Headmaster’s Thoughts – September 2005

Welcome to a new school year. To those of you who are new to our community, I should explain that I try to write something in this “Headmaster’s Thoughts” section each month. These comments are usually personal observations and—I hope–are read with the understanding that I am a headmaster and not a professional writer. I try to present my personal and honest views, which may be totally unrelated to what is happening in school or in the lives of our students. If you are at all interested, you can go back and look on this website at previous months’ thoughts.

Many times I relate topics that appear (or, in this case, probably will appear) in my Ethics class with the Seniors. Some topics worry parents when they discover I have raised them, and the only assurance I can give is that I raised similar issues with my own children when they were younger than the present senior class. I strive to provide an honest opinion rather than falling back into the “I really can’t make a judgment” answer.

So let’s jump right into controversy by discussing homosexuality in schools. There is no question that both boys and girls have accepted York’s supportive atmosphere to be honest about the fact that some of our students are gay. We are not talking about a lot of kids, only the few that have self-identified their homosexuality. I hope we assure them that they are in no way different from any other students to us and that we do not judge them any more than we would judge someone by the color of their eyes. My only concern for them is that they might encounter homophobia in later life or even at present from outside the school. I expect and hope that they will not encounter the sad phenomenon of homophobia in any part of their experience at York.

Similarly, we have a few children of gay couples–i.e. two fathers or two mothers. The children of these unions are generally stronger than the average child because often their birth was not an accident but a carefully planned event by two adults who desperately wanted them. These adults also tend to be slightly older than our general parent body and often have become financially secure in their lives before they decide to have a child. My experience (and in this I am backed up by research from Stanford) is that these children are not more or less likely to be gay themselves than children from the entire school community in aggregate.

I am reminded that when I was dating Jayme (over forty years ago), my future mother-in-law, now sadly deceased, was concerned that her daughter might marry an Englishman and move to London. She produced, as an attempt to dissuade Jayme from such a match, broad generalizations that were rather unsubtle. As a camp director, she declared that if a child had not gone to camp, he or she could not be normal, and that children of divorced parents are all screwed up. Since I had not gone to camp and my parents were divorced, you can doubtless see the drift of her remarks. Ever since, I have been extremely suspicious of absurd sweeping generalizations which have no basis and reflect personal bias more than fact.

So let me turn back to my thought for this piece which is that these students and their parents bring a component that we look for in a school community: diversity. This is a world where gay and straight people of good heart mix in every facet of society in open terms and with mutual respect. Such a lesson cannot be learned too early. It tends to sneak into the Ethics class, not as a discussion about homosexuality, but rather when questions are asked regarding very distantly related topics, such as: Should a clinic permit the in vitro fertilization of the sperm of an eighty-six year old man in the body of a young woman to whom he may (or may not) be married? And what is the role of the doctor or clinician if they discover that the young woman is to be paid? It usually is the time to remind my class, if they do not know already, that several students live with their grandparents rather than with their natural parents and that these relationships seem to work out well. There often follows a discussion about prostitution and how this can lead to a poor and degrading attitude towards women and even to their lack of equality with men.

My students’ conclusion in the past has been that the traditional concept of marriage is usually mythical. We know that half of the children in America live in a one-parent household, that close to one-fifth live in a household where both parents are of the same sex, and that one in 25 do not live with their parents at all. I think we have to stop making statements such as “children grow up better when there is a father and a mother in the household”—firstly, because it diminishes respect for children who are not in the classical family setting, and secondly, and more importantly, because there is absolutely no evidence of difference in situations where the economic strengths of the comparative studied families are similar.

We will continue to be a place of comfort for children from a whole variety of backgrounds, whether adopted, reared by two gay or straight parents, or reared by a single parent or grandparent. To put it somewhat simplistically, our students are our clients to be treated equally regardless of family or economic status, no matter what race, religious belief, or gender inclination. Frankly, I think York Prep does very well in accomplishing this goal.

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org