Regular readers of the blog, particularly those who read the #Microblog posts, will know that many health teachers are under attack from community members who have taken issue with elements of our curricula. Often these efforts are well-organized, well funded, and very vocal. Often these efforts are mis-informed, seek to intentionally mis-inform, and always seek to undermine inclusive efforts to best serve all students.
While I haven’t felt this pressure in the school district in which I teach, the regressive minority voice has got louder within the district in which I live. I’ve steered clear of local social media – I’m aware that Facebook pages and the performative, combative ‘conversations’ are the worst, but I have heard from residents, and local teachers, that recent district initiatives are under increased attack. It was time for me to write my first advocacy letter in a long time.
I found this particular style of writing difficult, as I had to keep it brief. I couldn’t add links to resources like I do with my blog posts, that wasn’t the intention of my letter. I wanted a new voice to be heard by the district board of education, and I wanted to show my support for those in the community who work tirelessly to ensure that school curricula affirms the identities of those who historically have been stigmatized or excluded.
What follows is the text of my letter, followed by a selection of resources that I found valuable in preparing my thoughts. I acknowledge that I leant heavily on these resources while writing my letter.
I write as a district resident of 10 years, a father with two young sons in a [local] elementary school, and a nationally recognized physical education and health teacher of 26 years. Unfortunately, I cannot attend the next Board meeting. Still, I want to share my thoughts regarding recent community misinformation efforts that have transpired due to targeted attacks against comprehensive sex education, inclusive LGBTQ programs, and access to a diverse selection of books.
Diverse Books: Thank you for encouraging students to read a wide selection of books that are diverse in author and content. While I understand that one of the titles* on two award lists is causing concern among a small but loud minority, this book isn’t written for them. As a memoir from a nonbinary and asexual individual, this book will speak to some of my students who will appreciate reading about a person who lives life the way they do. While [the district] didn’t create the book list or force anyone to read any of the titles, you have made it easier for our most vulnerable students, who might be at risk because of their identity or sexuality, to find affirming stories that help them feel valued. It is disingenuous to take any part of this book out of context and suggest that it is harmful to students.
To quote [the Principal] in his recent communication: “It is important that our text selections are inclusive and represent our diverse student body.” I hope that this value remains at the heart of decisions made.
LGBTQ Inclusion: I am thankful that I live and teach in Illinois, a state that, through recent legislation, ensures that curricula include the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in state and national history. While other states seek to erase the experience of the LGBTQ community, ensuring that [the district] provides a safe space for our LGBTQ students and their allies can only lead to a safer, more inclusive environment for all students to flourish. To that end, comprehensive sex education (CSE), which includes the experience of all genders across the district, is of the utmost importance. CSE provides all students with the skills and accurate and reliable resources that help them make informed and responsible health decisions. CSE is linked to improved academic performance, reduced sexual risk-taking, healthier relationships, reduced unplanned pregnancies, and lower rates of sexually transmitted infections. In addition, comprehensive sexuality education allows teachers to present sexuality with a positive approach, emphasizing values such as respect, inclusion, non-discrimination, equality, empathy, responsibility, and reciprocity.
Mixed-gender puberty lessons: In 21st-century health and sexuality education, it is considered best practice to keep all students together when discussing matters of puberty. Separating students sends the message that bodies come in two categories and that students only need to know their own, leaving anything else taboo or mysterious. This furthers the divide between people rather than bringing people together. Separating instruction stigmatizes bodies that are different. Separating instruction based on assumed physiology also reinforces notions of a rigid binary-based solely on genitals. It also strengthens those gender-stereotypical boundaries that students force themselves and others into.
I understand parents have the right to opt their children out of health classes. I urge parents uncomfortable with classroom conversations regarding gender, sexuality, identity, puberty, etc., to take this option if they feel it is in their child’s best interests. However, they should not seek to diminish the experience of other students by seeking to push back against best practices.
I appreciate you taking the time to read my comments.
* The district shared links to two book award lists created by the American Association of Illinois School Library Educators, the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award 2023 and the 2023 Illinois Lincoln Award List. The email explained that some of the books on the Lincoln Award List contain mature content which is not appropriate for younger grades.
These resources are outstanding. Please check them out and share them widely. Let me know if you have a recommendation to add to the list.
In Support of Comprehensive Sexuality Education by Andy Milne
Mind Your Language by Andy Milne