Monday, February 8, 2016

Beyond school Bathrooms: What's really at stake in the gender-inclusion debates

Last week, Erin Hinrichs of the MINNPOST published an excellent article (of the same title I used in this post) regarding and issue which should never have been.  Her diligence provides a full and accurate overview of how the anti-bullying efforts to safegard a gender non-conforming 5 year old at a public charter school in St. Paul, Minnesota, devolved into the bullying of administrators, teachers and board members.

Before proceeding with my post, I recommend you read Hinrich's at the link below.

This subject is close to me because this happens to be the school with which I have been involved since 2009.

What troubled me the most was that at a school which emphasizes Classical education, This minority of parents who lead the opposition to the positive anti-bullying efforts resorted to non-classical divisive tactics of demagoguery and epithets in their accusation that the administration has not acting in accord with Classical principles and Virtue.

Through public and private conversations. it has become clear that their view is that our public school is a Battleground in a larger cultural war, rather than as a safe place for all children to learn and grow.
For what began as a simple common sense measure to address and prevent the bullying of a 5 year old, had been usurped into shallow argument on bathroom fear and pedophilia.

To this day, some of these parents continue to harass our board, administration and teachers.  This is quite a distraction from their needed duties as educators.   It is no surprise that the parents who are against the bullying prevention have themselves demonstrated their own propensity for bullying.
As an active parent who happens to have a Classical Education (refer to my other posts on the subject), I have been appalled by much of this behavior and the usurpation of my field of Classical Studies as it has been invoked to support the actions of demagogues and bullies.

Below are three of the public contributions I have made to the Nova community and board of directors - beginning with the most recent, the earlier two address the process of classical education methods with regard to anti-bullying

A Letter to the Board January 25, 2016

Dear members of the Nova School Board,
   When there are so many pressing issues our school needs to address, particularly when it comes to growing the upper school, securing adjacent real estate properties for future development, rather than loosing it forever to yet another apartment complex. This GNC backlash, use of disingenuous and dishonest tactics to the common sense anti-bullying proposals must end tonight. 

Nova hired very capable educational and administrative professionals.  They proposed a common sense anti-bullying proposal in October based upon their professional expertise.  So just as I trust my professional auto-mechanic to fix my brakes to safeguard my family, I trust the assessment of our professional educators when it comes to the safety of our children.

Finally, do not let yourself be bamboozled by letters from un-vetted organizations without peer-review.  As a professional academic, there are procedures and rules used by scholars and scientists to ensure our findings are honest to the best degree as humanly possible.  Our curiosity to understand is what drives us in our work.  It is highly insulting to the process of Academic Excellence when our work is flippantly disregarded as mere opinion on equal footing with any lay person. One such organization widely known to misrepresent academia is The American College of Pediatrics. This organization has somewhere between 60-200 members and does no research of its own.  Instead they freely exploit and misrepresent the findings from the American Academy of Pediatrics (which includes about 64,000 engaged professionals).  Regardless of whether or not the ACP is pushing a religious-based agenda, their inability to engage in proper academic scholarship makes them an unfitting source for a school which strives for Academic Excellence.

As a refresher on source study, here is a copy of a handout I provide to my first year college students on how to aid them in finding good sources for their research projects:

Keep strong, put trust in the professional guidance of your administrators and put an end to this insanity now.


K. Christian McGuire, Nova parent of two since 2009  
My letter for Public Comment prior to the adoption of Anti-bullying policy December 16, 2015.

Dear Nova Community,
Our Principles of Classical Education at Nova sets out the aim and methodologies for Classical Education.  It is an inclusive system designed to develop the moral and intellectual virtues in its practitioners.  We have high minded ideals:

"...freedom from ignorance, illogic, false impression, and the inability to learn or analyze or critique or understand or communicate; it is freedom to be able to understand how all knowledge is related, to possess the art of learning, to be able to take up and master any subject or field or interest, and to be a capable and even eloquent communicator...
...It is universal, that is, trans-cultural, in its scope.  Though rooted in the western tradition, classical education is alive to excellence across history and cultures, for we share the universal human condition.  It is also alive to and ever open to the universal pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty in all their diverse and shared articulations.  By its very methodology, it does not presume that there is one particular articulation of the true, the good, the beautiful; it also does not presume that there is not one possible articulation.  The classically trained person does not stop at simply gathering the data on what people and traditions around the world have thought about a given subject.  Rather, the classically trained person is equipped to plunge in and engage the truth claims of any subject.  We will not simply do history of philosophy, we will do philosophy.”
As a parent and college educator with undergraduate degrees in both Philosophy and Classics. This document is GREAT! It describes a healthy environment where parents, students, faculty and staff Get it!  We build each other up. Trust each other to ensure that we all engage in compassion and reason;  guard against the constant messages of superficial bunk which freely exploit our baser instincts: e.g. advertisements, reality and gossip centered TV shows, the bulk of talk radio shows, negative political ads, 140 character tweets and Facebook posts, bathroom graffiti, sound-bites, bumper stickers, flyers, billboards, mass e-mails of spurious content, etc.) 

I find nowhere in the Principles of Classical Education at Nova however which indicates that our inclusive approach favors a “conservative - family values” minded demographic.  This is because Classical Education is not the same as Christian Education. 

Yes indeed there are many Classical Christian Schools in the Twin Cities.  If one only uses a quick Google search to find information on Classical Education, chances are that the only schools and sources that turn up are those which emphasize a literal interpretation of the Bible as the ultimate source for Truth. Yet provides very little detail on primary source scholarship.   -- As a public charter school we cannot abide by this, and despite our personal Faith traditions, this concept is clearly against our own Principles.

So when our community begins speaking of issues such as gender expression as a moral behavior vs. core identity, there are ways we can discuss this without being destructive. 

Lets frame the discussion in context of our own Principles. When we read statements such as “Boys are Boys and Girls are Girls – end of story” or perpetuate fear such as If a trans girl uses the girls restroom, she is doing it not for the sake of simply relieving herself, but instead for some lewd purpose,  we recognize that these are the instinctual emotional fears of our baser inclinations. The purposeful spread of such misinformation and fear mongering is thus contrary to the Moral and Intellectual Virtues our Principles describe.

Classical Education DEMANDS that we cast off these baser inclinations, rather than allow its perpetuation to destroy our character through fear and anger.  To be true, we must take the next proper step.  Here enters the Trivium.  We use the Grammar stage to find the expert sources, the personal experiences, and every account into consideration.  But we do not simply stop there and use our instincts to guide. This however is where most seem to stop - picking and choosing whichever source (no mater how sketchy) matches their instinct.

The Classically Educated individual instead moves to the Logic stage to ascertain which of these sources are reliable and stand up to rigorous application of logic and reason.  In Rhetoric, we weigh the actual probabilities, for instance, the hypothetical situation of an XX girl being spied on by a cross dressing boy --  versus the very real and documented experiences faced by trans girls who are beaten and sexually assaulted in boys bathrooms (as young as grammar stage even) and discuss and arrive at a Just solution.

So let us as parents commit ourselves to do the kind of hard work and diligence we expect from our children – that they will become better citizens than us.  Let us equip ourselves with the knowledge of field experts.  Lets find out everything we truthfully can about it.  Should that not always be our first move when confronted with a new experience? 

Doing Classical education is HARD it is not something which can be accomplished in sound bites and elevator speeches. – I pull teeth just trying to get my college students to write more than 3 meaningful paragraphs for an evening assignment – As a responsible community we are obliged to do better.

I will end with a few sources I’ve uncovered for us all to get started in this next step.

Here are some easy to read basic introductions on one particular aspect of Gender Non-Conformity known as Gender Dysphoria (fka Gender Identity Disorder).

Standards of Care for Health Professionals available at:
The World Professional Association of Transgender Health

On Resiliency of Transgender Youth

Here is an Australian source on Transgender issues - this has more personal stories and packets of information for individuals, families, and communities

Regarding Discrimination against Gender Non-Conforming individuals
Information based upon Title IX and the Minnesota Human Rights Act

Respondent survey of discrimination 

Article on Safe Restrooms

Responses to Common Biblical Objections to Gender Non-Conformity

Please remember, Classical Education does not advocate adversarial contests where doing anything to score points is deemed virtuous.  It is not competitive in the mean spirit of beating others into submission or by cheating the facts to win by any means necessary.  In short, Classically Educated people are not driven to "win." We are driven to excel.

With Sincere Friendship,
K. Christian McGuire

Nova parent of two since 2009, K-5 Fencing Coach, FLL Assistant Coach, parent volunteer

And finally, my initial public comment which appeared in the November 2015 Board meeting packet.

Our school is called a "Classical Academy."   With these words, we communicate our commitment to an educational pedigree inherited from the first Academy founded by Plato in Athens in 387 BCE. 
Since Socrates first challenged the convictions of the Athenian elite, we see in example after example --from antiquity through our modern age -- that our shared purpose as Classical Educators is to build character through the continued Pursuit of Truth. This is quite a different task than teaching students to "know Truth."  For Classical Philosophy as well as our modern common sense demonstrate that "knowing Truth" is available only to the omniscient (All-Knowing). 
The frustrations faced by Socrates, and the inheritors of Classical Education, is embodied by those who claim special privilege in knowing Truth.  While perhaps well meaning, they assert dogma as universal without aid from the  tools of inquiry developed from Classical Philosophy.  They are unable to challenge their own cultural, temporal, and personal biases and become enslaved to their Convictions. 
Convictions are the traditional enemy of Learning for it presumes that Truth is known.  If truth is known, then there is no further need for inquiry and the continued Pursuit of Truth.  Thus there is no need for Education.  Convictions are often rooted in misinformation and fear; sustained by arrogance.  They provide a convenient excuse for willful ignorance. When held fast they provide self-justification for bullying. They are the un-virtuous stain on the character of the Warlord and a detriment to a just and virtuous Democratic citizen. 
It is within this context of Classical Education that we frame the Anti-Bullying policy with regard to Gender Non-Conformity.  Gender Non-Conformity is not some new trendy human experience (Pants on women, "Beatle haircuts" instead of buzz-cuts on men, women in the workplace, playing basketball, girls beating boys in fencing bouts, men at home raising children etc.). What is new is our exercise of Fortitude and Justice to grow awareness into the variety of gender expression. 
This pursuit of human Truth speaks to our respect for the dignity of all humans.  As our inquiries chip away at the fear-based convictions which have so dominated our wider culture with negative images (e.g. salacious "Jerry Springer-esque" stories of promiscuity; maladjusted psychopathic murderers in movies; or the unlikely scenario in which a boy would willingly cross-dress simply to spy on girls in the locker rooms.) we can finally get at the real stories of lived experience which go well beyond the simpler subjects of gender roles and clothing choices.  We can begin to respect and understand our fellow citizens and our children.  Ultimately we come to the mature realization that being GNC is not about sex and no one is looking for some kind of special status or celebration. 
What a GNC student is looking for is simply not to be beat up and humiliated on a day to day basis. They seek some acknowledgement  for their right to exist and learn without fear from staff, faculty and parents of students who might otherwise grow to be their lifelong friends.   The adoption of the book My Princess Boy is very tiny step in the right direction. 
K. Christian McGuire,
Nova Parent, Volunteer and K-5 Fencing