Stop it, teachers: 3 things educators must stop doing now.

As a teacher, I admire the hell out of my colleagues. I've been teaching for almost two decades, and the vast majority of educators with whom I've worked during that time are outstanding professionals who care deeply about their students.

This does not mean that all teachers and school administrators are perfect, and sometimes they can be downright stupid. 

Here are three things that educators do that need to cease immediately:

1. Stop using writing as a form of punishment.

Just last week, a friend told me that her daughter - a middle schooler - was required to write a five page essay as punishment for a recent infraction.

This is backwards and asinine, and it needs to stop. It also flies in the face of all research done on this subject. 

It's hard enough to get students excited about writing today. With so few teachers of writing actually engaging in the writing process in an authentic and meaningful way, writing instruction is often boiled down to a simplistic, uninspired, unrealistic, formulaic approach. Add to this the idea that writing is also a viable means of punishment, and we have all but guaranteed that students will stop all meaningful and expressive writing once they are done with school.

Writing is not punishment. Writing is a glorious means of self expression. Writing represents the ability to exist beyond the moment. It's a means by which to process thoughts and feelings on the page. It's a way to create something new and remarkable in this world. 

When it is allowed to be just that, students will learn to love to write. 

When you turn writing into a form of punishment, you're an idiot who doesn't understand writing. Or kids. Or education in general. 

2. Stop telling kids what they can't be.

It seems like every other week, I hear some highly accomplished person in an interview or as a part of their memoir tell the story of an idiotic teacher who said they didn't have the talent to succeed in their chosen field.

"You'll never make it in the music industry."

"You just don't have the talent to compete in the literary world."

"You should think about a more reasonable career. Maybe in sales or marketing?"   

A teacher has no business telling student what he or she can't do. Even if every fiber of your being says that the kid will never play the French horn in the New York Symphony or doesn't stand a chance in the world of investment banking, shut the hell up. It's not your business to squash dreams. Teachers are in the business of creating as many possibilities as possible for their students through education, inspiration, and enlightenment.

If the kid will never play the French horn professionally, let him discover that for himself.

If your struggling math student won't ever be hired by even the shadiest of investment banks, let that happen in its own time. 

While we don't want students putting all their eggs in one basket, we have no business stomping on any eggs, either. It is only through incredible arrogance and ridiculous hubris that we should even begin to think that we can predict the future of a 15-year old kid.   

Had you asked my high school teachers if I would ever become a novelist, storyteller, wedding DJ, business owner, or even a teacher, I suspect few would have seen any of those careers in my future.

Thankfully, none of them told me what I couldn't do. Instead, they tried to fill me with the knowledge and skills required to do whatever I damn well pleased. 

3. Stop acting like bigots.

Last week a high school in Pennsylvania barred a student from attending her prom because she chose to wear a tuxedo rather than a dress.  The school says the student, Aniya Wolf, failed to follow a clear dress code for the prom that was laid out months in advance. “The dress code for the prom specified girls must wear formal dresses,” the school said in a statement. “It also stated that students who failed to follow the dress code would not be admitted.”

Even if that's true - and there is some evidence that this dress code was only imposed after learning that Wolf would be wearing a tuxedo - this is a bigoted, ass-backward policy that can only be described as homophobic and stupid. 

Two weeks ago a North Carolina school banned transgender students from using their preferred restroom, even though the student in question had been doing so for years without incident. 

Another North Carolina school system has adopted a policy allowing high school students to carry pepper spray this fall, a policy one board member said may be useful for students who encounter transgender classmates in the bathroom.

This is insanity. Schools are supposed to be places of enlightenment. They should be looking to make this world better for all students regardless of their gender or sexual preference. Instead, these school systems and others like it are standing in opposition to reform that has already been accepted by much of the country and the world.

If the White House or IBM or Disney or Apple or Ford Motor Company was hosting a black tie gala, do we think for a moment that they would bar a woman from attending the event because she chose to wear a tuxedo?

Of course not. 

If a transgender person at one of these same black tie galas chose to use the restroom that matched his or her gender, do we think that President Obama or Ginni Rometty or Michael Eisner or Tim Cook or Mark Fields would require their guest to use the restroom that best matched their genitals?

Of course not.

The world is moving on and changing rapidly. We have begun to accept differences in gender identity and sexual preference at a remarkably rapid rate, but in certain corners of the world, educators are taking ass-backward stances and clinging to ancient values that only serve to marginalize students who don't quite fit their 1950's paradigm of appropriate behavior. 

It's an embarrassment. It's a disgrace. It's a black eye on an otherwise noble profession. Teachers, administrators, and school boards must stop it now or otherwise be forever be remember as people who were on the wrong side of history when so many people were moving so quickly to the right side.

Star Wars will have gay characters. Bigoted heads presumably explode like Alderaan.

Director JJ Abrams has announced that there will be gay characters in future Star Wars films.

“When I talk about inclusivity it’s not excluding gay characters. It’s about inclusivity. So of course there will be gay characters.”

“I would love it. To me, the fun of Star Wars is the glory of possibility. So it seems insanely narrow-minded and counterintuitive to say that there wouldn’t be a homosexual character in that world.”
— JJ Abrams

My first thought:

I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of bigoted, small minded, homophobic voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.

I love it when the news can ruin a bigot's day.

If you want to deny homosexuals the same rights as heterosexuals, you are evil.

After reading about the doctor who refused to treat a six day-old baby because the parents were lesbians, my first thought, which I tweeted alongside a link to the piece from Slate, was this:

Evil scumbag.

And so I starting thinking:

Do I really believe that? Are the bigots who deny or wish to deny homosexuals the same rights as heterosexuals inherently evil?

I think they might be.


Racists are evil. Right?

Denying children of color the same educational opportunities as whites simply because of the color of their skin is evil.

Imposing the death penalty on a person of color while imposing a prison  sentence on white defendant who is guilty of the same crime is evil.

Refusing to hire a person for a job because of the color of their skin or paying them less than a white applicant of equal ability is evil.

Slavery was evil. Apartheid was evil. Jim Crow was evil. Denying any basic human right or equal access to privileges afforded to the majority based upon the color of a person’s skin is evil.


I think the same probably applies to discrimination based upon sexual preference.

Denying a person the ability to adopt a child or receive medical treatment or marry or worship in a public place or benefit from legal protections afforded to heterosexuals simply because of their sexual preference is not only ignorant and cruel, but I think it’s probably evil, too.

No, I’m sure it’s evil.

There are people – including the evil scumbag doctor who refused to treat the infant – who will cite religious reasons for their discriminatory beliefs, but I have read the Bible cover to cover three times and know that these people – or at least the Christians – are simply cherry-picking the parts of Scripture most convenient to their belief system. The New Testament alone is enough to contradict the Biblical admonitions against homophobia. But even if you ignore Jesus’s command to “Love thy neighbor” or his warning to “Let him without sin cast the first stone,” the hypocrisy required to discriminate against homosexuals while still allowing adulterers and anyone who works on Sunday to continue to live negates any excuse for discrimination based upon Biblical doctrine.

The Biblical excuse for homophobia and discrimination is nonsense.

No, I think discrimination of any kind against homosexuals is evil, and anyone engaging in this behavior or supporting those who engage in or defend in this form of discrimination are evil, too.

Does their evilness rise to Hitler-like levels? Of course not.

This is not to say that these people are not wonderful parents and beloved colleagues and gentle souls who bring warmth and light to the world in many respects, but their desire to deny people basic human rights based upon their sexual preference is evil.

It’s time we start calling it what it is. If logic and reason and common decency isn’t enough to convince these bigots to change their minds and afford equal rights to all people, maybe shame will do the job.

Maybe the label “evil scumbag” will do some good.

I use the word “bigot” instead of “homophobic.” You should, too. Here’s why.

A reader noted my tendency to use the words bigot and bigotry in lieu of homophobia or homophobic when describing an idiot who is prejudiced against or hates homosexuals. Observant reader. This is actually a purposeful choice.

A phobia is “an extreme or irrational fear or aversion to something.” When attached to another word or word segment, the fear or aversion is made clear.

Hydrophobia is the fear of water.

Claustrophobia is the fear of enclosed spaces.

Arachnophobia is the fear of spiders.

I have always rejected the use of the word homophobic to indicate an individual who hates homosexuality because it’s inaccurate and in some ways lets those individuals off the hook for their hatred. It implies that their feelings about homosexuals are based more in fear than stupidity and cruelty, and it’s easier to understand or even forgive fear.

I can’t accept this. There is no understanding (and certainly no forgiveness) of a person who hates another based upon their sexual preference.

Also note that none of the other words used to describe hatred make use of the word phobia.

A person who is prejudiced against or hates someone of a different race is a racist. Not a racaphobe.

A person who is prejudiced against or hates a person of the opposite sex is a sexist. Not a sexophobe.

A person who is prejudiced against or hates a Jewish person is an anti-Semite. Not a Jewophobe.

Therefore, a person who is prejudiced against or hates homosexuals should not be a homophobe. And since the word homoist does not exist, I opt for the more universal bigot instead.

It’s a mean word. I like that.


In truth, there is no real word for a person who hates homosexuals, and I think that says a lot about the struggle that homosexuals have faced in attempting to gain political and cultural acceptance over time.

Even Webster’s fails miserably in its definition. The definition of homophobia is “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals.”

Note that fear and aversion are listed first in the definition, ahead of discrimination (which still does not imply hatred or even dislike), and the word hatred or even a suggestion to hatred does not appear at all in the definition.

Compare this to the definition of racism:

a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.

One definition describes a person who is possibly afraid of or dislikes homosexuals or treats them unfairly.

The other describes Hitler and the basis of the Nazi party.

Can you see why the word homophobic just doesn’t cut it for me?

Just admit that you think homosexuality is yucky. Don’t drag religion into it.

A couple days a ago I posted a letter that was forwarded to me by a reader regarding gay marriage. It was pointed out to me soon after that The West Wing has a scene that conveys a similar message.

The message in both the letter and the scene from The West Wing is simple:

If you are going to use The Bible to justify your bigotry toward homosexuals, then you should be required to adhere to all the bigotry that The Bible demands. The word of God should not be digested buffet-style. Either it represents the infallible word of God or it does not.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last couple days, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s this inconsistency that bothers me most about these bigots.

If you don’t like my gay friends or believe that they are not entitled to the same rights as all Americans, I can at least understand this. Hating people for being different is nothing new. While I don’t agree with your position, I can at least attribute it to basic human nature. The human race has a long, unfortunate history of treating people poorly because they are different.

We’ve seen your breed of stupidity before.

But when you use The Bible as justification for your bigotry while ignoring those passages that are inconvenient to your cause (or demand that you stone your mother to death for wearing that Christmas sweater), you offend me and like-minded people on the grounds of logic and reason. Simply admit that you find homosexuals despicable or inexplicable or yucky, and I will at least respect you for your honesty. Defending your ignorance through blatant hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty only serves to further highlight your ignorance.

And while I may not be a religious person, this buffet-style approach to Biblical  doctrine also does great harm to the people of faith who sensibly acknowledge that the lessons of The Bible are not absolute. It’s the radicals, the lunatics and the hypocrites who cast a pall on the good work of the believers. Defending your opposition to gay marriage on religious grounds diminishes their good work and causes people like me to question religion in general.

Besides, anyone with half a brain knows that there is nothing redeeming about the Old Testament argument anyway. We all know that the same book that justifies your hatred of homosexuals demands that we kill anyone who works on Sunday.

By your logic, I should be stoning the New England Patriot players tomorrow at Gillette Stadium rather than cheering them on.

Please just admit that you are grossed out by the idea of two boys kissing and move on.

Leave religion out of it. 

The recent decision by The Boy Scouts of America has left this Boy Scout rudderless

I’m a man in conflict.

You may have heard the news:

The Boy Scouts of America on Tuesday announced that it will uphold its existing ban that excludes gays, something the group said was "absolutely the best policy" for the group.

"While the BSA does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA."

I was a Boy Scout for more than ten years, and it was by far the most positive and meaningful experience of my entire life. I learned more from Scouting than from any school or college that I ever attended, and summers I spent at Camp Yawgoog were by far the best times of my life.

When I die, I have asked that my ashes be spread on the waters of Yawgoog Pond.

Yet the organization that I love and hope to one day become active in again with my son has upheld its ban on homosexuals, and I am not sure how to reconcile my overwhelming respect with and love for the organization with this stupid, discriminatory, hateful policy.

What’s even more frustrating is that it’s clear that this policy cannot and will not stand forever. The US military has overcome it’s discriminatory practices against homosexuals. States have begun permitting same sex marriage. The laws that discriminate against gays and lesbians are slowly beginning to crumble just as the laws that discriminate against African Americans fell generations ago. It is only a matter of time before we do away with these arcane and mindless policies entirely. Holding onto these policies and beliefs at this point only serves to identify your state or organization as backwards thinking and incapable of accepting the inevitable.

In twenty years, the policy that excludes homosexuals from Scouting will most certainly no longer exist. End the policy now and stand with the righteous or risk the legacy of those Southern states were desegregated through military intervention.

Until the policy is ended, however, what am I to do?

In the past, I have questioned the decision of people who choose to remain affiliated with religions that base their belief on a text filled with racist, sexist, homophobic doctrine. I have criticized religions that elevate books like the Bible as the Word of God while knowing full well that to follow its dictates to the letter would require them to stone many of their friends and relatives to death. I stand in opposition to people who use religious doctrine to justify their racist, sexist and homophobic beliefs while simultaneously ignoring the book’s less convenient dictates.

I have also challenged specific religious institutions who have adopted the same arcane policy that the Boy Scouts have recently upheld. If your church policy is homophobic, I have argued, find another church. Lord knows there are plenty from which to choose.

In response, I have been told that the good that these organizations do far outweighs policies, practices and teaching that even their congregants may openly question.

I have scoffed at this notion.

But now I find myself in the same position as many of these people. While not currently affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America, my fondness for the organization remains. Rarely does a day go by that I do not think about a moment from my time as a Boy Scout and smile. My experience with the Boy Scouts serves as the foundation upon which much of my life has been built. My greatest hope is that my son will someday love the Boy Scouts as much as I did and still do, and that I can participate in Scouting with him in a way my father never did for me.

But when that time comes, what should I do if this discriminatory policy remains in place?

Reconcile my participation in the organization by declaring that the Boy Scouts do far more good than harm?

Vow to promote change from inside the organization?

Argue that even though I do not agree with many of the laws of the United States, I remain a proud citizen of this country and will therefore take the same tact when it comes to Scouting?

None of this sounds right to me. It strikes me as a convenient use of semantics. But rejecting the Boy Scouts outright until this policy is changed is something I cannot see myself doing either. When I was fatherless and rudderless as a boy, Scouting was there for me and made me the man I am today. Ironically, I have little doubt that my stand against this homophobic policy and the internal conflict that it has generated would not exist had I not been taught by the Boy Scouts to respect and honor all people.

Thanks in part to Scouting, I know that a person’s sexual orientation is irrelevant when it comes to judging a person’s character and honor. Yet they have failed to learn this lesson themselves.  

I am a man in conflict. The thing I loved and respected most as a boy has let me down. I am the son of a flawed and failing parent, the product of an organization that has failed to stand behind its tenet to “help other people at all times” and keep oneself “mentally awake and morally straight.”

I love the Boy Scouts with all my heart, but now that heart is broken.