October 19, 2014

Rector’s Reflection

OK. Here’s the real deal. The Lincoln (Nebraska) Public School System has provided their teachers with a boatload of materials to assist them in dealing with gender identity issues. They have not banned all references to gender and mandated calling students ‘purple penguins.’ So I guess we can put that issue to rest… except that I can’t.

As I read several articles about this Nebraska decision, I discovered that their goal evidently is to foster a gender-sensitive and inclusive environment for all children and teens. Forcing children to identify as boy or girl puts an unfair restriction on those who find themselves unable to identify conclusively with one or the other. But their solutions are no less confusing.

Teachers have been told that instead of having boys line up in one line and girls in another, that the purple penguins should form one line and the green penguins form another. Or they could line up by even birthdates and odd birthdates… those who prefer skateboards and those who prefer bicyclesmilk or juicedogs or catssummer or wintertalking or listening.1 If the goal of the teacher is to sort out male and female, not one of these strategies will accomplish that task. Outside of odd/even birthdates, all the other distinctions are matters of preference or value, or, given other possible ‘which one’ pairings, even moral or ethical judgments. And if the teacher has mandated that males be purple and females green, the teacher has perpetuated the same hoax that has been perpetrated in reading groups since the invention of moveable type: the blue birds or the yellow birds or the red birds… as though the children couldn’t figure out that there were marked differences… and they weren’t about plumage.

Now please understand that I am aware that there is a spectrum in gender identity and I am neither demeaning nor minimizing that. But it seems to me that this is an over-reach of all of the sexuality issues that swirl around us today. But while those issues carry moral, religious, social justice, or ethical implications, boy and girl carry none of those.

At a time when students in the U.S. are being outperformed by students from other nations, we are mis-spending valuable time. Reports in Education Week indicate that 29 nations do better in math than does the U.S.; 22 education systems scored above the U.S. average in science; 19 other locales scored higher than U.S. students in reading.

I get it that Lincoln Public School System wants to be sensitive to students’ self-esteem, but when they land as yellow birds on the world employment and opportunity stage, they, in all likelihood, will find an insensitive system that cares little for their self esteem and a lot about whether they can read, write, and compute.