Monday, July 30, 2018

All Is Assuredly Well: Professor Gore Speaks

***don't forget to enter the giveaway for a free paperback copy of All Is Assuredly Well***

How An Attack on Academic Freedom Helped Lead Me to Write Our Picture Book for the Children of Same-Sex Families

In 1998, I spent two hours on the witness stand in federal court as an expert witness and a plaintiff when the City of Wichita Falls legalized book banning.  I was one of nineteen plaintiffs who sued the city.  We won.  America won.
I was an expert witness because I was a multicultural education professor with expertise in how children’s literature affects children from diverse groups.  
The following year, my dean said, “We want you to design a 6000-level course on human diversity.  We want you to use children’s literature to teach it.”
“You’re the best person to design a such a course for our reading cohort,” he said.
We had a cohort of 18 teachers from Wichita Falls Independent School District who applied for a special program.  They would complete a master’s degree in reading, and they had only two more semesters to go.  
They had applied, been nominated by their principals, received generous scholarships, completed two years, and would graduate together.  Then they would go back to their schools and be reading leaders.
At our university, classes numbered 1000 were freshman classes, on up to 5000 level for graduate students.  Seldom did we offer 6000 level classes.  We thought of those as advanced graduate classes.
I had taught Multicultural Education to undergraduate students for many semesters, but the graduate course, Human Relations, was taught by counseling faculty.  I wrote and took my new syllabus to my dean for approval, something faculty usually didn’t do.
“I want your approval,” I said.
“Why? You’re the expert.”
“Nontheless, I want your approval.”
He read it.  “What am I looking for?”
“Well,” I said, leaning back in my chair, “I figure by the time a teacher gets to this point, she should have learned the Ecological Fallacy (Generalizations tell absolutely nothing about individuals.), but know generalizations about cultural sensitivities of various groups.”
He nodded.  I sat forward.
“If teachers are prejudiced against races or ethnicities, they at least know to hide it by this point,” I said.  “They don’t publicly use the N-word. But many teachers still think homosexuality is a sin.  They think people choose to be homosexual, and if they repented that sin, they would be heterosexual.”
“I know,” he said.  “It’s a problem.  And your role in the book banning lawsuit makes you the perfect person to teach this class.”
“That’s why I want your approval.  The last three weeks of the fifteen-week semester are dedicated to opening the students’ eyes to their prejudices.
“The twelfth class will be about book banning.  I will tell my personal story about the lawsuit, from the first to the last of my trial experiences.”
“They would never have another chance like that,” he said. “Hearing this history from a person who lived it.”
I nodded.  “We’ll also use that class period to look at books banned last year. What caused people to want to ban each of the top ten?  Who are the people who tried to ban them?”
He nodded.  “Good. Then what?”
I told him that the thirteenth week, we would read Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate, the two picture books that sparked the lawsuit.  We would analyze the words and the pictures of each book.
We would go to the campus library and examine how picture books for young children created gender stereotypes.  Could we find books in which girls played with trucks instead of dolls?  In which boys wanted to make cookies instead of boats? 
“Excellent plan,” said my dean.
I slipped off my suitcoat. “The last night, I would introduce my students to the small but growing canon of books in which teens realize that they are gay or lesbian and try to figure out how to negotiate this reality.”
He nodded.  “That’s important and perfectly appropriate,” he said.  “Go for it.”
The next semester, “Edna,” a heavy-set, middle-aged woman who had never married accosted me after the third night.  We had watched Soul Food, a film that had won multiple awards from the NAACP.  “I’m offended by that film,” she said.  “I don’t approve of this class, and I don’t want to hear about homosexuals.  They’re sinners. God hates homosexuals. They will burn in hell, and you shouldn’t be teaching about them.”
Dumbstruck, I looked down at Edna and saw hate blazing from her eyes. 
Then I took a deep breath, silently counted to ten, and said, “I’m sorry you feel that way, Edna, but that’s part of the curriculum of this class.  It’s a 6000-level class in the Counseling program, and it’s designed to get teachers to think about families who have beliefs and lives different from their own.”
“Well, I don’t like it,” she said.  She stormed out.
A young teacher stepped up. “Dr. Gore, I overheard Edna, and I’m sorry.  That’s the way she is.  She belongs to (a well-known fundamentalist sect/cult), and she hates people who don’t think exactly like her church does.” 
After the book banning case, I had longed to add to the canon of books for the young children of same-sex families.  Edna is exactly the reason I need to write a book for the children of gay parents, I thought.  She sows hatred, so I need to counter that by writing books that sow love.
The following week, at 3:00 before my 5:30 class, my dean came to my office.  “Grab your syllabus,” he said.  “We have to go meet with the graduate dean. The President of the Wichita Falls school board told the superintendent’s office to tell your students they are forbidden to return to your class without his permission.”  
“What the hell?” I asked. 
He shrugged.
When we arrived at the graduate dean’s office, he chuckled.  “Well, Millie, you old rabble-rouser, what mischief have you gotten yourself into now?”
“I have no idea,” I said, slipping into a chair.  “What’s up?”
He told us that the superintendent was out of town, but the assistant superintendent had called him. She said that the president of the school board had told her to call the graduate dean.  She was to tell him that the teachers from Wichita Falls were not to return to Dr. Gore’s class until Dr. Gore dropped her homosexual agenda.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said. “My homosexual agenda?”
The graduate dean started to laugh, and my dean and I did, too. I am very heterosexual, love being a woman, and loved men. And they knew it. 
We got serious again, and I showed the grad dean my syllabus.  He told us how when he was a young sociology professor, he had brought a group of transvestites from Dallas to the university for a panel discussion. He said the event had been standing-room-only, although a board member had gone around campus tearing the flyers off bulletin boards.  
Then he said, “This is clearly an academic freedom issue. You teach whatever you believe appropriate.   The university is a hundred percent behind you.”
When my dean and I headed back to our building, he said, “If your students don’t return to class immediately, we’ll fail them.  Then they will not graduate even though they are one semester away.  We’ll make them return every penny of the scholarship money.”
But my conscience felt otherwise.  I said, “Dean, these women are stuck in the middle.  They’ll be pawns in this battle. Sacrificial lambs. Their boss says they cannot come back to my class.  They’ll be the ones who’ll be hurt if I hold a hard line on this.”
“What do you propose?” 
“I’ll compromise.  I’ll select the most critical points and put them all into one class.  I’ll assign the students a project on poverty to present for one class, and then I’ll let them vote on what they’d like to learn for the other one.”
As we reached his office, three of the students stuck their heads around the corner.  Wide-eyed, they each carried only their keys.  No purse, no book bag, nothing but keys.   
The spokeswoman said, “Dr. Gore!  What’s happened? We all got an email this afternoon that we’re not allowed to return to your class until the superintendent gives us permission!  We don’t know what’s going on!  Please tell us!  But hurry!  We’re not supposed to be here, and we’re scared!”
I opened my arms, and three middle-aged women rushed in for a group hug.  Their eyes glistened.
They followed me to our classroom, and I told them what the graduate dean had said, and what I had decided to do.
“I know who’s behind this!” said one of the women.  “Edna!  She belongs to the same church as the president of the school board!  She said she was going to do something about your curriculum.  She must have complained to him!” 
I wasn’t surprised.
“How do you feel about it?” I asked the three women. 
The tall one said, “I was looking forward to learning about gay people.  I know a lot about ethnic groups from your undergraduate class.  I don’t know anything about gay people, and I wanted to learn.”
Another said, “I know I’m going to have kids in my class whose parents are gay, and I want to know how to help them.”
The third said, “I can’t believe that one bigoted zealot from that cult could have this kind of power.”
At that moment, three more women stuck their heads into the class.  Like the first three, they carried only their keys.  I laughed and asked where their bags were.  “We’re afraid we might have to run!”  We all started laughing.  
Over the next twenty minutes, more than half the class turned up, terrified that they would lose their jobs.  Every woman who came said that she had wanted to learn about supporting young children from gay and lesbian families, and although none taught teenagers, they wanted to know about books that would help teens, too.  
One said, “And my God, Dr. Gore, you’re a hero in this town!  I wanted to hear you tell about fighting book banning in court!”  
They understood, though, that I didn’t want them to sacrifice their master’s degrees for this fight, so we all agreed to one night jammed with all I could tell them about what I’d planned to do in three nights; to do a project on children in poverty; and to do one night touching on some of the various Asian cultures.
My dean called our graduate dean.  Our graduate dean called the assistant superintendent.  The assistant superintendent called the president of the school board. The president of the school board said the students could return to class.   So the assistant superintendent emailed them that they could come back.
In lieu of a final exam, my syllabus stated that the students would write an essay about the most important thing they had learned in the class.  Most of the students’ essays displayed profound learning. 
But Edna?  She wrote one paragraph, her topic sentence:  I learned that when I believe something is sinful, I can stand up and stop it from happening.  
So much for the teachers who most need to examine their prejudices against families and children who are different from themselves.  
The takeaways?
1. If you write children’s or YA books, consider contributing to the canon of books about LGBTQI issues.  Be prepared to self- publish.  And know that people like Edna won’t like you.
2. Buy our book, All is Assuredly Well, the story of King Phillip and his husband, Don Carlos, who live contentedly for decades until King Phillip goes on the Hero’s Journey to earn the right to a baby girl. If you have young children, read it to them to help them grow up to believe that families come in every shape imaginable.  Edna won’t like that, either.
3. Better yet, buy two copies and give one to your elementary school library. Give every child access to books with families that look like hers.  Edna sure as hell won’t like that.
4. Don’t let Edna stop you from sowing love.

Professor M. C. Gore holds the doctorate in education from the University of Arkansas.  She taught first grade through graduate school for 36 years in New Mexico, Missouri, and Texas.    She was a professional horse wrangler and wilderness guide and continues to play clarinet in two community bands.  She is Professor Emeritus from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas where she held two distinguished professorships. Her books for teachers and parents are shelved in over a thousand libraries throughout the world.  She is retired and lives in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas.
Maestro Phillip Wilson was a public-school band director, music teacher, composer, and arranger for 28 years.  His primary instrument is the trumpet, and he is also a campaƱero (bell ringer). Although he is over 80, he continues to serve as Music Director and Cantor at his church.   He is a life-long resident of New Mexico and was born in Santa Fe. Although his genotype is Dutch and Scotch-Irish, his soul is Hispanic.  He was Professor Gore’s music teacher and band director, and although the loving biological father of seven musical children, he is a soul-father of the hundreds of students he has taught.

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