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Why Not Purple Penguins?

Earlier this month, reports [1] circulated that a Nebraska school district had instructed its teachers to stop referring to students by “gendered expressions” such as “boys and girls,” and use “gender inclusive” terms such as “purple penguins [2]” instead.  The instructions [3] were part of a list called “12 steps on the way to gender inclusiveness” developed by Gender Spectrum, an organization that “provides education, training and support to help create a gender sensitive and inclusive environment for children of all ages.”

Other items on the Gender Spectrum list include asking all students about their preferred pronouns and decorating the classroom with “all genders welcome” door hangers.  If teachers still find it “necessary” to mention that genders exist at all, the document states, they must list them as “boy, girl, both or neither.”  Furthermore, it instructs teachers to interfere and interrupt if they ever hear a student talking about gender in terms of “boys and girls” so the student can learn that this is wrong.  The observant reader will also note the caption “Children displaying oppressive cisgenderism” underneath the NRO photo of [sorry, have to say it] a boy and a girl with insolent expressions.  By the way, “cis-”, an antonym for “trans-”, is what we formerly called normal.  Actually, we didn’t call it normal.  We didn’t call it anything.  We didn’t have to, because everyone knew what we were talking about.

While the details of this particular case are not quite as extreme as the catchy headlines might suggest, the initial responses that the story was farce worthy of Snopes review were sadly untrue as well.  In this case, even the middle ground where the truth lies is disturbing.

Lincoln Nebraska Irving Middle School

Lincoln Superintendent Dr. Steve Joel, at the center of the controversy, is on record stating that the training materials in question were considered because of the school district’s need “to be inclusive and educate and understand all children and address bullying.”  Dr. Joel is apparently unaware that the majority of bullying [4] has nothing to do with the “gendered” issues his training materials purport to address.  Still, to be fair, materials were only distributed at one middle school (by a staffer on a “district equity team”), and there were no plans to disseminate them district-wide.  The superintendent clarified that he left it to each school to determine if their faculty needed assistance in “understanding and giving definition” to the issue.  Despite the controversy, Dr. Joel has declared that he is “happy” and “pleased” with the training documents.  He even allowed that “there might be a school where this isn’t a conversation and maybe doesn’t need to be a conversation.”  Might be? 

How Did We Get Here?

Sadly, the evident intrusion of “equity teams” and the predictable confusion that follows is not only impacting preteen cornhuskers, but is rampant in the current cultural zeitgeist.   Legislatures in other states have seen fit to remove sensible boundaries in public restrooms [5]and to prevent parents and their troubled teens from seeking counseling that might increase their self-understanding and allow for healthy sexual development [6].  The ever-popular social media website Facebook now offers 71 different gender options [7] for users in the UK (sorry Americans, you will have to limit your choices to 50, at least for now).  So how did we get here?

Taking the most recent example of the madness, one way of understanding how common sense and natural law can be relegated to the sidelines can perhaps be drawn from the statements of those involved.  Consider the following quotes from Dr. Joel on the issues at hand:  “We don’t get involved with politics;” and “We don’t get involved with gender preferences.  We’re educating all kids . . . and we can’t be judgmental.”  To state the obvious, there is arguably no more politicized issue in U.S. domestic policy these days than sexuality, and criticizing teachers (and children) who have the audacity (tongue in cheek) to use the pronouns “he” and “she,” is, well, judgmental. 

One can imagine that more than a few teachers would have difficulty abiding by this guidance from the training material:

Point out and inquire when you hear others referencing gender in a binary manner…. Ask things like . . . ‘What makes you say that? I think of it a little differently.’  Provide counter-narratives that challenge students to think more expansively about their notions of gender.

Think a little differently….  But what if you as a teacher don’t “think a little differently?”  Dr. Joel suggests that teachers offended by the training material, should “meet with their principal and talk through that.”  This gives a whole new meaning to the notion of “being sent to the principal,” and it is frightening that one might be thus sent for not being willing to cooperate with an agenda that is damaging [8] to the children [9] he or she teaches.

Where Do We Go From Here?

As suggested above, the difficulty is not merely present in isolated school districts, but rather is prevalent, though perhaps more subtly, in the minds of many.  I am sure the superintendent [10] whose words were presented here is a nice fellow, truly dedicated to educating children and thereby doing his part to improve society.  He even states as much in his own blog in reviewing this years’ goals:  “There will be a renewed emphasis on identifying and addressing the needs of students with mental health challenges as early as possible so that we can help increase their chances for success and graduation.”  This is truly laudable.  What is sad, however, is that he, like many, seem to fail to grasp the suffering and mental health challenges that are being fostered by the very policies he and they support and promote—policies which deny the truth of the human person as endowed by our Creator: Male and Female He made them…

Human Sexuality
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Earlier this month, reports circulated that a Nebraska school district had instructed its teachers to stop referring to students by “gendered expressions” such as “boys and girls,” and use “gender inclusive” terms such as “purple penguins” instead.
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