Monday, November 18, 2013

Learning From Lookadoo

In case you were on Mars last week, here's a recap. The PTA at Richardson High School sponsored a motivational speaker, Justin Lookadoo, for a school assembly. Lookadoo's public speaking focuses on what his critics consider antiquated gender stereotypes. The RHS event blew up on social media, was picked up by Dallas newspapers and television, and eventually received international coverage.

After the jump, what we learned.

What did the public learn? We learned a lot about Lookadoo's website and his "Rules of Dating." Much of the online criticism took that material apart. We learned a little of what he actually told students at RHS from snippets of his talk posted on Facebook and Twitter. Those snippets are consistent with the overall message of gender stereotypes on Lookadoo's website. We learned that some parents and students objected to this message, sometimes cleverly, sometimes crudely, sometimes both (#Lookadouche).

What did students learn? That social media are powerful tools that give them an independent voice that school administrators have to take seriously. RHS administrators quickly backed down when the shit hit the Twitter fan in this case. The RHS principal promised that Lookadoo would not be invited back. Students learned how to get unpopular views suppressed.

What did school administrators learn? That's harder to say. Lookadoo seemed like a safe booking. He was sponsored by the PTA. His website quotes one "Becky Clapp, Principal, Tyler ISD" as saying, "Justin is the BEST SPEAKER we have ever had. He has been to my school for 5 straight years and he will come back as long as he wants." Lookadoo gave a talk at RHS itself in 2009 without incident. In vetting his 2013 talk, school administrators were assured that Lookadoo would not discuss religion nor his "Rules of Dating" featured on his website. It's unclear what the principal's expectations for the talk were, only that he's now sorry. The principal knows people were offended, even if he doesn't say why exactly. The principal also apologized for not giving parents advance notice about the speaker. That's an easier misstep to correct.

What did Christians learn? That's the most interesting question of all for me.

First, there are many kinds of Christians. Lookadoo's brand of Christianity, with those traditional gender stereotypes, is one. Lookadoo's message isn't out of line with traditional Christian teaching. That is, we are all sinners (Lookadoo puts it more provocatively: "Ladies, I’m going to say this in the nicest way possible... you are the most horrible, awful, vindictive creatures this planet has ever seen."). And God gave different roles to males and females (Lookadoo's version: "Have y'all noticed yet that there's a MAJOR difference between guys and girls? And this is true on a biological, cellular level. Because nowadays people are like 'Men and women are the same; men and women are the same.' NO--THEY'RE NOT.") Lookadoo wasn't criticized for bringing God into a public school -- he did not -- but for presenting a viewpoint influenced by his Christian morality. The episode might have reinforced similar Christians' feelings of discrimination by secular society.

Rev. Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles represents another brand of Christianity. She is Associate Professor of New Testament, Southern Methodist University, and mother to a 16 year old daughter who attends RHS. Here's her takeaway, published in The Huffington Post:
Mainstream and progressive Christians, I'm talking to YOU. Where is our voice when it comes to battling fundamentalist constructions of gender? We wring our hands and complain, but what are we doing to prove that a truly Biblical, Christian view of gender depicts God as creating wild diversity? The Bible shows us that from the start God created variety, in regard to genders, differently-able bodies, races, ethnicities, personality types, cultures, etc.). And we can't deny the fact that the Bible portrays a variety of ways to express sexuality, including celibacy. Paul's stated preference was for ALL Christians to be unmarried (1 Cor. 7:8) and Jesus spoke of "those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:12). I assume that eunuchs would be considered "undateable" for Lookadoo.
So, what did the fundamentalist variety of Christians presumably learn? That they are probably right to fear public schools, or at least highly regarded public school systems like Richardson ISD. RISD schools have done such an effective job of inculcating a philosophy of gender equality in students that a Justin Lookadoo, with his message of gender stereotypes, can no longer speak in Richardson, Texas (of all places), without generating a firestorm of protest by students themselves.

"Some views on gender roles are just plain dangerous," Clark-Soles says. Indeed. For fundamentalist Christians, Clark-Soles' theology of diversity and tolerance is what's dangerous to their own world view. The backlash to Lookadoo's talk led the RHS principal to promise that Lookadoo would not be asked back. Pardon the fundamentalists if they don't take that as respect for diversity and tolerance of diverse viewpoints.

What did I learn? Maybe the fundamentalists have a point.

No one asked me, but I say let him talk. Giving someone a microphone should not imply endorsement of everything he says. Let the students react. Use it as a teachable moment to discuss gender roles and stereotypes and to develop critical thinking skills in our children. I have confidence that, given those skills, they'll figure things out and come out just fine. In fact, I might venture a guess that this whole Lookadoo episode just reinforced the message of gender equality that the RISD has been trying to instill in students. If so, mission accomplished, even if unintentionally. It's a shame that RISD won't be letting it be repeated.

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