It's high time that schools took anti-bullying measures more seriously. We just never thought that would include requiring fifth-graders to recite the meaning of each letter in LGBT.
In attempting to discourage taunting of gay students, the Alameda Unified School District turned what should be a basic lesson on treating others kindly into a primer on sexual identity. Its new anti-bullying curriculum for kindergartners through fifth-graders will begin in the fall and focus solely on gay and lesbian issues -- as if harassment based on race, religion or failure to wear cool clothes were nonexistent. Parents who might object cannot opt their children out of it. It's a heavy-handed approach to take with students at a tender age.
School officials defended the new curriculum as a necessity after some of the younger students used derogatory words about gay people. No two ways about it, such behavior must stop. Childhood cruelty can make school a matter of daily dread for its victims, and gay and lesbian students, along with the children of same-sex couples, have been particularly singled out.
The teaching of values is an important though often sensitive aspect of public education. We count on schools to instruct children in the mores held by the vast majority of society -- that they should shun drugs and tobacco, avoid cheating and not prejudge or belittle others based on race or religion. The lessons become more fraught when hotly disputed values are involved, such as sexuality. That's why California allows parents to keep their children out of sex-education classes. As recognition and acceptance of civil rights for gays grows, schools will grapple with whether, when and how to broach the subject. The Alameda school board deserves praise for its willingness to reckon with the subject and for its commitment to protecting gay and lesbian students.
But it went too far in adopting a curriculum that introduces topics involving sexuality at an age when most children are ill-equipped to consider them. The new curriculum familiarizes second-graders with the concept of same-sex couples and teaches fourth-graders the words "gay" and "lesbian." A year later, it calls on the teacher to write the acronym LGBT on the board and ask students the meaning of each letter (it stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, the four main forms of alternative sexual identity).
The district is using a facts-of-life curriculum to impart a Golden Rule lesson: Treat others as you want to be treated. Mean behavior is not OK. This is best taught by creating a school culture that values and rewards kindness and that doesn't hesitate to discipline bullying.