School forced to apologize for teaching sixth-graders about gender identity

Oct 23, 2015 at 11:21 a.m. ET

When one sixth-grader in Oregon came home from school and told her dad there was a discussion in art class about gender identity, he was not cool with that at all.

In fact, Derek Grafton went to the news with the story, saying he felt that the art teacher's decision to lead a class discussion on gender identity was way out of line. The school has since apologized, saying the poster is intended for staff use and shouldn't be displayed in the classroom. Staff there use the poster for professional development so teachers have a better understanding of gender identity — so they can help all students feel welcome as they walk through the doors each day.

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However, the poster was still hanging up, and when a student asked about it, the art teacher had a long conversation with the kids about it. Gender identity was the only thing discussed — there was no talk about sexuality or sexual attraction. Grafton still wasn't cool with it and said his big concern was that the school had taken a step into territory he wasn't comfortable with — that schools shouldn't be teaching morals, ethics and values. That's the parents' job, he explained.

Of course it's a parent's job. But does that mean it's not OK or necessary for schools to supplement?

Schools do teach morals, values and ethics. They always have, and they always will. Children are taught to not cheat, to not put their hands on other students, to be responsible and to work hard. Who says that broadening a child's ideas of gender identity is immoral or unethical?

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Teaching kids about different ways people identify themselves is not going to make them transgender. It's not going to make them gay. But it may open them up to the possibility that it's OK to be those things and to be more loving and accepting of those who aren't cisgender and straight. And for those whose genders don't quite fit with their biological sex, this can pave the way for self-acceptance as well, which is crucial for well-being and a better outlook on the future.

As people are becoming more aware of different gender identities and being transgender (which is only a part of that), this has become an important piece of a national conversation. If a school ignores that fact, then it really isn't doing its part to reduce bullying, which can have (and has had) tragic results. The more education kids have and the earlier they have it, the better outcomes can be for those who have had to work very hard to deal with how society treats those who are different.

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The hate many have for those with nontraditional gender identities is horrifying to behold, and the consequences can be shattering. Yes, it would have been better for this school to have informed parents before such a talk took place (after all, you can opt your kids out of sex ed), but since a teacher decided to answer a child's question honestly, without the baggage that such a charged topic can bring along, it's hard to find fault with him.