Mike Ricchini was still upset when I spoke to him a few days ago about something that happened just before Christmas.
His daughter, Jenna, a 9-year-old third-grader at Vanzant Elementary in Evesham Township, came home and reported to her parents that her class would be watching a video the next day about children with "two mommies and two daddies."
Ricchini was angry and told the school principal so. "These are third-graders. There is no reason they should be watching videos on same-sex marriage," he told me. He also said he thought the parents were given insufficient notice of the showing of the video. His daughter stayed home the following day.
I was curious to see what caused his angst. Parts of the video, called "That's a Family!" are available online at www.womedia.org/thatsafamily.htm. The sequence that offended Ricchini begins with 9-year-old "Abby" talking about her two mommies, Betty and Kim. They are shown together at the beginning of a montage that shows several same-sex couples with their children.
While it's the same-sex stuff that's gotten all the attention, this is not only a video preaching tolerance for gay and lesbian parents. Also featured are divorced, mixed race, adoptive, guardianship and single-parent families.
I know Ricchini spoke for many when he told me that this subject was best left to parents. He also said he should've been alerted by more than his daughter's comments. Jeanne Smith, the Evesham public information officer, said that at the beginning of the school year, parents were notified of the school's health curriculum, but she acknowledged that the video was not explicitly discussed.
That's a mistake. The controversy was predictable and parents should have been specifically advised of the content.
I'm also inclined to agree with Ricchini that this is the stuff of parenting, not teaching. But the question is whether parents are fulfilling that responsibility. And in an effort to teach our children tolerance, do we need to have a specific conversation about gays and lesbians?
In my case, with three young sons 6, 9 and 10, I had not had a gay-specific conversation with any of them. But now I have, using "That's a Family" in my lesson plan. I found that having a discussion about the Evesham controversy was a valuable means of covering the underlying issue as well as the parenting and teaching controversy.
My 9-year-old was unfazed about the matter. After we watched the same-sex clips of the video, he told me that he believed the airing was "unnecessary." He said he believes that the people in the video are covered by the golden rule.
I shouldn't have been surprised. He grew used to singing about the golden rule in his Montessori school. At school functions, we parents would get teary watching the kids singing "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you... live the golden rule."
And I think that about covers it. If you raise your children to treat people well, you don't need to be sexuality-, gender-, race- or religion-specific.
I chatted with Debra Chasnoff, who directed "That's a Family!" I told her my theory, shared by my son, of that message being incorporated into the golden rule.
"When I walked into one of the classrooms that was going to use 'That's a Family!' and I asked a question about gays, kids immediately started telling me about all the anti-gay names they hear. Our children are in school environments where they are getting a barrage of information about gay people. Unfortunately, most of it is very negative, and it is going unchallenged."
"Dennis and Dave" seem to agree with me. They are two radio listeners, and daddies, who are raising a son in South Jersey. "Do we think that this has to be taught in the schools? Not necessarily. But isn't this the perfect opportunity for parents to address this issue with their children and not hide it from them?"
In my case, it certainly was