Omar Currie sounds like a pretty badass elementary school teacher. He loves his job, he's beloved by his students, and he's supported by the staff at Efland-Cheeks Elementary School in North Carolina. Too bad he doesn't actually work there anymore, because he was forced to resign after a community controversy when he had the audacity to read a fairytale about a prince and his prince charming.
Because this is 2015, and we have a growing number of gay-inclusive kids books, but we're not actually allowed to read them to children lest they be converted to the dark side via subversive literature. It's unbelievably unjust that Currie was hounded out of his job, and it's illustrative of the stranglehold conservative thinking has on this country. When it comes to dictating school curricula, haven't conservatives had enough with trying to eliminate sex ed and teaching students that dinosaurs walked the Earth with Jesus?
So what in Sam Hill was Currie doing reading such provocative literature to innocent third graders in the first place? Well, it turns out that students in his class were picking on a boy for being a little femme, using "gay" like a slur and generally being cruel, the way little kids can be. He thought he would nip the gay stereotyping in the bud and get his students to think about their words and actions a bit more, and the assistant principal kindly loaned him a copy of "King and King."
So far, so good, until parents flipped out and held a community meeting where over 200 people showed up to whine about students being corrupted by seditious literature. Sheriff's deputies actually had to show up for crowd control. Attendees also rushed to assure the media that they weren't bad people, they were just, you know, concerned about the welfare of The Children: "I've been called a racist. I’ve been called a bigot, and I am none of those things. This is nothing more than bringing homosexuality into a school where it does not belong."
I'm sure the fact that Currie is gay had absolutely nothing to do with the firestorm of protest over the book, which, incidentally, passed muster with a "review committee" convened to discuss its content. Nope, being gay totally wasn't the problem.
In his two years at Efland elementary, Currie said his sexual orientation had never been an issue. His co-workers, and some parents, knew he lives with his male partner...But at the committee meetings to discuss Currie's use of the book, some parents whose children were not in his class made their attacks personal, telling him he would die young and spend eternity in hell. He also began receiving hate-filled letters and emails, including one copied to other teachers at the school, described homosexuality as a 'birth defect' while accusing Currie of trying to 'indoctrinate' children through 'psycho-emotional rape.'
It sounds an awful lot to me like the homophobic twerps in his classroom learned their habits from somewhere, and that somewhere was their parents and the surrounding community. Even though many of those protesting weren't even parents or relatives of students in his class, it's telling that they managed to whip up such a fervor around the book. "King and King" has been challenged before on similar grounds, because we still live in an era when adults feel that it's necessary to restrict what children read on the grounds of their own bigoted ideas.
Thanks to the complaints, teachers now have to notify parents about classroom reading lists — even when they're pulling new books to address current events or, say, problems with students being jerks to each other. It reminds me of how many schools are required to send notes about sex ed so parents can opt out if they don't want their kids learning about the basics of protecting themselves from STIs and pregnancies, identifying abusive relationships, and other petty stuff.
While the controversy erupted over the book because people are terrible, and while the district upheld Currie's right to teach the book, Currie felt pressured to resign, even though the staff of the school supported him. He's not the only one who chose to leave the school, though: The assistant principal has also chosen to leave. So, thanks to complaining about a teacher working with the moment to educate his class, parents have now lost a great teacher and an administrator, sending the school into upheaval over one measly little book.
Megan Goodhand, the former assistant principal, hasn't commented on why she chose to resign, though it likely had something to do with the fact that she stood up for Currie. He, on the other hand, has been very outspoken about how the district attempted to muzzle him during the controversy. He's also upset over the way the school has chosen to move forward, and said that he felt like the school was a hostile environment for him — not because of the other staff, but because of the district's handling of the situation.
Currie sounds like precisely the kind of guy you want in the classroom. He's a teacher who's engaged and thoughtful with this students, hyperaware of this particular issue because he was also bullied and treated badly in school, and he went into education specifically to make things better for the next generation. He's also a teacher who takes advantage of teachable moments to have conversations with his students, rather than sticking to a rigid curriculum and ignoring what's happening in the classroom and the larger world.
Luckily, at least some schools agree with that assessment, because he's on the job hunt and he's already getting interviews and offers. His decision to resign from Efland-Cheeks might ultimately lead to a really great position elsewhere, but it's a profound pity that he won't be working where it sounds like he's really needed: In a school where students could use some education about how to treat other human beings with compassion and respect.