Posted by: Catherine Lugg | September 28, 2010

No, we won’t–Part 2

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?”


  1. I am so, so impressed with this blog and the arguments you have made. So, what do we/members of AERA do?

  2. Darleen:

    One of the best responses is bureaucratic: Ask the Divisional VP’s and SIG chairs to see how the effort on “LGBT issues in educational research” is progressing, and if AERA’s final report will be written by someone who actually conducts research in this area. My great fear is that a non-sympathetic non-queer will pen the report–and so not much gets said. AERA is soooo keen for members to secure federal grants that it is organizationally blind to the institutional homophobia of the Obama administration.

  3. PS: Thanks for your most kind words. I really appreciate it.

  4. This really is a great post–I doubt I’ll be so eloquent but you inspired me to start a blog myself. Glad that you are asking students to read books like the Arendt text (and using it to also reflect on your own work and life?). Tony Normore is having students in his class read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning this semester and we’ve been talking about the way that in many courses we focusing on engaging students’ intellect and neglect to touch their soul. Books like these are more powerful, I think, than most typical “foundations of education” books, which tend to be full of platitudes about kids rather than an exploration of humanity.

    On this particular topic, what about UCEA? It might be possible to initiative a Task Force on LGBTQ Research much like the Leadership Preparation Task Forces UCEA has launched in recent years. Still, you make a good point about folks like us doing it vs. the feds…on AERA, this seems to me like one of the many times when we are part of an organization that doesn’t align with our values and we have to decide whether to try and force change from within (ever read Neil Postman’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity, which talks about this?) or throwing up our hands and going elsewhere. Keep pushing, asking and being outraged, Cath–your work as an activist in these spaces is very important.

  5. […] posts regarding AERA’s mulishness regarding LGBT scholarship, in general, and LGBT youth in homophobic schools, in particular. The organization has a horrendous track record vis-a-vis queer people and our issues, and […]

  6. […] many other queer scholars and activists, I have been yelling about queer youth suicide for a long time, reeling out the absolute dismal statistics on queer identity, the staggering risks […]

  7. […] terrific new video In September of 2010, I posted two blogs about an AERA workshop on GLBT LGBTQ issues in education. Since then, scholar and activist Connie North has created a fictional video of what it can be like […]

  8. […] But one of Arent’s central points is that we are all moral actors in the political world. We must think, we must judge, but then we MUST act upon those judgements. Governor Christie has now shown himself to be a hate-monger. He has invoked the rhetoric of Bull […]

  9. […] the survey actually asked students to identify their sexual orientation (a data point other research bodies refuse to take in) the data set allows for some statistical […]

  10. […] wonder if this study will be “good enough” for AERA?? […]

  11. […] is, to a large extent, an Arendtian moment. Evil isn’t a drooling monster with horns and pitchfork who shows up on your doorstep. […]

  12. […] way….but you knew they were coming. As I noted in my last post: It is, to a large extent, an Arendtian moment. Evil isn’t a drooling monster with horns and pitchfork who shows up on your doorstep. Instead, […]

  13. […] Now, the leadership of AERA will justify its SHAMEFUL silence as remaining “above politics.” This in and of itself is CLEARLY a political stance. The research is overwhelming regarding the harm, and in particular, the harm to children, inflicted by anti-queer legislation. Nevertheless, much like the Reagan-era executive branch, AERA would rather be on the WRONG side of science, the WRONG side of social justice, and the WRONG side of history than to take a research stand that could be remotely seen as pro-queer. As I wrote in September 2010: […]

  14. […] Of course, the larger issue was and is one of federal recognition. As I later noted: […]

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