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Submitted by Kevin Wuzzardo on Fri, 05/23/2008 - 8:44am.
A decade ago, and for years before that, Irmo High School in suburban Columbia was one of the best schools in South Carolina. That may not sound like much based on the state of education in the Palmetto State. But back in the day, Irmo was as good as any school in the country. We were always at or near the top of the state in test scores and other school grades. Our academic competition teams routinely competed for national titles. Our athletic teams were among the best in the state. Our faculty was among the best and brightest you could find, and so, in turn, were the students. Graduating from Irmo, you knew you were prepared for college and the real world beyond.
Today, though, my alma mater makes headlines for all the wrong reasons it seems. The latest black eye came earlier this week when the school's principal announced he would leave when his contract expires at the end of the 2008-09 school year. All because he had to allow a club for gay students at his school. In a letter to "Irmo Nation" (whatever that is) Eddie Walker claims it's because allowing such a club conflicts with professional and religious beliefs. He also writes that based on the school's sex ed policy of teaching abstinence, "I feel the formation of a Gay/Straight Alliance Club at Irmo High school implies that students joining the club will have chosen to or will choose to engage in sexual activity with members of the same sex, opposite sex, or members of both sexes."
I'll bet the school also preaches healthy diets. So will the Spanish Club have to disband because members make flan? I don't know Eddie Walker, so I can't speak to what kind of man or educator he is. But I question his reasoning and the life lessons of acceptance, tolerance and even logic he is displaying to impressionable young minds. Sir, I can guarantee there are members of the football team, the cheerleading squad and the debate team who "will have chosen to or will choose to engage in sexual activity with members of the same sex, opposite sex, or members of both sexes." Guarantee.
This latest bit of negative attention is bad enough. But it's even worse when you consider other bad press. For instance 10 years ago this month Walker's predecessor made another anti-gay statement of sorts. The school won a national competition that earned it a free concert on campus from the Indigo Girls. When some parents called principal Gerald Witt and complained that the Indigo Girls were (GASP!) lesbians, Witt cancelled the concert, drawing unwanted attention from media across the country and beyond. I know Gerald Witt. My senior year was his first year as principal, and I admired and respected the changes, especially in attitude and pride, he made early on. And when he retired from the job a few years ago, I wrote to him and told him how much I respected him and the difference he made in my experience as a student. But even though I had already graduated, I certainly lost respect for the way he handled the Indigo Girls.
On a different note, two years ago Irmo was the center of attention again for all the wrong reasons, after local investigators say they foiled a plot by gang members to fight at an Irmo football game. Gangs and violence just were not something we worried about at Irmo years ago. Once upon a time, the worst thing that could be said about Irmo was that one of our distinguished alums was Donna Rice, the young woman who led to the unravelling of Gary Hart's presidential campaign and political career. But times change, I guess.
But back to the issue at hand now. Where have we come as a society that the leader of a public school thinks it's worth his job to oppose an act of inclusion? How does something like this happen twice at one school that was once known for being a leader in education? It disturbs me that we are still at a point where adults act like this in front of children. I respect Walker's personal beliefs. But they should be just that. And again, his rationalization of his professional beliefs as an excuse make me wonder if he is fit to continue as principal the last few days of this school year let alone all of next year.
The fact of the matter is that in every school there are going to be homosexual students. And you can bet that in most cases, it is not an easy experience for them. The goal of all clubs and activities in schools is to give young people a place where they can find themselves, find acceptance, find out who they are. I know when I was a student we had a chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, where students could come together and share their religious faith far more openly than they may feel comfortable in other school settings. Why shouldn't gay students have the same opportunity? I'm fairly sure if this club had been around when I was a student, friends who later came out would have had a better experience in high school.
Schools are not just places for students to learn reading, writing and 'rithmetic. It is also a place where they learn right and wrong, where they learn to be functional members of society. What I'm learning from Eddie Walker is that if a particular group of people offends your personal beliefs you should stand up and oppose them. OK. Fine. But I'm also learning that apparently you should cower behind excuses to explain away your own narrow-mindedness, confusion or even hatred instead of seeing if there's even a chance to get along.
"I don’t intend to make a big deal out of this," Walker wrote in his letter. "Let’s get it over quick (sic) so we can close this year and have a great 2008-2009 school year. I intend to work with you and our students to make 2008-2009 the best year in our illustrious history. It is very important to me that the club sponsor and all students who join this club receive Golden Rule treatment from everyone."
Golden Rule treatment? As in treat others as you would like to be treated? Fine. I think plenty of people will be happy to act out against what you believe in.
By: Kevin Wuzzardo