The ‘g word’

Marcus, 7, has two mommies. Asked about his family by a classmate, Marcus explained.

Marcus responded he had two mothers because his mother is gay. When the other child asked for explanation, Marcus told him: “Gay is when a girl likes another girl,” according to the complaint.

A teacher who heard the remark scolded Marcus, telling him “gay” was a “bad word” and sending him to the principal’s office. The following week, Marcus had to come to school early and repeatedly write: “I will never use the word ‘gay’ in school again.”

A cheerful story from Citizen Smash via Mike Daley.

Update: The superintendent denies the whole thing, claiming the boy was disruptive, reports Eugene Volokh. But the superintendent is contradicted by the paperwork sent home to the parents. Marcus was forced to fill out a student behavior contract in which he admitted he’d “sed bad wurds”; the teacher added a note explaining the offense was saying his mother was gay and “explaining what gay means.” The teacher also sent home a behavior report saying that Marcus’ discussion of “gay” was “not acceptable in my classroom.”

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  1. Precisely what should poor Marcus call his gay parents?

  2. Heterosexually challenged, perhaps?

    I think in a day and age where we have “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”… “gay” is no longer a bad word. Especially when you consider the intent.

  3. I believe the proper response would have been for the principal to call the local police and have them enter the school with guns drawn. We must teach children where the line is and to toe it.

    [Without Internet stories and blogs, we’d never hear half the weird stuff that goes on and we’d not have to think about why we don’t live in Louisiana or South Carolina.]

  4. Ken Summers says:

    “And we’ll all be…er…heterosexually challenged…when Johnny come marching home”

  5. John from OK says:

    That teacher is so gay.

  6. My question: By definition, his punishment requires him to say (well, write) the word “gay” repeatedly. Is this some new form of recursive punishment? Will he have to come in next week and write “I will never write the senctence ‘I will never use the word “gay” in school again’ in school again?”

  7. Is “gay” no longer PC, or was the teacher homophobic? I’m almost certain that the latter is the case, but I also predict that the g-word will become un-PC. I suggest some substitutes here:

    How can we, uh, celebrate diversity if we can’t talk about it?

  8. “Gay” is usually used as an insult, as in “That homework was so gay!” In that context, it’s a detention offense in my classroom. It sounds like the teacher may not have heard the whole conversation (not uncommon).

  9. speedwell says:

    Rita, I know you’re a teacher, and I remember from reading other contributions of yours that you can usually be trusted to take the teacher’s side against the children’s. But before you exercise your knee-jerk penchant to advocate the Devil, you may want to exercise a brain cell or three.

    No, the teacher may not have heard the initial conversation in full. But that doesn’t excuse either the teacher or the principal’s refusal to think and use judgment… or the “child is always wrong” prejudice they show… or the closing of their ears to the child’s attempts to explain and defend himself, if he wasn’t too cowed already to speak out.

    Sometimes I just have to wonder what you have against kids.

  10. Steve LaBonne says:

    Teachers are like cops and doctors- they reflexively cover for each other in public, while gossiping in private about the bad apples in their professions. Which of course, means that there are more bad teachers, cops and doctors plying their respective trades than there should be.

  11. PJ/Maryland says:

    I think the schools should send home a list of all the words kids should not use at school. This would simplify the whole problem… as well as get kids interested in looking words up in the dictionary…

    Tho, the way things are going, the list of words kids can use at schools may soon be shorter than the list of words they can’t…

  12. PJ/Maryland says:

    Rita, just out of curiousity, is saying “That homework was so gay!” a detention offense because it’s dissing homework, or because it uses the word “gay” (or both)? Must be kind of tough to ride herd on 25 or 30 kids and ground them for using words in certain contexts but not in others.

  13. LibraryGryffon says:

    Whether or not “gay” is an offensive term, we are talking about a 7 year old here. The appropriate response is to find out why he used the word “gay” given that the teacher probably didn’t hear the whole context, and then, if the context were indeed inappropriate and/or offensive, to have a gentle discussion with him about why we don’t use that word in that way. However, since the context was appropriate, the whole subject should have been dropped right then and there.

  14. Perhaps he was punished for the improper use of the word. Gay applies to males only. The term he should have used was lesbian. Also, The cops should have come in; guns drawn, and escorted the teacher out of the building…..

  15. I’m from Louisiana so watch what you say about us….BTW-This could have happened anywhere.

    Different life styles of families put teachers in a difficult spot. The teacher probably should have ignored the kids and let the comments pass but then she would have gotten grief from the other parents. It is a no-win situation. The old IBM motto “THINK” comes to mind.

    PS to PJ/Maryland – “dissed” isn’t a word.

    My wife has difficulty with other things mostly the “who is the parent?” syndrome. When kids are being raised by grandparents, older siblings, cousins, etc… or sometimes nobody at all it makes it more difficult for teachers.

  16. I hope his mom is a huge diesel-dyke with a gun and a Harley and she rides over that teacher and leaves skid marks. I sure would. Teachers–can’t live with ’em, can’t kill ’em.

  17. Bill,

    Gay CAN be used for both male and female…
    Although lesbian refers only to women,
    gay may either apply to both sexes…


    “Dissed” is indeed a word. I found it, for example, in the American Heritage dictionary.

    tr.v. Informal dissed, diss·ing, diss·es
    To show disrespect to, often by insult or criticism
    Origins: African-American vernacular English, short for “to disrespect”.

    Oh, but you must be one of those word snobs who discount any word introduced to the language after, say 1800. Or is it because of the word’s origins? Hmmmm….

  18. Kate,

    Hear! Hear! BTW, if she doesn’t have them (gun/Harley), I’ll lend her mine….

  19. Jab,

    It’s not the most nearly correct term (Gay). Lesbian is more proper/specific p.s. It was meant as a joke…geeez

  20. Cool Bill…
    You have to admit that sometimes its hard to tell
    who is joking and who is serious…

    I’m in an unusually foul mood as I’m trying to finish my dissertation within the next two weeks and I have writer’s block… so I see everything in a negative light…

    So, Roux… if per chance, you were just joking too… well, then, I sincerely apologize.
    My mistake for jumping to conclusions and rushing to judgement… peace to you.

  21. Rita:

    This is from an AP Wire…
    It makes it very clear that the teacher knew the entire extent of the conversation between the child and his friends…

    A] 7-year-old boy was scolded in front of his classmates and sent to a school behavioral clinic for answering another child’s questions about his lesbian mothers . . . .
    Marcus McLaurin was waiting in line to go to recess on November 11 at Ernest Gallet Elementary School when a classmate asked him about his mother and father. He responded that he didn’t have a mother and father; instead he has two mothers. When the other child asked why, Marcus told him that it was because his mother is gay. The other child then asked what that meant, and Marcus explained, “Gay is when a girl likes another girl.”
    Upon hearing this, Marcus’s teacher scolded him in front of his classmates, telling him that “gay” is a bad word and he should never say it at school, then sent him to the principal’s office instead of letting him go to recess. The following week the school required Marcus to attend a special behavioral clinic at 6:45 in the morning, where he was forced to repeatedly write “I will never use the word ‘gay’ in school again.” . . .
    On a student behavior contract form that Marcus had to fill out and give to his mother about the incident, Marcus wrote that the thing he did wrong was that he “sed bad wurds.” A handwritten note at the top of the form from Marcus’s teacher further explains: “He explained to another child that you are gay and what being gay means.” On a behavior report form signed by the assistant principal, the teacher wrote, “Marcus decided to explain to another child in his group that his mom is gay. He told the other child that gay is when a girl likes a girl. This kind of discussion is not acceptable in my room. I feel that parents should explain things of this nature to their own children in their own way.”

  22. LibraryGryffon says:

    It sounds even worse in the wire report. I can understand the teacher not wanting to explain it to the children herself, but what does she expect a 7 year old to do when he is flat out asked by a classmate?

    It would make far more sense to let other parents in the room know that one of the children has two mommies, and that they may want to talk to their children about it, since some of them are starting to ask questions.

    But since sense and the school system don’t seem to be within shouting distance of each other….

  23. Sounds to me like the teacher is the one with the problem. She should be forced to write, “I will not discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation or preferences”. The word ‘gay’ is certainly not widely considered a “bad word” to my knowledge, but is rather a word used preferentially over other, more emotionally-charged words.

    Really, would she rather the little boy had said ‘homosexual’ or ‘lesbian’, or, even worse, used some horrid slang like ‘dyke’ or such?

    From the little boy’s reported conversation, it seems like his moms have done a good job on giving him the basics of their family without teaching him a bunch of stuff that he’s not emotionally ready for. I used the same explanation with my then-5 year old when we inadvertently ended up at Disney World on Gay Pride Day, and she wanted to know why all the men were walking around holding hands. Some had kids with them, and I saw no one who was out of line or ‘flaunting it’. In fact, those couples I talked to while in line were charming.

    It’s a tough issue for everyone to deal with. Any idea exactly where this took place? And was it a public school?

  24. speedwell: I don’t have anything against kids. I wouldn’t work with them if I did. I do assume the best of people — even of kids. I know that’s an odd position, but in general I feel that people have good intentions. In this case, seeing the whole story, I think the school and teacher are clearly wrong.

    I was unaware that I knee-jerk devil’s advocacy. Could be the school teacher in me. I’ll work on being more agreeable in the future.

    PJ: “Gay” is perjorative when it is being used as a synonym for “bad.” It’s a way of putting homosexuals down when you use them to describe things you don’t like. In my classroom, I don’t permit putting others down. I don’t permit “dissing” homosexuals, African Americans, Latinos, Girls, Boys, Indians, Muslims, White people, or Republicans. And I don’t find it at all hard to distinguish among different meanings of words. Do you?

  25. Claire says, “She should be forced to write, ‘I will not discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation or preferences’.”

    How about: “I will not discriminate against little children because of the sexual orientation or preferences of their parents.”

  26. Important update: The superintendent is denying everything.

  27. No, a superintendant denying that criticism is valid is not news, any more than “dog bites man” would be. If a superintendant were ever to acknowledge that a teacher had erred, and has been reprimanded enough to matter, and that steps were being taken to avoid a recurrance, that would be news.

  28. The teacher should be referred for counseling, and the child, if he is a student of hers, should be offered the option of transferring to another teacher. Why? It’s quite clear from the teacher’s own words, written on the forms sent home, that the teacher does not want the children in “her room” to discuss their families, if those families don’t adhere to the teacher’s approved model. “I feel that parents should explain things of this nature to their own children in their own way.” That statement ignores the intelligence and curiosity of 7 year olds! If they’re sharing their doubts about Santa Claus, you can also bet that they’re making guesses about the strange habits of adults.

  29. Santa Claus! That’s a clear violation of the seperation of church and state…..Where are those cops when you need um…..