The proposal that schools be able to exclude gay students is as unconscionable as excluding Jewish students from schools in Nazi Germany.
We are proud of our multi-cultural society but that does not mean we must tolerate values and beliefs which are repugnant to mainstream culture.
Genital mutilation may be a sincerely held belief by some sub cultures in Australia but that does not mean the law should sanction it.
For some culture and religions, homosexuality is anathema. However, the recent legalization of same-sex marriage reflects our society’s rejection of all forms of sex and gender discrimination.
But what of the recommendation to allow schools to refuse to employ gay teachers? This warrants closer consideration not because it seems to entrench sex and gender discrimination in the workplace but the conversation it should generate about who should be teaching our children.
When I ask this question all around the world, the following qualities for an ideal teacher invariably emerge: kindness, a good listener and communicator, a good sense of humour, a well-educated and qualified practitioner.
The irony is that few of these qualities are considered when universities offer places to prospective teachers. The mistaken assumption has always been that all a good teacher needs is a teaching qualification.
If as Freire argued education is like banking, making knowledge-deposits into students’ disembodied brains, then the most important quality a teacher would possess is an abundance of relevant knowledge. If this is the most critical measure of a teacher, then it is absurd to exclude gays.
But the proposal to exclude gay teachers recognizes that education is so much more than transmitting knowledge. Years later, students will not remember what you taught them but who you were - a caring person who was full of enthusiasm and a person of principle.
As critically important we think the content of our lessons might be, the reality is that students will not recall much of what we taught them. What they will recall is whether I was a teacher they liked, despised or who was eminently forgettable.
As it is much safer to melt into the conservative surroundings of most school cultures, many teachers will be remembered as inoffensive and inconsequential.
Our best teachers challenge their students to dream and reach beyond what they believe they can achieve. Effective teachers will hopefully help students fine-tune their in-built ‘crap detectors’.
Effective teachers are interested in not only the students’ brains but the complex personality and breadth of their life’s experiences. An effective teacher will know what interests their students. They will know what is happening in their lives.
If a student really believes that they are not just another brick in the wall and their teachers really care for them as an individual, then the chances of effective learning are significantly enhanced.
It is because they sense that the teacher is genuinely interested in them as a person. It is not the teacher pretending to be a teenager again and becoming their buddy. The student simply wants to relate to a kind, dependable and caring adult who obviously wants them to succeed. To suggest that a gay teacher cannot be such a teacher is absurd.
Supporters of the Ruddock proposal might argue that a teacher’s ethical principles must be considered when employing teachers. The discrimination in this instance might be to subject gay teachers to principles tests which are not required of all teachers.
It is true that like every teacher in every classroom, there will be gay teachers who are racist, promiscuous, selfish, materialistic, sexist, politically extreme, lazy, cynical, uncaring and generally amoral.
By all means, legislate to exclude these teachers from the profession. In that respect, being gay has little relevance in the debate.