Passion for Justice

Fight For Rights: Alumna Pioneers High School LGBTQ Course

by ARVIN TEMKAR, OFFICE OF MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage — a historic ruling. At the same time, high school history teacher and USF alumna Lyndsey Schlax MA ’07 was finalizing the curriculum for her upcoming LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) studies class — a momentous accomplishment in its own right.

The class, which teaches the LGBTQ struggle for rights, might be the first of its kind in the nation for high schoolers.

“The kids loved the class, my coworkers and administration have been nothing but supportive, and people from the LGBTQ community have been incredibly helpful,” says Schlax, who received her masters in teaching and a credential in social science from USF.

“I have always loved learning about and teaching about grassroots movements and untold stories,” she says. "This was an opportunity to write an entire curriculum based on raising up voices that have been silenced for so long.”

Podcast power

The class, which Schlax will teach at Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts for a second time this fall, is not only unique for its subject matter, but for her innovative use of art and technology in the classroom — which she learned at the School of Education.

For the class, Schlax loaded digital audio players, which she received through a grant, with lesson materials. The materials included podcasts; songs like Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” a 1978 disco tune that became a gay anthem; and a San Francisco walking tour that highlighted important city locations associated with LGBTQ leader Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California.

Providing students with audio players was a way to reach students who, like Schlax, don’t enjoy learning from a textbook — as well as to introduce them to new educational material. Assigned readings were still part of the class, but audio was a main component of the course.

The approach was so popular that some students continued to listen to This American Life, RadioLab, and other programs that were part of the curriculum.

Tracing the art of a movement

Schlax also had students put together an art gallery at school, showcasing LGBTQ-inspired art by people like Keith Haring, a gay artist renowned for his political and social advocacy around the AIDS movement.

“Too often LGBTQ youth are rendered invisible by the dominant culture of schools. Studying LGBTQ history allows these students, who may feel marginalized, endangered, or depressed, to having a sense of agency and belonging,” says Assistant Professor Rick Ayers, who taught Schlax and supervised her when she was a student teacher. “As always, those who are deemed outsiders have the most to teach us about ourselves and what it takes to forge a just society.”

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