While recently reading Critical Lessons: What our Schools Should Teach by prominent educational philosopher, educator, and feminist Nel Noddings, I was struck by the following statement. “But wait. Students may object that not all gays and lesbians are ordinary, decent folks. Look at the disgraceful displays in the so-called gay parades. It can be admitted that many of us find these antics distasteful. We don’t have to romanticize a group by creating a false, positive stereotype.” (Nodding, 2006, p. 248). What struck me about this quote was the apparent lack of critical thinking about what was being said. The value-laden judgment and subjective nature of disgraceful, decent, and distasteful lack any clarity and thought as to what such words mean and evoke in/to a reader. Why is it that such antics are viewed as distasteful and why are “so called” gay parades disgraceful? What and who are decent people and how is such decency determined? Exactly what about them or us is distasteful and disgraceful? Is it the queens dressed better than most flaunting their gender subversion through performance? Is it the leather daddy’s in the not so business like leather suits (or less)? Is it the dykes on bikes? The trannies? The genderqueers? Are they distasteful because they subvert a rigid binary gender system, “fail” at abiding by the norms of “decency”? Because they make the mainstream feel uncomfortable? That they force questions to be asked about what exactly is taste and grace? What exactly is natural - making the others potentially question (critically think perhaps) who they are, what gender is, and the effects of such binary, heteronormative thinking on others?
It surprised me in a book about critical thinking and lessons that we should teach in school that such a statement could be made. Yet, I wonder if this is representative of the current state of education discourse around issues of gender and sexuality (in terms of “mainstream discourse”). Does Noddings statement illustrate the work that still needs to be done in all our hearts and minds in order to transform our thinking and subvert discourse around the issue of sexuality and gender? Can we (and should we) simply accept gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender as being the same and try to make those who aren’t the same - the same? OR should we “accept”/”embrace” the differences, the distasteful antics, as a part of the unique variety of human expression that cannot be defined, quantified, and boxed in to perhaps minimize the amount of hate and pain that is inflicted on those who fall outside of definition, outside of the box? I recognize that such a move is not simple, perhaps impossible, but can we consciously and uncritically accept a charge of distasteful and disgracefulness as legitimate without seeking to undo such notions? To work not for acceptance that we are “decent” and “ordinary” but recognition for our “queerness”, our differences, upsetting the ideal of normal?
As a side note, while I criticize Noddings in this entry, I do think Noddings has made very important insights about lessons that should be taught in our schools (and beyond). This book in particular brings to the reader questions about what the curriculum should be teaching and how such topics as gender, religion, war, etc. are educational topics and should be taken up as intellectual inquiries. Noddings is a prolific thinker, scholar, and educator. As such, I think her work is important, but should not be given a gold stamp but itself critically analyzed and thought about. I assume she would expect nothing less from her readers.