The world is not divided into sheep and goats. Not all things are black nor all things white. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories. Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning sexuality the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of its realities.
--Alfred Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 1948
Rationale for Knowledge Base Evolution
It is the year 2010, and we are still "trying to force facts into separated pigeonholes," as described by the famous American biologist Alfred Kinsey in the quote above. Although more than 60 years have passed since Kinsey published his then controversial work, at a time when issues related to sexuality were topics even more taboo than they are today, there is still a great deal to be considered when it comes to defining and positioning sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender in our postmodern world, and particularly in our schools and classrooms. In many ways, not only racially, but also economically, religiously, politically, and sexually, our society is more segregated than at any other time in human history (Kozol, 2007).
It can be viewed as a matter of form and function. Over and above the moral implications that arise from this understanding, people are increasingly interacting with one another, and, quite often, then witnessing the friction that occurs when form, which can be understood as representing our interactions with one another, does not match function, which can be understood as the desired outcome or outcomes we are striving for (Zacko-Smith, 2009). We are striving for, as an example, equity in our classrooms and schools, but often failing to genuinely interact with each other (and our institutions and systems) in ways that support this goal.
As educators and, in fact, simply as human beings, all of us are being called to operate in what can only be described as "hyper-diverse" environments (Zacko-Smith, 2009); we are connected to other cultures, ideas, beliefs, values, and practices in unprecedented ways and with never before seen speed, and the relational complexity created by these connections multiplies rapidly, blurring boundaries, contravening established frameworks, and often creating confusion and misunderstanding. Are educators completely prepared to embrace the new ways that people are relating to each other, and are they prepared to deal effectively with the issues that arise from a necessary and life-enriching "full embrace" of diversity?
In order to teach effectively in hyper-diverse contexts, if effective teaching is considered to be the creation of knowledge, the transmission of ideas, and the "growing" of human beings intellectually, morally and socially, educators at all levels, but particularly those who are new to the field, must be well-versed in multiculturalism and diversity. They must also be unafraid to immerse themselves in the world as it concurrently unfolds and evolves around them.
Educators must also accept their role as mentors who help to define reality for those they are educating, and they must commit to redefining that reality as dictated by demands for social justice and equity. To ignore these continually emerging requirements means that educators will quickly become outdated and ineffective at best, and damaging and socially unjust at worst, neither of which are acceptable outcomes for those who are truly committed to the profession.
As has been described in the literature on multicultural and diversity education over the last two decades, we, as global citizens, can no longer afford to teach or, in fact, to do anything at all, in cultural, sexual, economic, ideological, religious or political isolation. We are recognizing the transdisciplinary nature of virtually every field (Stokols, 2006), and education is no exception. Our schools are at least partially responsible for cementing societal norms and for defining what is considered "normal," and, as Johansson (2007) indicates, "if hegemony is to be upheld, people in the culture must be constantly reminded of the natural and rational [that is] inherent in what it [the culture] advocates. Through these constant reminders, a certain normality is segmented in people's consciousness" (p. 2).
Viewed through such a lens, educators are understood to be either upholding the status quo or to be defining/redefining what is classified as "normal" in their classrooms, and thus in the larger society as well. Continually bringing this responsibility to the attention of educators, as well as giving them the tools to begin to expand definitions of what is and what is not considered "normal" in the realm of sexuality and gender, can go a long way towards achieving equity and, in particular, can help mitigate student's anxiety when it comes to dealing with their own sexual orientation and gender issues.
A Comprehensive Update
While much has been written about multicultural education from ethnic, racial economic, social, gender/gender-identity and sexual-orientation perspectives, the authors of this article have found it necessary to provide a comprehensive update for educators when it comes to the latter categories: gender/gender identity and sexual orientation. Being supporters of diversity means that, as educators who are a part of students' daily lives, we must keep up with the changing ways that our students both define and express themselves. Sexual orientation and gender/gender-identity issues have evolved from the simple fight for acceptance prevalent in the 1960s through the 1980s, to a burgeoning redefinition of sexual identity and sexuality itself.
As Nieto and Bode (1) (2008) point out, becoming a multicultural teacher requires becoming a multicultural person first, and that becoming a multicultural person requires learning to see reality from a variety of perspectives; teachers must cease adherence to the extremes of "black and white," and embrace all the shades of grey that lie between. Thus, if educators care about treating all of their students equitably, and since educators will certainly have gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning students in their classrooms and peers in their schools, they have a responsibility to become educated on the issues that are a part of their daily lives. It is not a responsibility that should be ignored.
The book Common Sense About Uncommon Knowledge: The Knowledge Bases for Diversity (Smith, 1998) was one of the first efforts to outline, in any truly comprehensive way, a set of knowledge bases deemed crucial for educators and those being prepared for positions that place them on the "front lines" in educational contexts. Quite obviously, however, many authors contributed significantly to the effort to describe such knowledge bases both before and after the publication of Common Sense by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education in 1998 (see, for example, Reynolds, 1989; Gay, 1993; Larkin & …