GLBTQ online high school: Solution or segregation? Can separate be equal?
Last week an announcement went out online informing the world of a new school available to GLBTQ youth everywhere: a virtual school "Where you can get a high quality education while receiving comprehensive support from adults and peers." This announcement was greeted by some bloggers with joy, but by many with ambivalence. This has been the reaction anytime there has been a discussion of similar face-to-face schools for queer youth that are currently established in Toronto and NYC. Some arguments against such programs say that they deprive students of important socialization experiences or puts them in a fake supportive bubble that doesn't prepare them for the "real world."
Based on the current realities in most high schools in the U.S. and Canada, I have to say I am strongly in favor of such a program -- for the time being. Many GLBTQ students are being denied equal access to a decent education because they often lack physical and emotional safety. They also are being denied important socializiation experiences in these schools because they are being denied the opportunity to develop a sense of pride in their identities and to learn about the history and culture of the GLBTQ communities. Believe me: these youth have had plenty of doses of the harsh realities of their local teen culture if they are opting out of their home school to take advantage of the opportunity to complete their high school education online. Yes, it is a bubble, but this temporary respite from the harsh realities of the "real world" may save a life and at the very least allow some students to complete high school. It may also offer enough time, space, and support to allow a struggling teen to develop the strength and resilience to face the harsh realities of homophobia and transphobia in their home, peer group, and school.
MISSION: The GLBTQ Online High School will provide a safe and welcoming educational community that provides a high quality, comprehensive college-preparatory online high school experience for students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning their sexual orientation or gender using the best technology and techniques of distance education.
I'm not saying this school is for every GLBTQ-identified youth, but it is an important alternative for students who feel like their options are limited. Distance learning will only work well for students who are intrinsically motivated and have enough basic literacy skills to be independent learners. Due to the countless stories of students being hospitalized, transferred from school to school, dropping out, and running away because of the horrible experiences they have faced in their home schools, this option is invaluable. Now, I'm not saying that we should give up trying to make ALL schools safer and more inclusive spaces for ALL students. Not in a million years. What I am saying is that as schools and communities go through the long, slow process of change, there needs to be an alternative for some youth so they have an opportunity to graduate from high school and have options for education and careers with that diploma in hand.
There are many community organizations such as GLSEN (USA), PFLAG (USA & Canada), EGALE (Canada), and Stonewall (UK) that engage in grassroots efforts to reduce homophobia and transphobia in schools. I continue to work with some of these organizations (GLSEN & EGALE) and as a independent consultant to provide resources and information to schools who need to address the problems of sexism, homophobia, and transphobia in their schools. As a matter of fact, this year I'm offering a YEAR of FREE consulting to two schools: 1 U.S. and 1 Canadian. If you know of a school that might be interested, please send them this link: http://lizjmeyer.googlepages.com - the deadline to apply is September 1. I've also started writing a blog at Psychology Today to help get information out about these issues to a broader audience and "tweeting" tips for teachers and parents daily. So, I firmly believe that teachers, parents, administrators, and community members need to continue working hard to transform hostile school climates, but in the meantime we MUST offer alternatives to the students who are most targeted. This new high school can offer some possiblities of success, connection, and resilience for the youth who enroll. Classes begin in January 2010 and registration has already started.
What do you think? Solution or segregation? Can separate be equal? Would you recommend this to a GLBTQ student in your school? What if this student was experiencing ongoing bullying and gendered harassment? or would you expect them to stick it out in their traditional school environment for the experiences provided by an average high school social world?