A group of 7 and 8-year old second graders from San Francisco’s all-boys Town School visited the Castro neighborhood of the city on a field trip scheduled to coincide with the current neighborhoods curriculum being taught at their school. The boys visited Harvey Milk Elementary School, Pink Triangle Memorial Park, and the AIDS Hope for the World Cure Mural. Scandalous, right?
One parent in particular took umbrage with her child visiting a neighborhood home to attractions like those, and called the San Francisco local CBS affiliate to complain – anonymously, of course. Mom asked, “Why would you talk to a young child about sex with a man and a woman let alone a man and a man or a woman and a woman? It just doesn’t seem right. They are not ready for that.”
Which is strange, considering that she is the only one bringing sex into the curriculum. The class trip was to learn about the different types of neighborhoods and what makes a community. Other planned trips include visits to the city’s hispanic Mission District and China Town. You’re the only person talking about sex here, lady.
This disgruntled parent shared that other families disapproved of the excursion, and Town School confirmed that a “few families who felt uncomfortable with the Castro trip chose to keep their sons home.”
Last week, one of those parents contacted the CBS News desk and CBS 5 Eyewitness News featured a segment highlighting the controversy. The mother, who remained anonymous on the show, said: “Why would you talk to a young child about sex with a man and a woman let alone a man and a man or a woman and a woman? It just doesn’t seem right. They are not ready for that.”
Sexuality was not in fact a topic of discussion on the Town field trip. The neighborhood study focused on history, social and civil rights, the importance of diversity, and Harvey Milk. The school assured parents that the tour would be age appropriate and special care was put into selecting a guide with experience leading child-friendly tours.
But here’s where it gets good. Town School’s headmaster, Brewster Ely addressed the incensed mother in a public letter.
Dear Town School Families and Community,
There are times in a school’s life when events become overshadowed by rumor. At these moments I feel compelled to step forward and provide the facts in an effort to curb misstatements and misunderstandings. Last week we had one of those moments in second grade, and I would like to provide both the factual background and a little perspective.
For several years now Town’s students, faculty and staff have participated in a Dia de Servicio, or Day of Service, which is designed to give our boys perspective on how they can make a small yet meaningful impact on their community. This year’s service opportunities ranged from having our eighth grade participate on a working farm in Marin to having kindergarteners stay on campus to make cookies for a bake sale to raise money for the people of Japan. The day occurs on the birthday of Cesar Chavez and is in honor of his commitment to effecting change. This year we were fortunate to have Mr. Chavez’s son-in-law speak to many of our boys prior to their day of service.
This year the second grade teachers and Town’s Diversity Director chose to have the second grade visit the Castro neighborhood. As part of the boys’ study of neighborhoods, they visit the Mission and Chinatown as well. The goal of introducing the boys to other communities is to give them an appreciation of different perspectives and views. The boys toured the Castro with a professional guide, teachers and parents. A stop of special interest was the Harvey Milk Elementary School, which is adorned with wonderful murals depicting Harvey Milk’s commitment to diversity. While at the school, the guide shared Harvey Milk’s analogy, likening a better world to a sandbox where all children play together harmoniously. The trip was a wonderful success.
A small number of second grade parents questioned the appropriateness of the trip. It is our responsibility at Town School to ensure that all boys within our care feel safe and validated. At Town we have long taught that it is important to be openminded about difference, and we are pleased that we have boys at school who have gay parents. A few families who felt uncomfortable with the Castro trip chose to keep their sons home, and we recognize their decision to do so.
One anonymous parent felt compelled to contact the local CBS News desk and register her unhappiness about the trip through the media. On Friday, CBS ran a story in which I was quoted as saying, “The school and the administration see the Castro as a respected community in San Francisco, and we want our students to develop an appreciation for whoever lives in our community.” In an unexpected way, this coverage provided the school and its leadership with a public forum to share the value we see in diversity and in fostering in our boys a respect for and understanding of difference.
It is my hope that these events ultimately engender an even greater appreciation for diversity and a respect for all people. I close with a statement from our Town School philosophy:
Town values being a diverse community that nurtures integrity, sensitivity and respect in its boys, and prepares them to become productive and contributing members of an ever-changing world.
Sincerely, Brewster Ely
Far from apologizing, Ely puts the parent in her place. Town School is teaching those kids how to be the best they can be, and discrimination doesn’t factor into that lesson plan in any way. The mother’s “concerns” were self-composed entirely from her own prejudices. Tell you story walking, lady.
Are you happy that Town School refused to back down on this one?