Friday, July 10, 2009

Tom Winton's Reply

Folks forwarded me probably 15-20 letters they sent to Tom and Mary and maybe 10 other folks let me know they were going to send letters. I was curious to see if anyone would get a reply from Tom and Mary, mostly because I was curious to what they would say.

The only person I know of that heard from them was Jim Dadosky. He was a GSE student who I had in Area III one year. He's a smart, insightful young man with a fiercely independent streak. He heard back from Tom after sending him 2 requests for a response.

The response is pretty standard, but concerns me deeply because its first paragraph is riddled with blatant lies which Tom knows are lies. GS does alter its curriculum and content. As faculty members, we were asked at different times by David Mills, Tom Winton, J. Grymes, and Michael McElreath to either censor content or change the title of electives specifically so they could fly under the radar of the ADF on the public calendar. (David and Tom were the DPI GS directors, J. and Michael were GSE directors.)

While I know admitting there were attempts to appease a homophobic, out-of-state group is embarrassing (I'm embarrassed that I changed the name of the Human Sexuality Film Series and that i shut it down one year), lying about it is to me the first offense that begins to mitigate Tom Winton's dismissal.

(1) Lying about simple things like these violates the ground GSE is built upon. We don't lie to the students and faculty members don't lie to each other. We state our truths or positions and try to find responsible, respectable ways to work differences out. It is what we require in the classroom and in the general GSE community. We ask it of both the students and the staff. It is one of the most powerful models GSE offers to its students, as well as its faculty. If Tom is going to begin openly lying in public about GS policies, I believe he is unfit to hold his position. If he is lying at the request of his superiors, they too need to be removed.

(2) His letter indicates that I am lying when I state that I changed the name of the film series, removed films, and censored books at the request of Tom Winton, Michael McElreath, J. Grymes, and David Mills. Each of them asked me to do one or more of the above actions, specifically so the ADF would either be appeased or would be hard pressed to discover what we were doing at GSE. I said at the time and I restate now, those actions were homophobic and violated basic tenets of GS. It is my great shame that I ever censored or removed material from courses or electives. However, I am not lying when I say that it occurred. Tom Winton is lying when he denies that it occurred.

I also feel Tom plays fast and loose with the truth when he states that there are topics of sexuality on both the GSE and GSW calendars. The link to the GSE calendar is here (I choose not to concern myself with GSW as their response to being asked to censor or disguise topics of sexuality was very different from the GSE response.) There are no electives or activities beyond the GSA that uses any word related to sexuality. (We were asked to use "gender" when we could instead of "gay" "sexuality" "homosexuality" etc.) The GSA is the only thing that we were not asked to censor because GSA's usually win when challenged in court. Very simply, if you allow any electives or groups, you have to allow a GSA and the ADF does not challenge those legally.

This is not to say there are no discussions of sexuality or sexuality theory. There have been and I am sure there will be. It is the attempt to disguise them from the ADF or their removal that is homophobic and needs to be stopped. Therefore, if Tom knows that topics of sexuality are being discussed, he has yet to allow them to use that vocabulary on the public calendar.

Tom's reversion to public denial of well known facts is concerning, but also indicates to me the ineffectiveness of GS leadership. This makes me fear for its continuation. GS is a powerful, progressive NC institution. It needs leadership that is up to the challenges it currently faces, as well as those coming in the future. Tom Winton's inability to speak a very simple, very public truth concerns me, not only for the slander it commits against me, but for his inability to deal with threats to GS existence. If he has read Opening Windows, Winton would have to realize the truth, while difficult at times, is the best weapon against lies.

The letter is below. (Jimbo gave me permission to post this and to use his name.)

Dear Mr. Dadosky,

Thank you for your notes and for your concerns about Governor's School. Your input is valued and appreciated, and I hope your educational career is moving forward well since you attended Governor's School in 2006.

While your points are clear, they seem to be founded on information that is inaccurate, misleading or false. I encourage you to follow the Governor's School model and not automatically believe one person's version of events. In fact, we do not alter the Governor's School curriculum or content in response to the threats of the ADF or any other organization. Virtually every decision on content and materials is made by the faculty and On-Site Director. All pertinent topics, including topics on sexuality, are open for discussion. (Please examine the calendars for both Governor's School East and Governor's School West. I believe you will find them to be very diverse, including sexuality topics.) The administration at the Department of Public Instruction does, however, have the assigned responsibility to direct the Governor's School. We do receive and listen to suggestions from a variety of perspectives, including yours, through the year. We also trust and value the opinions of our faculty. On the rare occasions we make more direct decisions, we do our best to adhere to the mission and purposes of the Governor's School and consider the needs and interests of the wide variety of students who attend. Then we examine those decisions, with feedback from stakeholders, make adjustments and move forward. This is not to appease a group or an individual, but to provide what we believe to be in the best interest of students.

While I will not engage in debate on individual points and assumptions you have expressed, please know that we are on the same side in these matters. I look forward to the North Carolina Governor's School continuing to be a pioneering educational program, the first of its kind in the country and the model against which other states' programs are fashioned. Thank you again for your dedication to Governor's School and your advocacy for its success.

Tom Winton
Section Chief, Instructional Support & Related Services
Exceptional Children Division
North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

Monday, June 1, 2009

Summer 2009

The Governor’s School 2009 session starts June 8th, with students arriving June 14th. This summer I am asking people to contact GS administration and insist that faculty and staff no longer be asked or forced to (1) edit any part of the Area I, II, III or elective curriculum according to actual or anticipated requests from the Alliance Defense Fund. The ADF is a homophobic group in Arizona. As such, they should not be determining the curriculum of a North Carolina public school program. (2) remove any words relating to sexuality from the curriculum when those words accurately reflect content. Disguising content associated with homosexuality (accurately or not) with word play is homophobic and as such is dangerous to faculty, staff, and students.

You may contact Mary Watson, Director of Exceptional Children Division, or Tom Winton, Director of both Governor’s Schools any of the ways below.
Mary Watson. 919-807-3969.
Tom Winton. 919-807-3982.
The postal address for either is Department of Public Instruction. 6356 Mail Service Center. Raleigh, NC 27699-6356.

Many of you are aware I was fired from North Carolina’s Governor’s School program just before the 2008 session. (I taught at Governor’s School East. Read more about the program here. Five of us that were fired for expressing concerns about homophobic policies from the Governor’s School administration and issues of academic freedom. The other four were quickly offered meetings to explain why they were fired and were reinstated after they promised not to talk about their firing, their meeting with administration, or what was happening between Governor’s School and the Alliance Defense Fund. I am the only one of the five that is queer. I publically identify as so and was out to administration and faculty.
Governor’s School has been under attack from the Alliance Defense Fund since 2003.

The ADF is a legal group primarily funded by Focus on the Family and is based in Arizona. The ADF is openly homophobic and they file lawsuits across the country that support their homophobic agenda. (You can read about the ADF here. Each year since at least 2005, the ADF has threatened Governor’s School with litigation and demands that GS post curriculum on a public board so it may be “monitored” both from Arizona and locally by the John Locke Foundation and their monthly, the Carolina Journal. (You can read some of the CJ’s work on Governor’s School here.

When the ADF objects to books, films, discussions, activities, they both send out an alert, asking members of an email list to flood GS offices with both written protests and phone calls. Then they threaten litigation unless the content they find objectionable is removed. Almost all content the ADF has found objectionable has been because of perceived homosexual material, although they did object to both the films, American History X and Pan’s Labyrinth at Governor’s School West because of violence.

The response of the administration at GS has been threefold. (1) Content has removed at the ADF’s request. The only movie I know that ADF objected to that was shown anyway is Ma Vie En Rose in an elective I ran, the Human Sexuality Film Series. Other than that, films, books, speakers, electives, and activities the ADF objects to are removed from the curriculum. (2) Faculty have been asked to choose curriculum and materials according to what the ADF might find objectionable, despite the academic importance of the topic or material. (3) Faculty have been asked to disguise electives and materials the ADF might find objectionable. This has most often been done by removing the words “sex”, “sexuality”, “gay”, “lesbian”, “homosexual”, “transgendered”, “bisexual”, and “queer”. While the administration has not objected to the material, they have been concerned that those terms might draw the attention of the ADF if they appear on the public calendar. (For instance, I was ordered to change the name of the Human Sexuality Film Series. I changed it to “The Film Series That Dare Not Speak Its Name. Or Show Films”. I was later told one reason for my firing was because of this change, despite the fact it was approved at the time and it fit the criteria I was given- remove the word Sexuality from the title.)

Governor’s School is also under attack from the governor and legislature this year. Part of the budget recommendation is for one GS campus next year. That will result in 400 fewer students having the GS experience. While this threat is real and meaningful, the administration’s desire to shape GS curriculum is line with ADF’s homophobic agenda seems the greater threat. Whether there are 1 or 2 GS campuses is a moot point when GS has moved so far away from its stated goal- to “acquaint these future leaders with the latest theories and techniques in their chosen fields – introduce them to some of the present thorny problems in the field- . . .” (Opening Windows Onto the Future: Theory of the Governor’s School of North Carolina. You can see the full text of this document here.

Why any public school in North Carolina should attempt to mollify a homophobic group in Arizona is a crucial question. Why GS in particular does is a question that must be made public and answered by its administration. Their current plan seems to be to remain quiet, get rid of any problematic staff, and hope all issues will remain under the radar of the public, the legislature, and the ADF. Saving GS from budget cuts is important; saving it from its current leadership is essential. Your letter, email or phone call will remind the administration there are many voices. Neither the curriculum nor the faculty of any NC public school program should be set by the loudest. It is their job to defend the stated goals of GS, not to attempt to hide the important work GS does from a homophobic bully. Hearing from people other than the ADF is really important to Governor’s School as a whole, but particularly for faculty, staff, and students this summer. The administration needs to know not everyone thinks homophobia is acceptable and that they are accountable to all of the citizens of North Carolina and not just the ADF.