This semester I’ve been teaching Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem” for a doctoral class in educational leadership. In the book, Arendt goes into great detail regarding how the Nazi state was able to target Jews, particularly in Germany, but then in other countries, by making Jews stateless, voiceless, non-entities. Once Jewish nationals were stripped of their identities as citizens of their own country, it was a bureaucratic process to deport, then round up and exterminate.
While one is always asking to be screamed at when comparing any contemporary situation to the Holocaust, I’m focusing on how large bureaucracies, and those of us who work and live within these bureaucracies, can fail to recognize evil because it’s so utterly ordinary (for example, what information is actually included in federal data sets, and what information is not). To borrow from Arendt, many times we miss that evil can be utterly banal, existing right under our noses.
The Institute for Education Science’s refusal to even consider including queer identities as student indicators on their national surveys makes US queer kids officially invisible, non-entities, non-people. This is a conscious moral choice by the federal government to devalue young American queers. Historically, in the US, if you are important, you get counted, if you’re not important, well, you’re invisible, voiceless–you literally don’t exist. This lack of federal recognition means that some school district and state leaders can claim “we don’t have any” queer kids (much like Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). In turn, educational researchers are denied critical information like the actual number of self-identified queer kids in the US and their experiences within public schools. Without federal data, it makes it extremely hard to make informed policy judgments from the federal department of education to your local public school.
But that is probably the point. GLSEN does heroic work in collecting the data that they can, but they don’t have the access or the legal ability to twist arms to get the data like the feds do. If there are federal data on queer children, then the feds might actually have to do something of significance besides throw a trivial “GLBT history month” event in October. A federally recognized party doesn’t keep queer kids from being pummeled in their own public schools, but it might make the closeted adults feel better.
Another point Arendt makes in “Eichmann in Jerusalem” is that as a moral actor you must think, you must judge, and then you MUST act. This point brings me to AERA’s seeming mulishness on taking any public stand vis-à-vis queers, although the extant research on queer children offers clear justifications to do so. Some in AERA cling tightly to a false distinction between “research” and “politics.” But by refusing to judge something as heterosexist and/or homophobic, much less never, ever, ever acting upon that judgment, AERA is taking a political stance by condoning the maltreatment of queer children, by default. AERA is always in land of politics, and they/we are consciously siding with the homophobes by remaining silent: “No, no, Miss Scarlet. We couldn’t possibly take a stand because we’re a RESEARCH organization” (which is only the largest educational research organization in the world!). Please bring out the fainting couch for those delicate administrative nerves. But as Larry Kramer observed (okay, screamed) nearly 25 years ago, “Silence=Death.”
The extant research is clear that queer children suffer enormous physical and emotional violence in many US public schools. That AERA, as a collective body, is afraid of being “soiled” by being involved with advocacy for queer American school children misses the reality that they/we already are quite morally filthy by remaining silent in light of decades of the dismal data. I’ve asked this question repeatedly, but so far, to no avail: “How many dead queer kids will it take for AERA to finally give a damn?”