Teaching About Gender: Some Information to Consider

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-Winning Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

The topic of gender, and how children should be taught about it (and if they should be taught about it at all), has become a delicate, controversial and highly-provocative topic. Any writer who dares to even touch on this topic today is doomed to receive a barrage of hatred from people who come from a wide range of diverse backgrounds.

I know this, because I myself have been on the receiving end of that hatred on more than a couple of occasions in the past.

After writing and publishing a blog post entitled Gender-Neutral Toilets in Schools: Some Research and Conclusions (which I thought was a pretty balanced and fair synopsis of some of the most pertinent research and history on this issue) I received nasty messages on social media, hateful reviews of my books on Goodreads and Amazon (by people who hadn’t even read the books) and even messages to family members and friends who had shown the audacity to like, or comment, on one or more of my photos or posts. This was my virtual ‘second-wave’ of acrimony: I had received my first after publishing On Gender Neutral Toilets in Schools.

For a community that claims to celebrate diversity, a small (but significant) minority of 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals do themselves and their cause no favors by showing complete intolerance to diversity of opinion.

This leads me to today’s gargantuan mission: to describe what the published evidence states about what should actually be taught about gender in schools, and then (in the coming weeks and onwards) when and how it should be taught. I know that the hate will come to me by reflex-action by some individuals who won’t even read this far. All I can say is bring it on: we all show our true, ‘rainbow’ colours through our actions.

With that out of the way, let’s begin.

What should we be teaching children about gender?

Before we can even begin to answer that question, we need to answer a question that is much more fundamental: What is gender?

Growing up as a primary school kid in the 80s was a fairly simple experience with regards to this issue, and the question of what gender was didn’t need to be asked (or so it seemed). My school friends were boys and girls, and nothing else. Boys looked and acted differently to girls. My parents and the adults I encountered in society were men and women – and they were all very easy to distinguish as such.

I guess what I’m saying is that the data from my life experience provided everything I needed to know about gender: There were boys, girls, men and women. Nothing else (or so it appeared).

Today, however, that assumption – that gender is binary, is thought by many to be inaccurate. Former elementary school principal Anthony Ciuffo sums up his awakening to this knowledge eloquently: in a recent ASCD report:

Perhaps the most important lesson we gleaned from our immersion in the literature was the idea that gender is not the binary concept (where someone is either a girl or a boy) that most of us have grown up believing it to be.

Anthony Ciuffo, 2019. Rethinking Conventions: Keeping Gender-Diverse Students Safe. ASCD.

This central, bold premise is rather a big one. I wanted to find out where Ciuffo was getting his information from. As a molecular biology graduate this statement made some sense to me initially: Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, with the only distinguishing feature between most males and females at the chromosomal level being that one of those pairs consists of an X and Y chromosome for males, whereas a woman has an X and X chromosome in that position within the karyotype (a karyotype is essentially a list of all of the chromosome pairs). Some rare exceptions to this rule do happen, however (some of which I was surprised to learn about during the course of my research for this blog post):

  • Klinefelter syndrome (XXY biological males)
  • Chapelle syndrome (XX biological males – described as an ‘intersex’ condition)
  • XYY males
  • Turner syndrome (biological females who have one X chromosome missing, or partially missing)
  • Triple X syndrome (biological females who have three X chromosomes)
  • Swyer syndrome (biological females who have the XY chromosome pair, normally present in biological males)

The fact that these ‘syndromes’/conditions/possibilities exist in the first place should surprise most people who assume that gender is binary – even the biological evidence suggests that numerous exceptions to that premise exist. This raises more questions:

  1. How many gender-affecting situations at the genetic-molecular level are we not aware of?
  2. To what extent do chromosomal arrangements actually affect gender?

That last question is a pertinent one that humanity will soon have to really get to grips with, as both anecdotal and empirical evidence suggests that that the ‘full story’ of gender is by no means determined by genetics alone. Take Sasha Komarova (a Russian model) for example: she has Swyer syndrome (XY), yet she would most certainly identify as a female (and many would argue a very attractive one, at that). At the chromosomal level she ‘should’ be a male, but the physical reality that has manifested is a female body.

Research-based evidence that supports the notion that genetics have a role to play in a wide-range of gender expressions is mounting by the year:

  • In September of 2019, the largest-ever genome-wide-association study of same-gender sexuality was published in the very well-respected journal, Science. The primary finding was that multiple genes are significantly associated with engaging in same-gender sexual behavior (Diamond, Lisa. 2021)
  • A large literature review by Polderman et al, 2018, came to this significant conclusion: “Based on the data reviewed, we hypothesize that gender identity is a multifactorial complex trait with a heritable polygenic component. We argue that increasing the awareness of the biological diversity underlying gender identity development is relevant to all domains of social, medical, and neuroscience research and foundational for reducing health disparities and promoting human-rights protections for gender minorities“.

Conclusion

One can only conclude from the karyotypic and genetic evidence that gender may not be binary after all, and that other chromosomal/gene-loci/genetic-molecular arrangements may exist that lead to a gender expression that does not match the binary that we’ve mostly grown up to believe is true. In fact, to hold steadfast the central dogma that gender is exclusively a binary phenomenon is not only old-fashioned, but it’s plain wrong according to the scientific evidence we have at present.

Next week

Next week I will explore gender from a brain chemistry and hormonal profile perspective. Following that, I will explore what should be taught to children, and at what stages in their development it should be taught.

Bibliography and references

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Good Teachers Are Also Good Students

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Accompanying video:

I have always loved mathematics, but I’ve not always been ‘good’ at maths. I got a grade A for GCSE Mathematics when I was 16 years old (a grade I worked really, really hard for) but I struggled with mathematics at ‘AS’ and ‘A’ – Level (the UK’s pre-university qualifications). 

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“An AMAZING Book!”

It just so happened that mathematics wasn’t a subject I needed as a prerequisite for my university course anyway. So, in a sense, I committed the cardinal sin of thinking that it ‘didn’t matter’. I was planning to study molecular biology at university, and my admissions tutors were mainly interested in my biology and chemistry grades.

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I achieved my goal of going to uni and doing my PGCE in order to become a fully qualified Science teacher in 2006. I was happy for several years, but my failure to complete my mathematics education at school kept gnawing at me like an annoying itch. I needed to do something about it. 

I decided to complete the Certificate in Mathematics course with the Open University in 2009, after three years of being a full-time science teacher. This course covered everything in my ‘A’-Level syllabus with some extra, university-level topics thrown in. It was challenging and offered me just what I needed: closure. As a distance-learning course, it also offered me the chance to study and work as a teacher at the same time. 

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As I started studying the course and handing in assignments (which had to be snail mailed to the UK  – I was living in Thailand at the time), I began to realise how much I had become disconnected from the student experience as a teacher. It had been around three years since I had ever studied anything seriously, and this mathematics course was teaching me how difficult it was to:

  • Meet deadlines
  • Seek help when in doubt
  • Have the self-discipline needed to study at a regular time-slot each day

These skills were, of course, things I had to do whilst completing my degree course and schooling earlier in life, but it had been a few years since I had been immersed in serious study like this. I was slowly losing empathy for my students: that was until this course gave me a wake-up call. 

Another big thing I took from this experience was just how stressful it can be to prepare for a difficult exam (and to complete it). I had to fly to the UK to take the end of course mathematics exam (a three hour beast), and along with the intense revision that came in the few days running up to the exam I had the misfortune of not sleeping so well the night before the big day. And then, once sat down and actually completing the paper, three hours felt like it went by in an instant.

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I guess I’m trying to make a number of points in this trip down Memory Lane – namely that by immersing ourselves in the ‘student experience’ we can, as teachers:

  • Regain, or enhance, our true understanding of just how many hurdles await our students on their race to the exam finish-line.
  • Learn new skills and concepts that can be applied to our roles as classroom managers, leaders and ‘purveyors’ of specialist knowledge.
  • Build self-discipline, and pass on the lessons learned to our students in our roles as mentors, homeroom teachers, form tutors and coaches.

One final point to stress is that, whilst we can study almost any subject we want via online platforms like EdX and Coursera these days, it’s also important that we take the time to thoroughly reflect on a regular basis. Keeping a journal of things we’ve done well, and things we messed up, can be a great way to have a written record to read over when we want to celebrate successes and remind ourselves of lessons we have learned on our journeys as educators. This video I made a few years ago goes into this in more detail:

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On Gender-Neutral Toilets in Schools

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

‘Gender-neutral’ or ‘mixed-gender’ toilets: A trend that seems to have hit British, Australian and American schools with thunderclap speed, taking even the professionals like me by surprise.

Art class

12-years-ago, when I was last teaching in the UK, this topic wasn’t even a topic. People were happy with toilets the way they were: male and female. A recent spate of moves to appease the transgender community have changed all that, however, with a lot of controversy and anger being stirred-up along the way.

Take this recent story of a new, multi-million dollar school set to open in Brisbane this month. Fortitude Valley State Secondary College will be the first secondary school in Queensland that actually forces students to share the same bathrooms. No male, female or ‘other’: everyone uses the same facilities. The only exception will be the changing rooms, which will contain separate male and female toilets.

This has caused outrage in the local community and in Australia as a whole, with parents, politicians, education experts and members of the public venting their anger on social media and through Australian media outlets:

“We already know some really bad things happen to kids in bathroom areas of schools – bullying, sexting, kids recording on mobiles, these things already go on when they’re just within their own sex, and then you’re adding in an extra element.”

Education expert and mum Michelle Mitchell for The Sunday Mail.

Opposition education leader Jarrod Bleijie made his opinion known via Facebook, stating that “boys and girls need and deserve their own privacy at school.”


In defense of the school’s gender-neutral policy, an unnamed departmental spokeswoman said the following via Daily Mail Australia:

“The toilet facilities at Fortitude Valley State Secondary College meet contemporary design standards in relation to accessibility, inclusivity, privacy and safety”

I have contacted Fortitude Valley State Secondary College principal Sharon Barker today with a statement of my concerns regarding the safeguarding of students at her school (particularly teenage girls who will be most affected), along with a request for a reasoned justification behind why the decision to install gender-neutral toilets was made. I shall add her response to this blog post should I receive one.

But what about other countries?

Australia is not the only country in which the common-sense of the masses has clashed with the logic of ‘progressive’ liberals.

Take Deanesfield Primary School (yes, a primary school!) in South Ruislip, West London, where parents launched a petition in September of 2019 in an attempt to ban unisex toilets at the school. Complaints centered around concerns from menstruating girls, who feel like their privacy is invaded when they have to share toilets with boys.

One mother, who has two young daughters at the school, said:

“The cubicles were open at the bottom and top so older pupils can easily climb up the toilets and peer over.”

It’s unclear if complaints have been heeded by the school, and again I shall be e-mailing the school today and should they offer an official response then it shall be posted on this page.

How big is the problem?

Opposition to gender-neutral toilets in schools is so big that this one blog post cannot do the topic justice. Some recent stories that have broke are listed below:

UK Girls Skipping School, Traumatized After Being Forced to Share Toilets with Boys

Gender-neutral toilets don’t help our kids, but threaten them

My thoughts on this issue

A few things:

  1. Schools should always remember that the parents are their key customers. When gender-neutral toilets are introduced in a school, without prior consultation and approval from parents, then a school is acting like a totalitarian dictatorship. I don’t like the arrogance that such schools have when they believe that they do not need to listen to parents – the ultimate, prime educators of their children.
  2. I’ve yet to see any convincing research that suggests that gender-neutral toilets benefit the majority of students at school. I’ll be looking into this further and shall provide a ‘research synopsis’ next week.
  3. Such a tiny minority of school students identify as being ‘transgender’2% in the United States (according to the CDC). Should the majority of students change their routines to appease the minority? How should this minority be catered for in a way that does not negatively affect the majority (e.g. menstruating girls)? The solution, it seems to me, it not to force all students to use gender-neutral toilets but to provide enough ‘male’, ‘female’ and ‘mixed-gender’ toilets for students to choose from. Schools will have to keep and maintain official registries of student genders to achieve this, so that only boys can use the boys’ toilets and only the girls can use the girls’ toilets.
  4. I take issue with small children identifying as ‘transgender’ and then the subsequent push by some parents to provide hormonal supplementation and ‘puberty blockers’ to facilitate a sex-change. In some cases, children as young as 8 or 9 are being treated in this way, with many of the risks being largely unknown:

“The bottom line is we don’t really know how sex hormones impact any adolescent’s brain development”

Dr Lisa Simons, pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago (via Frontline)

If a child cannot consent to sexual intercourse or activity, then how can a child consent to having their sex changed? This is an important question that urgently needs to be answered, otherwise we may see many of these children filing lawsuits against their parents when they reach adulthood. We may also see a rise in mental health issues as these children grow and mature, getting older and wiser along the way.

This leads into a much larger debate that goes beyond the scope of simply the installation of gender-neutral toilets in schools. It goes to the core reasoning behind this latest trend, and warrants further exploration in a future blog post.

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