There’s been a whole lot of buzz on social media lately about the recently-adopted inclusion of “Self-Identity” in the Health Education Core section of Washington State’s K-12 Learning Standards.
Actually, the “buzz” has sounded more like “kindergarteners are going to be taught transgenderism” and “your kids are going to be told they can choose their own gender!” The internet never overreacts, does it?
Honestly, I’m not freaked out about this at all, but before I tell you why, we need to get a few definitions straight:
Sex refers to the biologically-assigned sex of a person (male or female). This is mapped in one’s chromosomes (XY for male, XX for female).
Sexual orientation refers to who someone is attracted to – heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, etc.
Gender identity is the gender someone feels they are. For the vast majority of us, this aligns with our biological sex. For example, I’m a biological female and I identify as female. That is my gender identity.
Gender expression refers to how we live out or demonstrate our gender. In super-basic terms this is like “blue is for boys, and pink is for girls.”
(You can actually read all of the officially-adopted definitions here.)
Now, let’s get back to the learning standards. The “Learning Standards” is simply a list of outcomes that children are expected to have achieved by certain grade levels. There is not a “gender identity curriculum” that is being rolled out state-wide. Local districts may or may not adopt a specific curriculum. But, per the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s website, “how this learning occurs is up to teachers every day in the classroom.”
But let’s dig a little deeper and see what the expected outcomes actually are.
K-1st grade kids are simply learning how people express their gender…typically this is through dress, through speech, through activities, through hairstyle, through grooming habits. Boys wear blue, girls wear pink. We’ve been teaching this exact same stuff to them since they were first wrapped up in a hospital blanket.
In second grade the outcome is the same, with one added item – “understand importance of treating others with respect regarding gender expression.” I know this is where things may start to get controversial for some families, but you know what I see?
An expectation of kindness. “Treat others with respect,” it says. Which is to say, if you see another kid at school who doesn’t look like you think they should look, don’t make fun of them. Respect is different than condone. And I most certainly expect my child to be kind to others. Just as I expect others to be kind to him, no matter what he looks like. No matter how you feel about the gender issue, I think we can agree that no child should be bullied, made fun of, or treated poorly – whether it’s a boy wearing a dress or a little girl in ratty and unfashionable clothes.
Once a child hits fourth grade is when they start talking about societal influences on gender, and how gender is a social construct – meaning its definition is not fixed; it can change.
But, the truth is, gender is a social construct.
Masculinity and femininity have always been expressed differently across time and cultures. Right or wrong, our culture in super generalized terms tends to view “feminine” as “slender with flowing hair” (just look at our TV shows, movies, and commercials). Other cultures have a femininity standard that includes more robust, sturdy women or closely-cropped (or even shaved) hair. In some cultures, men wear clothes that we’d more closely associate with dresses rather than pants.
There was a time in history when men wore long hair and lace.
We tend to think that women “should” do the cooking. But what if, in your home, the man prefers it and is better at it? Is that wrong?
Women are supposed to be the nurturers, but today men are more emotionally involved in child-rearing than at any point in human history; few would argue this is a bad thing.
Should a stay-at-home mom mow the lawn even though it’s viewed as more “physical” work that a man traditionally does?
A few years back the terms metrosexual and manscaping began to emerge. These referred to heterosexual men who liked to be well-groomed. Is there anything inherently wrong with a man getting a pedicure?
Should women really be engineers? Of course they should!
The truth is that we flex and bend gender roles and expression all the time.
Go back to the top, where I gave you the definitions of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. That was education. It was teaching you about concepts that are big issues in today’s society, and helping you have a better understanding of them so you could tackle the issues within your own personal belief framework.
In no way was anyone being recruited to a certain lifestyle. In no way was anyone being told that their gender was fluid. (Just for the record, “gender fluid” does refer to a very small sub-set of people who identify as such – ie, they feel they move between genders – but children are not being taught that this is the norm, or that all people have fluid genders as has been reported.)
When you began reading, you were simply given information, and as this article went on, you were invited to think critically. From everything I can tell, that’s what’s happening with our kids and these new learning standards.
I understand that they are controversial in a lot of families and butt up against some deeply-held beliefs. But nobody is asking you to change them. If anything, this curriculum helps your child to understand a big-ticket societal issue and opens the door for some really deep and healthy discussions.
Because no matter how you feel about gender-identity issues, greater understanding helps stimulate greater discussion. And isn’t that our job as parents to help walk our children through challenging – often uncomfortable – things as they come, and help them learn to wrestle with them on their own? To guide them through the process and come out the other side stronger?
In my opinion, the standards do outline age-appropriate topics. And as our kids get older and come home with more information, we can have the hard discussions. Do we believe that God assigns differing sex and genders to the same person? Why or why not? How do we treat people who are different than us? How do we think God wants us to respond?
If you’re interested in reading the full K-12 standards, you can find them here (look for the blue header about halfway through the document – item 5 for the K-5 standards and item 3 for the 6-high school standards). But in a very loose summary, here’s my overall take:
- Gender can be expressed in different ways: TRUE
- Treat others with respect: TRUE
- Roles and gender expression can vary: TRUE
- Gender expression is influenced by culture and society: TRUE
- Speak with a safe and trusted adult if you have questions: TRUE
- Understand that sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression are different things: TRUE
And that’s why I’m not freaking out about the new Self-Identity standards. Because from what I can tell, they are teaching things that are true. Now, how this actually plays out in the classroom remains to be seen – but I refuse to live in a way that makes fear-based assumptions about what may or may not happen.
And no matter what, I invite any opportunity to engage in great dialogue with my kids.
How do you feel about the new self-identity learning standards? We understand this is a huge topic for many families and differing opinions are always welcome, but respect and kindness are expected when commenting. We look forward to the discussion!