Gender in K–3

March 15, 2022 at 2:17 pm (Uncategorized)

I was reading this alarming article about Ron DeSantis and I realized that the article assumed my alarm included unquestioning support for every detail of what DeSantis opposes and means to outlaw. I get claustrophobic when I feel myself being corralled into one of these “you’re 1,000% with us or you’re against us” thought-traps.

Specifically: Does it make ANY sense to talk to K through 3–age kids IN SCHOOL about ANY kind of gender or sexuality? (This changes as kids get older and look around and ask questions, but I’ll keep it simple for now.)

I get that what we used to call “square” norms have been inculcated and enforced unthinkingly for centuries and that this can drive nonconforming kids even unto suicide. I get that school can be a refuge from cruelty at home.

I also get that kids don’t see any of this the way adults do. They are not yet alienated from their bodies. From what I remember of being a kid plus some observation, they have a vague, matter-of-fact notion of their own anatomy, and an even vaguer conception of “the facts of life,” notions that range from fanciful to indifferent. They are curious, but their curiosity is fleeting and quickly supplanted by other interests. They are not obsessed the way we become as puberty sweeps in, and remain in defiance as the tide ebbs decades later.

It seems to me that an age-appropriate and kind way to treat these issues in K–3 would be neither “Don’t Say Gay” nor “Do Say Gay (trans, etc.),” but something in the spirit of the Silver Rule, “Do not do to others as you would not have them do unto you.” The Via Negativa. Like:

  • Don’t bring the subject up or enforce explicit lessons on it—of ANY agenda, traditional OR radical.
  • Model matter-of-fact acceptance that some kids in the class have two parents of the same sex. That families vary (in all kinds of ways) is a normal fact of life. No two people are alike. This is one of the glories of nature.
  • Do not enforce or preferentially reward either conforming or nonconforming gender dress and behavior. Allow kids to do what they choose, and to experiment, if they choose, without comment, except to forbid and decry cruelty in your presence. (Some kids will be cruel outside of your presence, but at least they will have seen there’s another way to be.)
  • Some kids’ families will be ideological and enforcing on this subject, one way or the other. This is the hard part: Model acceptance that families are different in their attitudes, too. School is not a place to find out that your family is wrong (unless they are physically endangering you). School is a place to discover that your family’s attitude is not the only one.

I want to sum all this up as “Leave kids the fuck alone,” but then I remember that people say “Leave me alone” when what they really mean is “Let me be.” Let kids be, but don’t abandon them.

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