Coming soon to a school near you

How would you react upon learning that over the summer the Massachusetts State Legislature had overwhelming passed something called "the FAIR Education Act," a new mandated policy demanding that all public schools promote the social agenda of the Catholic Church? And further that our governor, in the name of protecting Catholics from mistreatment, had enthusiastically signed the act into law.

How would you respond when you learned that the specifics of the bill require all public school textbooks to positively promote Catholics as role models and that all students, starting at age 6, must be taught to admire Catholic teaching on marriage, abortion, human sexuality and sexual behavior?

Further, that all teachers, even those opposed to Catholic social teaching, are henceforth required to positively promote the social views of the Church, and that to remain silent or resist will leave them vulnerable to charges of "reflecting adversely" on Catholic doctrine? That State House bureaucrats, with the obvious help of Catholic advocacy groups, had prepared special lesson plans for all school grades from kindergarten through high school? And, finally, that parents will not be notified, nor be allowed to "opt out" their children from this instruction?

The outcry would be loud and fierce. Local media would be up-in-arms over such "propaganda promoting the views of one segment of the society." Undoubtedly, Catholics would be first to resist and demand the law be repealed. Our bishops and clergy would be in the forefront, pointing out the dangerously inappropriate use of public schools to promote Catholic social doctrine to the captive audience of school children.

As outrageous and absurd as this scenario is, if you substitute "the gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual agenda" for "the Catholic social agenda" in the paragraphs above, you have what transpired in California this June. The California State Legislature overwhelmingly passed, and Gov. Jerry Brown enthusiastically signed into law, the FAIR Education Act (SB 48). The FAIR Education Act is the seventh sexual indoctrination law to teach the state's children to regard homosexuality, transsexuality and bisexuality as good and natural.

Among the bill's provisions are that textbooks and instructional materials must positively promote "lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans" as role models and that children as young as 6 will be taught to admire homosexuality, same-sex "marriages," bisexuality and transsexuality.

Teachers and school boards, even those with religious objections to the gay lifestyle, will be required to present textbooks and other instructional materials that positively portray sex-change operations and same-sex "marriages"; to be silent on these subjects opens them up to charges of "reflecting adversely" on them. Finally, parents will not be notified, nor will they be able to exempt their children, from this new core curriculum.

This is another in an impressive string of legal victories by gay rights activists. In recent years, they have also been enormously effective all over the country in convincing students that gay rights and the gay lifestyle is "the Civil Rights struggle of the 21st century." Amid the ethically flabby world of public education, the gay community's victimization themes have already taken the moral high ground in the minds of students.

The particular issue which drove this legislation is bullying; a serious and pervasive issue in our schools. In the confined and regimented world of our crowded schools, many students have feelings of envy, jealousy, extreme frustration and, sometimes, real rage. Bullying is a disappointing fact of life. Just as water wants to run downhill, the strong will attempt to prey on the weak. However, bullying is neither new nor confined to non-heterosexual students.

What should be done about bullying? Religion has one powerful set of answers. It tells students that we have fallen human natures that each of us must work hard to overcome. That person in the next seat who annoys you is, in fact, a child of God and you must treat him as such. Of course, bringing back such a dangerous idea into the public school classroom would lead to a full-employment act for tort lawyers.

Another idea would be to teach the nation's core documents and the meaning of such phrases as "certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." But, really teach them. Explain them. Build them into the rituals and procedures of the school. Make the virtues of respect and fair play, which undergird a good society, a major focus of the curriculum. Recognize students who exemplify these habits of good character. Demand adherence to them or face distasteful consequences, such as separation into less commodious environments.

In a free society where parents were financially able to select and direct the education of their children, such a pro-gay rights curriculum would make a reasonable choice for that minute portion of parent population who believes it is healthy and useful to educate young children and teens into these complex and controversial issues of human sexuality. But such is not the case in the U.S. today, where only a small percentage of parents can afford to send their children to private or religious schools.

On the other hand, for the state to use our tax-supported schools to propagandize our children about a life style and sexual morality that is objectionable to so many parents has about it distinctly Stalinist odor.

It is tempting to dismiss this gay-promoting curriculum as just another in a long line of far away events seemingly designed to keep the rest of the nation chuckling and mildly finger-wagging. However, the Sunshine State is the 800-pound gorilla of the textbook world and teachers and parents in Montana, Iowa and, yes, Massachusetts will surely be seeing the "gay agenda" in their next textbook adoptions.

More to the point, our current state courts, legislature and bureaucracy, which has led the way on same-sex marriage, will surely hurry to catch up with this latest crusade.

Kevin and Marilyn Ryan edited "Why I Am Still a Catholic" [Riverhead Books, 1998] and live in Chestnut Hill.