The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation wants to see gender neutral classrooms where children are free from “rigid beliefs about gender identity and expression” so that they are able fully express themselves without stereotypical language like “boys and girls” negatively influencing them. After all, kids will soon learn, gender is “a product of the mind”, it’s not something we’re born with. Gender can change as our feelings change and the development of our gender identity happens from birth until death. In fact, BC teachers will espouse, gender is really a spectrum and we can feel free to explore this spectrum from male to female and everything “in between and outside of” those outdated designations. “There are many gender identities” and “being transgender or gender non-conforming is normal and healthy”.
Teachers are being asked to “embed” this teaching throughout the curriculum. Kindergarten students will be read fairy tales like “The King and the King” about two princes who fall in love and get married. Grade two students will be taught how to yell, “Stop! Sexism!” every time they hear a “gender stereotype” in a typical fairy tale. The Dress Up Centre will “encourage students to be whomever they want to, irrespective of gender”, it will stress the importance of “trying new activities”.
I’m amazed that this worldview is being implemented in BC schools without more public discussion. I’m not sure that the majority of British Columbians would agree that gender is a spectrum. Likely, most people celebrated the birth of a new child with, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” And while gender certainly influences some of our behavior, I think most British Columbians also recognize that there is an equality between the genders without there being a sameness. Girls play hockey – and well! Boys can play the flute – I saw a very masculine teen boy playing the flute at the Penticton Music Festival this year. Neither of those activities deserves to be given a “gender rating” by BC students. And yet, that’s just what one of the lesson plans the BCTF wants to see implemented in BC classrooms suggests. I thought we were past stereotyping interests. No, the BCTF suggests that teachers hand out cards with things like, “This person has long hair.” or “This person loves hockey.” or “This person wants to be an engineer.” and then have students give them a “gender rating” of 1 to 5. The goal is to talk about gender stereotyping, but I think this kind of an exercise is very ineffective at erasing stereotypes. Teaching students to rate activities according to gender even while explaining that those ratings are wrong and stereotypical while also teaching students that “gender is a spectrum” will naturally cause students to view their activities according to where on the spectrum they sit. This could result in students who have “gender non-conforming” interests to see themselves as less than male or less than female, rather than seeing themselves as fully female and loving hockey or fully male and loving the flute.
Why teach about gender at all? The BCTF says, on the one hand, that they’re teaching about the gender spectrum in order to combat bullying. Yet, on the other hand, they say it’s their role to combat gender stereotyping and “rigid beliefs about gender identity” in order to give students the “ability to fully express themselves”. I believe it’s absolutely vital to create safe and inclusive schools for all students and families. Every student should feel valued and safe at school. However, I don’t think it’s the school’s role to teach my children a theory of gender that is not scientifically backed up or widely accepted by society. My boys are boys – whether they’re kicking someone’s ass in Taekwon-do or playing classical music in a chamber trio they are all boy. I don’t want someone confusing them with weird ideas about music being “gender non-conforming”. What? Nor do I want someone telling my second-degree Black belt girl that she isn’t fully girl regardless of how “gender non-conforming” her activity of choice is. Puberty is confusing enough – I can’t imagine the angst that BC kids are going to go through when they’re told that there is a whole “spectrum” of genders for them to explore – from male to female to two-spirit to transgender and beyond! One day they may feel like using the girls’ locker room, the next day they may be more comfortable in the boys'; never mind, it’s all good – they can use whichever one they wish.
The BCTF wants students to know that gender is a state of mind. They write in their guide that “hormone blockers are a safe way to ‘buy time’ as the transgender teen decides whether to go on cross-hormones…This treatment is widely endorsed by family doctors, endocrinologists, psychologists, and other specialists involved in transgender health programs.” Really? How “widely endorsed” are these drugs, anyway?
They say that we shouldn’t worry that this teaching about the “gender spectrum” will increase the likelihood that our children will experience gender confusion and yet they also say that “the process of becoming a man or a woman is heavily shaped by our culture and society”. So, if our culture and society are teaching that there is no such thing as a “boy” or a “girl” but that everyone is somewhere on a gender spectrum and that gender is based entirely on our state of mind (which can change at any given moment) then what do teachers think the result of that cultural and societal influence will be on the next generation? In their own document they say that gender is not simply determined by nature, but that it’s equally influenced by “nurture and context”. So, if the nurture and context of gender identity is now being shaped by ideas of a “gender spectrum” where “being transgender or gender non-conforming is normal and healthy” then we will have a greater number of children who struggle with gender identity issues.
We can teach love and respect and friendship without delving into unfounded theories of gender development and identity. We can teach our kids that we’re all different, and that’s Ok, without telling them that “gender is a product of the mind”. We can have schools where students work together, participate in activities they love to do, and are positive, contributing members of the community without promoting confusion about gender identity.
Parents of students in BC public schools need to fully understand what their children will be taught – from K to grade 12. And parents who are considering public school as an option for their children should really do their research before making that choice. Students are learning far more than how to read and write in school.
The BCTF has a social agenda and it’s pushing hard. This resource was launched on the Day of Pink in order to assist teachers in combatting bullying for real or perceived sexual orientation. Teachers are told that this resource will help “address homophobia and transphobia in schools”. There is a world of difference between addressing these issues and actively teaching that gender is a state of mind that will change throughout one’s life. This resource is not meant to just help teachers create safe and welcoming schools for all children, it’s meant to change what it refers to as “outdated and oppressive views of gender [that] continue to circulate in our everyday understandings of what it means to be human.”
http://bctf.ca/uploadedfiles/Public/SocialJustice/Issues/LGBTQ/Resources/GenderSpectrum.pdf – BCTF document on teaching about the “gender spectrum” in the classroom
http://www.bctf.ca/publications/NewsmagArticle.aspx?id=22917&printPage=true – BCTF article on the launching of their new Gender Spectrum resource.