On April 20, thousands of students will remain silent for part of the school day to call attention to anti-gay bullying and harassment. Called the Day of Silence, the event is sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.
In 2008, some Christian right organizations called on parents to keep their kids home on the Day of Silence. This is happening again this year.
The Day of Silence brings out some really odd statements from those opposed to it. One would think that sending your kids to school on that day is sinful. Take for instance this exchange, reported on Right Wing Watch, between Linda Harvey and Laurie Higgins:
Higgins: What the Day of Silence does is ask kids to refuse to speak during instructional time in class, that they have no legal right to do and no school has to accommodate that, and so that’s what we’re doing is asking parents to call their school, ask if students are allowed to refuse to speak in instructional time, and if they are, to keep their kids home in protest about the disruption of instructional time for a political purpose.
Harvey: You can keep your kids home that day if you suspect or you find out that teachers are going to accommodate this protest silence in order to honor homosexuality, let’s be clear about what this is, this is a God-dishonoring day that honors sin, sinful, immoral behavior that most parents don’t want their children involved in.
Higgins: Christian teachers out there and if you’re working in a public school plan activities that involve student communications so students are not allowed to do this.
Laurie Higgins says the Day of Silence people promote kids remaining silent in class. While the organizers are fine with teachers who allow this response, GLSEN is clear that students do not have the right to remain silent if the class activities call on them to speak. Here is what the Day of Silence blog says about students and class room communication.
1. You DO have a right to participate in Day of Silence and other expressions of your opinion at a public school during non-instructional time: the breaks between classes, before and after the school day, lunchtime, and any other free times during your day. If your principal or a teacher tells you otherwise, you should contact our office or the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
2. You do NOT have a right to remain silent during class time if a teacher asks you to speak. If you want to stay quiet during class on Day of Silence, we recommend that you talk with your teachers ahead of time, tell them that you plan to participate in Day of Silence and why it’s important to you, and ask them if it would be okay for you to communicate in class on that day in writing. Most teachers will probably say yes.
3. Your school is NOT required to “sponsor” Day of Silence. But Day of Silence is rarely a school-sponsored activity to begin with – it’s almost always an activity led by students. So don’t be confused – just because your school isn’t officially sponsoring or participating in Day of Silence doesn’t mean that you can’t participate.
4. Students who oppose Day of Silence DO have the right to express their views, too. Like you, they must do so in a civil, peaceful way and they only have a right to do so during non-instructional time. For example, they don’t have a right to skip school on Day of Silence without any consequences, just as you don’t have a right to skip school just because you don’t like what they think or say.
The irony is that Higgins and Harvey accuse the Day of Silence participants of violating school rules by remaining silent, and then turn around and urge truancy. Higgins and Harvey are fine with skipping an entire day of school, but become unhinged when those opposed to anti-gay bullying want to remain silent during non-instructional times.
I urge parents to resist Day of Silence Derangement Syndrome and send their kids to school on the Day of Silence (and even the misguided Day of Dialogue the day before). Send them to school and encourage them to become part of the solution via opposition to bullying. Students may want to remain silent, or take part in the Golden Rule Pledge which can take place any day of the year.