Many of you have probably heard about Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill that legislates that instruction regarding “sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Given the amount of discussion around this I think it will be helpful to look at how Madison schools are approaching issues of gender and sexuality
1) Yet one may ask, if we believe that what we are doing is true and right, why consider other approaches? I believe it is helpful in that it challenges us to clarify what, how, and why we are teaching the things we teach. This is especially true when foundational views, views on things like the nature of man or the goal of education, differ. After all, it was by refuting heresies that the early Church clarified its understanding on a number of issues. A lot of doctrines that we take for granted, like the fact that Jesus is fully God and fully man were clarified when the Church was confronted with false teachings.
While our primary goal needs to be our mission, responding to false ideas can help us to clarify that mission.
2) Some of you are thinking: why this? What is the obsession among some Christians with issues of gender and sexuality? Why do we constantly keep harping on this? A lot of other things matter to God!
This is true. A lot of things matter to God. The reason why I am choosing this issue and not another is that this is the area that our society and government schools are most sideways on. Our area government schools are against bullying. So are we! Our area government schools oppose ageism, sexism, and racism. So do we! Our area government schools want all students to excel in literacy, mathematics, and science. While we differ in our methods, we too share this goal. But when it comes to our understanding of what a human being is, we differ dramatically. And this is fundamental to education. After all, we teach people! If we don’t know what a person is it is impossible to teach them well.
3) I also want to acknowledge that we are all used to seeing people take a single idea from an opponent, blow it out of proportion, and then demonize the person for holding it. That is not my intention. I simply want to look at a few phrases from this curriculum and examine their implications.
The Madison Metropolitan School District has put together a Human Growth and Development curriculum with the goal of ‘empowering students to reach their full potential’. (Note, the examples I cite are from the 2019-2020 school year. I do not know if they have made any recent modifications.)
In this message I will touch briefly on how raising issues too early affects a child’s growth and development and in the next two messages I will touch on the upspoken metaphysical and ethical assumptions that underly the curriculum.
In second grade students are taught to “Understand sexual orientation, in age-appropriate terms.” They are, in short, to learn that some people are homosexuals, others are heterosexuals, that there are bisexuals and pansexuals, there are people that are polyamorous and so on. And this is reality, right? Whether or not we agree with these practices, shouldn’t kids know what is out there?
Yes, they should, but who do we want instructing them? Should it be the parents?, or a teacher functioning as a cog in a bureaucratic machine? Even more so we should ask: when do we want children being exposed to this type of information? Our students also need to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust, but second grade is probably not the right time.
The question of timing is important because before a child even knows what healthy sexuality looks like he or she may, at the prompting of a teacher, begin to ask “am I bisexual?” or “I wonder if I am heterosexual?” I’m not sure if my 1st grade son realizes he’ll never be an Avenger; I certainly don’t want him to be prompted into exploring his sexual identity long before he is having romantic and sexual feelings. Every child already struggles with a myriad of psychological questions, to wit: who am I?, why am I here?, how do I both honor my parents and become my own person?, does what I do really matter?, do I have what it takes?, etc. Adding unprompted questions like “what is your sexual preference?” or “what is your gender?” does not help a child develop, but rather undermines his or her development by distracting attention away from questions that need to be answered to other questions that should already be settled.
Second, beginning in fifth grade students are taught to “Identify valid and reliable sexual health resources.” This is a fancy way of saying that students will learn about birth control and ways to limit the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Whether or not we think it is appropriate for government schools to spend time and public funds on this, it is not right to start this instruction so early. Ten year old children should not be having sex. Period. In my experience working at a district attorney’s office, every child at this age that is engaging in sexual behavior is a past or present victim of abuse that needs help. And yet our government schools are assuming and thereby implicitly endorsing sexual activity by teaching these children how to do it “safely”.
Consider the following analogy. What would you think of me if I started teaching my 5th grade son how to drive? Granted, I would tell him that he shouldn’t drive until he is older. But if he did, for whatever reason, decide to drive earlier, I would want to make sure he was driving “safely”. Wouldn’t you say this was foolish? Wouldn’t you think that in teaching him how to drive “safely” I was actually encouraging him to drive before he was ready? And in teaching him how to drive so young, would you not think that I was implicitly endorsing and encouraging sinful and reckless behavior?
Next week I’ll write about the metaphysical assumptions that underlies this curriculum.