Gender identity lessons: what schools are teaching students


Schools should tell children lớn be themselves. But some districts say too much—and mistake progressive dogma for established fact.

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For the foreseeable future, parents và educators will be grappling with this polarizing question: What, if anything, should prepubescent public-school students be taught about gender identity?

“Resources và lesson plans for those who want khổng lồ teach about gender identity are becoming much more common,” The Washington Post reported in June. “Seven states now require that curriculums include LGBTQ topics. The National Sex Education Standards, developed by experts & advocacy groups, name gender identity as one of seven essential topics, alongside puberty, consent, sexual orientation & other subjects. Và the federal government recommends that schools include gender identity in their sex education programs.”

The push is khổng lồ start young. California’s Department of Education urges kindergarten teachers to lớn dispel gender stereotypes, laying groundwork “for acceptance, inclusiveness, và an anti-bullying environment,” because “some children in kindergarten or even younger have identified as transgender.” Some educators favor earlier interventions. The eight co-authors of the 2019 book Supporting Gender Diversity in Early Childhood Classrooms argue that too little emphasis is given lớn gender identity in the years before age 6, when educators have “a chance to lớn prime all parents for supporting their children’s gender health” & “the opportunity to lớn educate all children about gender diversity và introduce them to lớn role models of a variety of genders.”

But a rival faction has reacted by insisting, at the other extreme, that instruction involving gender identity has no place at all in early-childhood education. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law in March that prohibits public schools from presenting any instruction on gender identity until at least the fourth grade. According to NPR, at least a dozen other states are considering similar legislation. The issue could be a political winner for the Republicans who are pushing it. A recent survey sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers finds that 58 percent of likely voters in battleground states disapprove of the way students are taught about “sexual preference & gender identity.” Asked lớn explain why, 31 percent said “students are too young for material,” while 27 percent said parents are responsible for teaching it.

Read: Want khổng lồ understand the red-state onslaught? Look at Florida.

Some progressives believe that any such concern among parents is a moral panic driven by Fox News demagogues or the Twitter account Libs of TikTok, which amplifies the most self-discrediting videos that leftist educators post online. By “nutpicking” on this issue, right-wing media does create misleading impressions. Lớn better understand what is actually being taught—or what bans are prohibiting—I turned lớn Evanston/Skokie School District 65, a public-school system in the Chicago suburbs that is is laudably transparent about posting instructional material online. Last year, I reported on its đen Lives Matter at School curriculum. Its educators also post the lessons that they teach, starting in pre-kindergarten, during the district’s LGBTQ+ Equity Month. Gender identity is a major focus of the curriculum—which, I should note, is similar to curricula I’ve seen elsewhere from progressive educators.

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The District 65 instructional materials reveal a basic problem. Although American society’s approach lớn matters of gender identity is clearly still in flux, and reasonable people disagree on how best to lớn engage students on the subject, some educators are writing progressive activists’ views into detailed lessons for young children. An alternative approach might promote inclusion in the broadest, plainest possible terms and reassure children: There’s no wrong way to lớn be you. Instead, District 65 and other systems err on the side of saying too much and mistaking dogma for established fact.

To be clear, I favor some instruction on gender identity. When I asked Atlantic readers last spring about what, if anything, minors should be taught about gender identity before puberty, some of the most compelling responses convinced me that you’re inevitably teaching young kids something about gender the minute you create (say) a preschool facility with boys’ và girls’ bathrooms. Very young kids receive countless signals about gender norms from the world at large—from parents, siblings, television, even a trip to the park or the supermarket––and school cultures teach similar lessons from the start. One of my correspondents, a 19-year-old queer woman named Zoe, noted that boys never wore dresses khổng lồ her school, even in hot weather, và recalled that, as early as first grade, she was asked which boy she liked. To stay silent about gender in early childhood, she argued, “simply educates on this subject the way a dog may learn of the location of a newly installed electric fence: by receiving a shock anytime they dare cross a border they didn’t know existed until they learn to stay firmly within the bounds.”

That’s a good mô tả tìm kiếm of how kids who didn’t conform to lớn prevailing gender norms felt in the classrooms of my youth. Although nothing was explicitly taught about gender identity, a hundred tiny decisions implicitly acculturated kids into 1980s gender norms, including the sense that being genderqueer was shameful—a sense that exacerbated the sadistic bullying that too many queer kids in every generation are forced to endure.

But while embracing many of the diversity-affirming values that I favor in public schools, the District 65 curriculum gives ideological goals precedence over what is age-appropriate.

For example, in prekindergarten, five days of lessons are phối forth, all oriented around the LGBTQ Pride flag. Students learn its history, each color’s meaning, and how khổng lồ make their own arts-and-crafts version with rainbow colors, plus black and brown stripes to represent people of color. After reading Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk và the Rainbow Flag, the teacher provides some definitions: