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Who -- in the sensitive, civilized Minnesota of 2013 -- could possibly be in favor of bullying? If you were short or fat in sixth grade, you may have cringed from bullies yourself. If your kids have endured bullying, you've suffered through it with them. No child should have to put up with bullying. So how could a decent person oppose a campaign at our State Capitol to prevent it?
But what if the antibullying campaign now unfolding there has little to do with protecting the traditional targets of bullies: kids who are pudgy, shy or "vertically challenged"? What if it's driven instead by a political/cultural agenda that's not so much about stopping bad behavior as it is about using the machinery of state education to compel children to adopt politically correct attitudes on "the nature of human sexuality," "gender identity" and alternative family structures?
What if a new antibullying law would require private religious schools -- along with public schools -- to enforce this agenda, so families who don't want to subject their kids to indoctrination in state-approved views of sexuality have no educational refuge?
In the 2013 legislative session, you'll hear lots of warm, fuzzy language from lawmakers and public officials about protecting "all kids" from bullying. You'll read about hearings designed to break every legislator's heart with tearful stories about bullying.
But every Minnesotan with a child in public or private school should understand that there's more going on here than meets the eye. Antibullying legislation is coming early in the session; its final shape is unknown. But the legislative goalposts were set in August 2012 by Gov. Mark Dayton's Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying, whose report announced recommendations on the shape a new law should take.
The task force called for throwing out Minnesota's current, "local control" antibullying law -- which requires every school board to adopt a written policy "prohibiting intimidation and bullying of any student" -- and replacing it with a sweeping new statewide antibullying regime administered from St. Paul.
That regime would include an expansive new definition of bullying; a comprehensive, mandatory antibullying policy for all public and private schools; "multi-cultural/anti-bias" education for all pre-K-12 students and annual training in antibullying strategies for all teachers, school staff and volunteers; the promotion of "values, attitudes and behaviors" that "understand the nature of human sexuality," and a new "school climate center" at the Minnesota Department of Education.
Why this new law? The task force appears to presuppose that bullying is a pervasive and growing problem. In fact, however, incidents of bullying and intimidation have dropped markedly in recent years, according to surveys by the Department of Justice.
And while the task force gives the impression that LGBT students are a primary focus of bullying, evidence suggests that the vast majority of bullying is directed at other students. The DOJ surveys indicate that the percentage of 12- to 18-year-old students who reported being targets of hate-related words based on their sexual orientation fell from 1.0 percent in 2007 to 0.6 percent in 2009.
The campaign for antibullying legislation is driven not by a dramatic escalation in bullying but by a crusade to use the power of the state to shape your 10-year-old's attitudes and beliefs about sexuality and family structure. The drive is being led by OutFront Minnesota -- the state's most prominent LGBT group, whose legal director was a member of the governor's task force and whose executive director also directs the "Safe Schools for All Coalition."
The governor's task force gives the green light to activist groups like OutFront to move into public and private schools. It calls for "actively enlisting ... community-based advocacy groups" to "chang[e] peer and community norms" and develop bullying-intervention strategies.
Not surprisingly, the task force's proposed new antibullying regime would not treat all children equally, despite lip service to this goal. Instead, it focuses on students in "protected classes," including sexual orientation and "gender identity or expression."
Under the task force's vague and overbroad definitions of bullying and harassment, students could be punished for "direct or indirect interactions" that other students --especially those in protected groups -- claim to find "humiliating" or "offensive," that have a "detrimental effect" on their "social or emotional health," or even that promote a "perceived imbalance of power."
By this standard, a student who voices reservations about same-sex marriage could be accused of bullying LGBT students.
We get a sense of what may be on the horizon from "Welcoming Schools" -- a K-5 "antibullying" program developed by the Human Rights Campaign, a gay and transgender advocacy group. The program was scheduled to be piloted at Hale Community School in Minneapolis in 2008.
"Welcoming Schools" had little to do with bullying, and much to do with ensuring that kids as young as age 5 submit to the group's orthodoxy on sexuality and family structure.
The curriculum advised teachers not to call students "boys and girls," on grounds this can create "internal dissonance" in some children. It called for students to read books like "Sissy Duckling," and to be evaluated on "whether or not [they] feel comfortable making choices outside gender expectations." Kids in grades three to five "acted out" being members of nontraditional families, including same-sex-headed families.
In lesson after lesson, teachers were instructed to urge their students -- ages 5 to 11 -- to reject traditional views on sexuality and family structure as hurtful "stereotypes," and to use group exercises and classic indoctrination techniques to pressure them to adopt the curriculum designers' attitudes and beliefs.
At Hale, parent concerns prompted removal of some of the curriculum's most controversial aspects.
The governor's task force recommendations could entail serious consequences for dissenting students. The report includes language suggesting that students who express views that others consider offensive could be referred for "counseling" or "mental health needs."
The activists gathering at the State Capitol march under the banner of tolerance. Yet many seek to use state power to impose their own beliefs on others -- including parents who exercise their rights of conscience by choosing private schools that teach Christian, Jewish or Muslim beliefs on sexuality.
Yesterday's champions of tolerance, it seems, are becoming the bullies of today.
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Katherine Kersten is a senior fellow at the Center of the American Experiment. The views expressed here are her own. She is at email@example.com.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.