One of the genuine oddities about the United States in the late 20th century is that as it is becoming more "conservative" economically and politically, it seems to be growing more "liberal" socially and morally. There cannot be much doubt that, for the moment at least, we have repudiated the political legacy of the '60s and '70s activists, yet we seem to be buying their cultural legacy -- of tolerance bordering on permissiveness, of openness bordering on exhibitionism -- to a degree that must be startling to those who assume that political and moral conservatism go hand in hand.
Thus it is that even as we retreat from the Great Society into the Go-for-It! Society, we maintain, as many polls and some election returns indicate, surprisingly relaxed attitudes on matters of individual choice ranging from abortion to sexual preference. Indeed, those attitudes are becoming so relaxed that we may be in danger of losing our grip on ourselves, of tossing discipline and moral standards to the winds as we permit any person to do any old thing that enters his mind or his libido.
It is a climate hospitable to lunacy, as was amply demonstrated last week by the disclosure in The New York Times that a high school for homosexual teen-agers is being financed in significant measure -- about $50,000 a year at present -- by the New York City Board of Education. Establishment of the school was proposed by something called the Institute for the Protection of Lesbian and Gay Youth, which pays the school's $500-a-month rent and contributes "a whole range of support services." The school is named for Harvey Milk, the homosexual San Francisco city supervisor whose murder in 1978 made him something of a martyr to homosexual activists; at present the school has 20 students and meets at a church in (where else?) Greenwich Village, but its organizers hope and expect that both enrollment and physical space eventually will expand.
Ostensibly this new institution has come into being for the good of the children, who are said to have been harassed in the public schools and as a result dropped out. The boys in the school are described by one teacher as "overtly effeminate," the girls as "tough"; at Harvey Milk School, in what that teacher calls "an environment where gay and lesbian kids would not be subject to immature teen-agers," the hope is that these students will be able to concentrate on their lessons free of hostile distractions.
What they will study is the standard curriculum with a twist, or, as one person involved with the school told the New York Post, "we do some things they don't do in regular high schools." That belongs in the department of understatement: "If we're studying poetry and Walt Whitman's name comes up, we'll point out he was gay. When we talk about history we point out that Dag Hammarskjo ld was gay. Our kids have no opportunity to know the history of their people -- what it means to be gay. There's more to being gay than sexuality." Another person told The Times: "In citizenship lessons, the teacher brings up the idea of commitment to each other, and loving and caring. In literature classes, there would be discussion of Shakespeare as a homosexual, and in history and geography the contributions gay people have made will be brought up."
The taxpayers of New York, in other words, are contributing $50,000 a year -- with the prospect of larger amounts in the future -- to a school that teaches a homosexually oriented interpretation of history, literature, geography and, presumably, everything else. A teacher's disclaimer to the contrary notwithstanding -- "Neither in the school nor here in the institute do we convince the kids to be one way or another" -- the Harvey Milk School is clearly engaged in homosexual advocacy at, in substantial measure, public expense. Is this how New York taxpayers want their money spent?
Perhaps they do. Mayor Edward Koch and various school authorities apparently believe so, for there has been a chorus of official support for the school. "It is far better," according to the mayor, "to have those students in a class than wandering the streets of the city of New York and doing things that are antisocial, violative of the law or hurting themselves in some other way." According to the chancellor of the city's schools, "we have a responsibility to all youngsters to the age of 21 to provide them with an education. We cannot say that we are responsible for reducing dropouts and then focus our attention on only one dimension of the school population."
So what does the city do? It cooperates in the establishment of an "off-site" school designed to cater to the somewhat peculiar needs of this small group of students. It lets itself be cajoled and/or bullied by the homosexual activists into cooperating in the establishment of the country's first publicly supported homosexual school -- which, when you get right down to it, is precisely what the Harvey Milk School is. In doing this the city not merely acknowledges, as it should, that these students have problems that demand attention; it tacitly endorses homosexuality, an endorsement that many citizens of decent, humane instincts undoubtedly will have trouble supporting.
Having done this, what is to prevent the city from funding special schools -- or skating rinks, or swimming pools, or subway cars -- for any other group that feels its members have been singled out for unfair treatment? To be sure, these groups may not be quite as effectively organized as homosexuals, and they may not represent voting power quite so visible or potent as the "gay vote," but in this age of "caring" and "sharing" we surely can't let their tender psyches be bruised; no, there must be an "off-site" school on every block, in every church basement, until at last each aggrieved group is thoroughly insulated from the rest of society and allowed to be "educated" in terms most suitable to its own particular variety of grievances, preferences or kinks.
Some might call this caving in to special-interest pressures, but not those of us who live in the Age of Sensitivity. Our national motto is not "In God We Trust" but "If It Hurts, Kiss It," and whenever we have the chance to brighten an unhappy citizen's day, we seize it. If this means turning a school system into a conglomeration of duchies and making a mockery of the spirit and purpose of education, that is entirely beside the point; what matters is that everyone gets to go off and be his very own perfect self, while the rest of us stand on the sideline and applaud him for being "special."