Kids Take A Field Trip To The Castro, Parents Freak Out About Homosexuality

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Last week about four dozen second-graders from San Francisco's Town School, a private school for boys, took a field trip to the Castro neighborhood. Now, predictably, some parents are complaining about the trip, even though the point of the excursion was to teach children about civil rights, history, and Harvey Milk.


According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the school selected a reputable guide with a history of leading child-friendly tours, and he mapped out a route that avoided adult-oriented stores. The children were taken to:

Pink Triangle Memorial Park, where 15 granite pylons rise above the ground in remembrance of the estimated 15,000 gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders who were persecuted, imprisoned and killed during and after the Nazi regime. A few other stops on the tour included the wildly colored Hope for the World Cure Mural, a pictorial depiction of the AIDS epidemic; the Human Rights Campaign Action Center, local headquarters for a civil rights organization promoting fairness for LGBT Americans; and Harvey Milk's camera shop, which the former gay activist and pioneering politician once lived above.

Yet, some parents chose to keep their children home and one complained that students were told the word gay means "happy" (though, that's still one of the word's definitions). One parent even contacted the local CBS station and said in a news segment:

"Why would you talk to a young child about sex with a man and a woman let alone a man and a man or a woman and a woman? It just doesn't seem right. They are not ready for that."

Town headmaster Brewster Ely responded in a letter to parents that the Castro was part of the students' study of the city's neighborhoods, which also included the Mission and Chinatown, and sex was not discussed on the trip. He added:

At Town we have long taught that it is important to be openminded about difference, and we are pleased that we have boys at school who have gay parents ... In an unexpected way, this coverage provided the school and its leadership with a public forum to share the value we see in diversity and in fostering in our boys a respect for and understanding of difference.


Parents certainly have every right to keep their children home from field trips (though I'm still unclear on why I wasn't allowed to see The Lion King on Broadway), and in most other areas of the country, parents probably would have freaked before the trip even took place. However, the controversy sends the message that there's something wrong with homosexuals and their history shouldn't even be discussed. Presumably the fact that gay people exist wasn't news to any 8-year-olds on the trip (particularly those with gay parents) and it sounds like teachers saved the graphic descriptions of the mechanics of sex for another trip.

Is San Francisco's Castro Neighborhood Appropriate For Young Kids? [San Francisco Chronicle]



My main point of concern is that they took them to a Holocaust memorial. Don't get me wrong—I worked at a Holocaust museum for years and think it's hugely important (and it's a teachable moment when you can talk about the fact that victims were not just Jews, or political prisoners, etc.), but 2nd grade is too young for that material. My museum doesn't let kids younger than 6th grade on the "Holocaust floor" with school groups unless the teacher argues a really good case as to why they should be allowed. Even in those cases, I could probably count the number of times on one hand where we allowed kids younger than 5th grade on that segment of the tour. They're just not ready to "get" what you're really talking about, not to mention it is incredibly disturbing. AIDS, too, is an extremely dark theme for a 2nd grade trip, and it strikes me that it might be more meaningful to show them the mural when they're older.

The visit to Harvey Milk's shop is an excellent idea, though! Kids love latching on to historical figures—teaching them about people is a great way to teach them ideas and causes. I'd love for my second grader to go on that trip!