committed to some lifestyle choices that this group would believe would land her in Hell in short order. Really, really conspicuously. If you met her, you would pick up on it before she said a word.
On campus, the reaction to Jen has been remarkably (and creditably) blasé. She’s an excellent teacher, and she has been accepted as such. There may be an offended student here or there, but any student who takes offense is free to drop the class. Very few have, and none have given her lifestyle as a reason (not that they would).
Based on what I know of The Peeps, though, they would blow some cerebral fuses if Jen showed up to teach their section of Plain Vanilla 101. Even if the students accepted her, the parents wouldn’t. (In my experience, parents are usually much less tolerant than students.) It could quickly escalate into a major public brouhaha, and what was supposed to be a bridge-building exercise in the community would become yet another casualty of the culture wars. Since the county as a whole is pretty conservative, the college would wind up getting punished for it. In that circumstance, nobody wins.
Yet, if I pre-emptively rule Jen out of consideration, how is that different from discriminating against her? A church group is free to set its own boundaries, but the college isn’t governed by a church. It’s a public institution.
It’s not a given that Jen would even want the class. There are several other instructors who teach the course, none of whom would raise the red flags that she would. But she might, and I’m not thrilled with either ruling her out or starting a stupid political fight that the college would lose.
My leaning is to tell the department of the opportunity, and of the nature of The Peeps, and then to ask for a volunteer. If Jen steps forward and nobody else does, I’d give her the course, but I’d also meet with the Chief Peep in advance to give a heads-up, and essentially give an ultimatum: either take the course with Jen, or don’t take the course. If Jen is a deal-breaker, I’d rather find out in May than in September.
Loyal readers – is there a better way that I haven’t figured out? If neither ‘cater to the most intolerant’ nor ‘go down in a blaze of glory’ is an option, and we actually do want to serve this underserved (and rapidly growing) part of the community, what to do?