(Now for a review that has nothing to do with medievalism, the ancient or early modern period. Please enjoy one of many engagements with pedagogy and check out my new page devoted wholly to educational matters.)
The last time I read One Teacher in 10: Gay and Lesbian Educators Tell their Stories, I hadn’t yet entered university for my undergraduate career.
During my first read-through, I was a 20/1-year-old who was excited about college. At the time, I hadn’t nearly a single drop of alcohol in my life, knew little about love or mental illness, nor really known much about worldly experiences in general. You could argue that I still don’t know very much, but I do know this– I know more now than I did back then and because of that, I am all the richer.
Fast forward five years, I am a more mature, realized person. I have nearly finished an English degree– after having several bouts of depression which severely hampered my productivity– and I am preparing for an anticipated double-major in Secondary Education (English). Over the summer break, as part of my re-engagement with pedagogical texts, I decided to re-read a text which opened my eyes to the reality of Queer educators.
Because of my subjectivity half-a-decade ago, my first reading of One Teacher in 10 was merely surface reading. I appreciated the stories of courage, understood the bravery of the educators, and sympathized with the plight of not knowing what would happen if one lived openly. And yet, back then, all the stories remained abstract; they were from people who had their shit together, who lived on their own and braved the world of university. As powerful as the stories were they simply seemed far removed from anything relevant today.
Boy, how things have changed in just five years!
Reading through the stories this time around has given me a new lease on teaching and what it means to be ‘out of the closet.’ The tales of young educators, whom at the time of writing their stories were as old as I, inspired me in ways that were impossible those few years ago.
Finishing this collection today, I see not just the narrative of a closeted teacher struggling against injustices but I see the story of a person worrying about making ends meet, and what it would mean professionally if they “shook the boot” too much with Gay Rights advocacy, unintentional as many of the stories in fact were. The people in here expressed anguish over memories of how gay teachers were treated, and adolescent bullying, but never lost sight of their own humanity or how they believed against all that they were worthy of dignity and respect.
Why these narratives touched me so much more can be attributed partly to simply being a tad older and wiser, possessing more life experience and a slightly better understanding of what it meant to be influencing and teaching children academically and socially. The stories, then, weren’t merely collections from a lost age, but testimonies from people who had struggled with the exact same things that I struggle with: should I be ‘out,’ should I come out to my students, how much is ‘too much’ classroom advocacy and is it worth it being out; how would it possibly effect my reputation? And many more.
Before I re-read this collection, I was treading water on whether I should be ‘open’ with my students. Having finished reading this collection, though, I have come to a resounding answer to this question– yes!
In fact, I must say that after reading the narratives contained in this first edition, I must admit to being slightly ashamed that I ever had doubts about being open.
The stories contained here all date from the late 80s to the early 90s. As such, these tales predate the “modern” struggles around customer discrimination and marriage. Reading story after story about Queer men and women finding themselves and their impromptu activist voice in often time hostile, but also surprisingly accepting, communities made me sore with silliness at my own hesitation; if these accidental pioneers could stand up and admit to hundreds of teens that they are who they are and are unashamed, all during an epoch where rights and protections– let alone a mass-movement– were hardly in sight, then I can do the same almost three decades later.
All of this being said, I do not want to overstate the book. After all, its contributors are highly hegemonic. Most stories in this collection come from White, middle-class people; many more men than women, while Non-White voices count for just a handful of stories. This is to say nothing of the complete lack of Bisexual, Transgender, and otherwise non-homonormative Queer voices.
Furthermore, all though I honor these early human rights advocates, I understand that, implicitly, many of them could very well hold views which today would be considered reactionary; I will not delve into protracted wandering here, but with every radical teacher refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance, there is another who secretly holds racialist views or who I would not be surprised to be a Zionist, pro-war jingoist, or TERF. I hope that none of them are but with the social mass-consciousness of today greatly different from the collective unconscious of yesteryear, I can only wonder.
Outside of me musing on the contributors’ views on today’s issues, however, the stories herein are mighty. The stories here tell of teachers who expected frenzied hate in a rural, isolated community, to only find love and warmth; another tells of a rural Lesbian who fights homophobia as she resists nationalism and patriotism; another, meanwhile, depicts a teacher who stayed strong in the face of a protracted– and violent– Rightist terror campaign. In so many stories, the teachers advocated not only for themselves and their own identities but those of Black and Jewish people but also of subjugated and marginalized communities such as the working class and imperialized subjects at the neocolonial periphery.
In this sense, the anthology displayed a kind of radicalism not seen in recent years. Whereas many mainstream Queer groups go out of their way to shill for the Democratic Party and remain silent on capitalism and “freedom,” a few of the educators here invoke an activist tradition dating all the way back to anti-segregation. Even the editor, Kevin Jennings, introduces one of the book’s parts with a quotation by Mao Zedong. An admirable decision unheard of in today’s pseudo-“radical” circles.
In writing this review, I have discovered two more editions of this same book, each edition with entirely new stories from new educators. Because of my positive experience with this collection, I now eagerly await the time when I can get my hands on the newer versions. So, if I should assign this collection a score, I can only say I highly recommend One in 10 to any Queer person thinking of becoming a teacher. That should speak for itself.