A lesson in ignorance

Annette Pryce responds to ridiculous suggestions that the ‘trans narrative’ is somehow ‘indoctrinating’ students in schools.


I wondered how long it would take for the Daily Mail to be up to its old tricks again.  You could set your watch by it, whipping people up into a frenzy about their latest piece of vitriol against a minority community. Most recently, taking its lead from the paper, a website named ‘transgendertrend.com‘ published a post entitled ‘Teaching Transgender Doctrine In Schools – “A Bizarre Educational Experiment”.

If only people knew how irritating it is when non-teachers comment on education, then we wouldn’t have to keep responding. Their biggest bugbear was a book, Can I Tell You About Gender Diversity?, that is being shared by a friend of mine called Dr Elly Barnes MBE. Dr Barnes is a teacher who has built her reputation up from the ground, tackling homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic bullying. Her work in London around LGBT History Month was groundbreaking, and there are a generation of teachers probably better off for it.

That this is supported by the government is a good thing, since it really is them who have a lot to answer for. And while most, (if not all), teachers detest OFSTED, this good practice they have endorsed is a starting point for most schools. Take it from someone who actually works in a school.

It’s almost impossible to respond to this article without taking out pieces and examining them in detail, as it’s all over the place. These excerpts will be in the quoted paragraphs below. 

‘This is very subtle brainwashing of children that non-conformity to sex stereotypes is a problem which needs fixing, under the guise of accepting and celebrating difference.’

It’s hard not to laugh at the melodramatic depiction of diversity education in words such as ‘brainwashing’ and the insinuation that there is some sinister intention behind it. Let’s think back for a second: suicide rates by trans youth, still abnormally high, used to be staggering. In previous generations, hiding who you were was the norm, and there were very few role models for transgender people. Now, in 2017, we see a loose academic argument about perpetuating sex stereotypes starting to surface. Sadly, we can all guess where this has come from: yet another tired argument about the ‘trans narrative’ somehow ‘undermining women’. Yes, it’s hard not to laugh through gritted teeth when you realise it was the same people saying the same things about LGB people not so long ago.

‘Using the word ‘gender’ hides the fact that you are promoting sex-change to kids and by conflating ‘gender’ with ‘sex’ you are calculatedly redefining the non-conforming kids as literally somewhere between biologically male and biologically female, or no sex at all.’

There’s that word again, ‘promoted’; we’ve heard that before— Section 28 anyone? And that other word ‘re-defining’; we’ve heard that too— the gays have ‘redefined’ marriage recently, and the world has fallen asunder…. oh, wait, it hasn’t. As though one group of people arrogantly get to ‘define’ everything! Let’s get this straight shall we? Gender identity and physical sex are two separate things. Sometimes they are treated as the same thing, or used interchangeably, and that’s where the confusion lies. To conflate them is nothing less than deliberate deception.

It is not ‘sex-change’ that trans-positive parents are ‘promoting’. Rather, it is the happiness of their children and their right to self-define. Amid the furore, it’s important to remember that GRS and other corrective surgeries are forbidden before age 17, and that the primary treatment for transgender teens— hormone blockers— is reversible. Still the paranoid fear of steering children wrong continues, ignoring the fact that it is trans children themselves who come forward with their transgender feelings in the first place. The parents simply are open to letting their children follow their own path.

‘In the same week, we hear that the number of children and adolescents contacting Childline with “gender identity” confusion has more than doubled this year, from 1,299 in 2014 -15 to 2,796 during 2015-16, mostly from children aged 12 – 15. And once again, the experts have no idea why this might be.’

Can I take a guess? Role models, TV media, social media, societal changes, law changes, and a different level of understanding by young people who didn’t exist forty years ago. Perhaps. But hey, I’m just a teacher, one of those ‘education experts’. Perhaps this generation of young people just don’t want to hide, since gender dysphoria has been around for a while. (It’s also quite presumptuous and patronising to label youths’ attempts at gender cross-living as ‘confusion’. Contrary to the insidious myth of ‘desistance’, the clinical guidelines for gender dysphoria, when properly applied, are just as accurate in children as in adults.)

And then we come to this article they’ve included from a supply teacher. (One of their followers, no doubt, who just happens to be a supply teacher.)

‘I was also very aware that any attempt to challenge the carefully prepared message could lead to my dismissal.’

Since when?…. This isn’t McCarthyism in 1940’s America; as long as debate is balanced and non-discriminatory, there isn’t a huge issue. I doubt very much that dismissal could be an option for a supply teacher.

And even if that were the case, a teacher’s job is to educate their students, not to deceive them. If a teacher wishes to believe that the Earth is flat and is the center of the universe, they may do so, but to teach the children under their care these ideas would be nothing less than a dereliction of their duty. Students are owed the most honest, accurate education we can provide them; to go ‘off-book’ with fringe beliefs or discredited theories should not be allowed in the first place.

‘I spoke to several other teachers who explained that they had a training day earlier in the year when a transgender person had come into the school and told them how they should behave with young people questioning their gender and what the main issues were. There was no debate about whether this should or should not be included in the syllabus, it was simply, “this is what will be taught from now on”.’

That’s good that they had training; so many teachers and schools don’t get that. In fact, it’s one of the biggest problems with education in the UK: The level of training teachers receive is not satisfactory. Public bodies such as schools are obliged to follow the law and statutory guidance set out by the government. It seems strange that people don’t realise this.

‘Several teachers told me they did not feel comfortable about teaching these lessons to year 7 pupils (aged about 11) but they did not feel they could speak out for fear of being labelled transphobic or worse, losing their jobs.’

As many children with gender dysphoria begin to experience it well before their seventh year, it is in fact entirely appropriate to address the subject in a factual, academic environment. Furthermore, it’s slightly hysterical to suggest that anyone could be immediately dismissed merely for asking questions. Perhaps more training was needed?

“The whole thing felt like a well-funded dangerous social and medical experiment……. As a teacher of 10 years I know how squeezed in-school teacher CPD training is.”

As a teacher of nearly 18 years and in full-time teaching, I find the comments here ignorant and not deserving of a profession that is meant to open minds, not close them. However I know supply teachers are treated terribly by employers and agencies, with the worst working conditions of any teacher, and the vast majority of them wouldn’t have written such an article.

This report of one school experience is not generalisable across all schools, where they are struggling to meet progress 8 and Ebacc targets set by a government that doesn’t really care. I teach a subject where it is part of the curriculum, as transgender service users are part of modern-day health and social care. My students get it, they ask questions, we discuss it, they are more informed.

As for teaching about gender dysphoria being an ‘experiment’, for this to be true we have to accept that the past centuries of ignoring it altogether were also an experiment— one that went on for far longer than it should have. We know the results of that experiment, to our shame. It is long past time we tried something different.

Taken as a whole, the article implies a sort of universal agenda, if not a conspiracy, to promote transgender tolerance (heaven forbid!) among the educational establishment. At least at present, this notion is false: There are still a great many teachers who are untrained on how to deal with transgender and gender-nonconforming students. The solution to this problem, and possibly to much of the fearmongering in articles such as this, is to bring teachers up to date on transgender issues and tolerance in general. It is, after all, the job of teachers to teach, and teachers cannot address issues on which they are poorly trained themselves. For me, to suggest that we educate young people on respecting differences and the nuanced definitions of words like ‘sex’ and ‘gender’, I call that pedagogy.

With thanks to Kelly Luck @justkelly and Jessica Blank @prpltnkr for their input.

Follow Annette on twitter (@ LGBTEXEC)

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