Schools are safe spaces. Free from the ugliness of the real world, ideally speaking. Of course there are problems but we try as best we can to make them safe. Safe from bullying, safe from harm, safe from allergies, safe from harassment, safe from judgment and safe from inequality. The school to a degree is a microcosm of the broader society and it helps children model how it would be to live in the adult world before they reach adulthood themselves.
One of the key aspects of our society and hence a schooling society is, equality. We are gradually and very slowly moving towards an inclusive society that respects diversity and respects everyone regardless of one's ethnicity, culture, gender, sexuality or religion, that goes for Public, Catholic and Independent schools.
However, the call by Sheikh Taj Aldin Hilali, a Sydney based cleric, that independent Islamic schools should not allow homosexual teachers to work in their schools has opened up a can of worms. It is reported by The Australian that he said that homosexual teachers should "not impose their lifestyle on the rest of society, especially schools which are supposed to provide an environment of learning and culture and not a club for those seeking to satisfy their desires".
As a teacher for more than 12 years and 8 years working in Islamic schools I have seen every type and style of teacher. We have competent and talented teachers, we have young and inexperienced teachers but we also have mediocre and jaded teachers who frankly, should not be teaching. We don't look at the person's religious values, or his racial background, or his gender, so why should we look at his or her sexuality. Quite frankly, that is none of my business and anyone's for that matter; teacher selection should be solely merit based. Full stop. No exclamation mark! Sorry that's the English teacher in me. On a side note, I can't help myself in correcting one's grammatical mistakes when I am listening to someone speaking, or if it's written, correcting their spelling!
Teachers, in my opinion perform one of the greatest jobs in the world, one which is under-valued but their role is critical for the establishment of a morally sound society and their influence is immeasurable.
There is a famous anecdote about a lawyer and teacher at a dinner party discussing how much they make, the lawyer boasts, "Do you know how much I make as a lawyer? How much do you make?", he asks the teacher in a condescending tone. The teacher replies, "You want to know what I make? I guide my students, I set them up for their career paths, I help them with their self-confidence and self esteem, I mentor them and I impart important values of compassion, respect, tolerance and honesty. You want to know what I make? I make a difference."
They are nurturers of our children who grow up to go to high school and eventually become doctors, judges, politicians, teachers, nurses, police officers and taxi drivers, plumbers and sparkies and so on, the backbone of any society. Our teachers mould them, support them and guide them through the unpredictable times of childhood and adolescence.
We as parents, often dream of our own children becoming doctors but do we ever desire for them to become teachers? Doctors save lives. True. But teachers produce the doctors who save those lives.
But back to the debate; I will totally be honest, as a Muslim, I cannot condone homosexuality. However, I am a realist and in today's Australian society, there is too much diversity and if we start picking on every single group out there, then where would we stop? As the saying goes, "Then they came for me because I did not speak out".
I dare say that Islamic schools do not support Sheikh Taj's sentiments. Whether you are a Muslim teacher teaching a Catholic kid, or a Jewish teacher teaching Muslim kids, it doesn't make one iota of a difference as to the way you teach or the values you impart or the ideas you share. We should not be asking teacher's during their interviews; so John, are you married? Or we could be more direct; "So do you support same sex marriage?" Or are you a homosexual, John? Are you? Then get out! Out I say!" It's a bit ridiculous.
I recall, quite often, in my classrooms when I first started teaching at a school, the students would ask you, "Are you married sir?" This was one of the first things they'd asked me and I don't know if it was because they were testing to check my sexuality or whether I was single or I guess, both. It's in our nature to wonder but I often would not give much away and the kids then came to the conclusion that I must be gay.
Muslims are a minority in this country and so there are a small number of Islamic schools relatively speaking in Australia. They do an amazing job and their teaching roster is quite diverse. Roughly speaking, about half of the staff on average, at an Islamic school are not adherents to Islam. So, they're not going to worry about who teaches their kids, and the last thing on their mind is whether they are homosexual or not. Its just one of those things that we don't know and what we don't know is better for us. My first ever full time job was for the Navy and the first thing they taught me was, "Need to know basis, if you don't need to know then don't bother even asking."