The Trans Question in Schools: Who Gets a Say?

Teachers Having a Discussion
Photo: Allison Shelley/EDUimages

Due to the high emotion which accompanies this topic, some throat clearing is in order. First, it is not the position of this author that transgender people should not exist. The principle of personal liberty, and the belief that people deserve the ability to express themselves supports their right. Second, outside of their participation in sports, which comes with unfair advantages, transgender people should be allowed to live however they want as long as they don’t hurt others, as is true of everyone. Third, there are cases where gender transition, up to and including sex reassignment surgery, is the correct course of action to alleviate gender dysphoria. 

However, treatments which can have permanent effects should not be available to children; furthermore, it is a massive overreach for a school to hide information about its students from their parents.

The occurrence of trans-identifying youths, along with awareness of this phenomenon, has exploded in recent years, becoming the focus of many within media, politics, and education. Referred to as Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD), the numbers are undeniable. Treatments for gender dysphoria range from cross-sex hormone therapy and puberty blockers to surgical procedures such as mastectomies and phalloplasty. With risks running concomitant with these treatments, parents may be uneasy at the prospect of their child expressing gender dysphoria or seeking treatment without their knowledge. We should be wary of these treatments in light of what we know about child psychology.

In 1995, Judith Rich Harris authored an article for Psychological Review titled “Where is the child’s environment? A group socialization theory of development.” In it, she sketches out her theory for how children become socialized — in other words, what influences them to behave how they do. In the article, Harris rejects the notion that the environment created by parents at home has much of a role in how a child turns out. In fact, after genetics, peers and the environments in which they interact play the largest role in the socialization of young people. In summary, peer influence has a strong effect on the behavior of young people. Harris went on to flesh out this idea further in her groundbreaking book The Nurture Assumption, which Steven Pinker predicted would be seen as “a turning point in the history of psychology.”

Peer influence can lead a person to do what they otherwise never would. According to Lisa Littman, in her investigation of ROGD, “Peer contagion has been associated with depressive symptoms, disordered eating, aggression, bullying, and drug use.” Once a nascent idea or trait is given voice amongst peers, it can become reified, feeling more real with each accepting and encouraging comment. When the idea in question involves a person’s identity, who they are in the deepest sense, there is extreme friction against backing out. 

The difference between these previous instances of in-group behaviors and transgenderism is that in the case of eating disorders, bullying, drug use, etc., the kids were encouraged by their peers, but adult authority figures were wise enough to consider the long-term consequences of temporary behaviors. Today, the opposite is true. Peers, teachers, and influencers have all come together with a unified message: you just need to be yourself, whatever that means and wherever that leads, no questions asked. And in truth, the encouragement of adults can act as pressure as well, oftentimes in the form of wanting to connect with students: “Look, I have my own designer identity, aren’t I cool? You can share everything you’re going through, and we don’t even have to tell your parents. They don’t understand you like I do.”

This characterization is not a strawman. Every day, another video emerges of a teacher bragging about their “transition closet” or the lessons they’re teaching preschoolers about their “sexuality,” “transness,” and “pronouns.” In California, the parents of a 12 year old were kept in the dark about their child’s trans identity. Some schools are pretty brazen in the message they send their teachers regarding trans students, one even going so far as to instruct their teachers that “Parents are not entitled to know their kids’ identities. That knowledge must be earned.”

One of the responsibilities of teachers and administration is to guide the culture of a school. Since the role which these environments play in influencing children is so large, school leaders should be careful about how they construct these environments and which behaviors and attitudes are promoted and which are discouraged. A well-functioning school will have considered every aspect of that larger culture, from behavior policies to the use of electronic devices and everything in between. The nature of peer-to-peer and teacher-to-student interaction is one of the most important considerations for this culture building.

Pitting school staff against parents should not happen. It is wrong to assume that parents don’t want to be supportive when they express disagreement with how to do just that. Even more troubling is the assumption they are abusive or don’t know their kids as well as their teachers do. Teachers spend an hour a day with a student; this doesn’t give them knowledge of their history or their behaviors outside of the eyes of their peers and the classroom environment. To assume students need protection from their disapproving parents will not lead anywhere good. 

When the cost of transition can entail permanent changes to someone’s physiology, including sterilization and the removal of body parts, that cost is too high to be paid by our children who may grow to regret their transition, or whose dysphoria may desist with time. A recent City Journal article shows that even many early proponents of so-called “gender-affirming” treatments are beginning to have second thoughts. 

The detrans subreddit alone has nearly 27,000 members, of whom many express regret they were allowed to go through transition, sometimes pushed into it by adults who told them it would solve all their problems in an attempt to boost their own progressive bona fides. If you’re unaware of their existence, read through their stories of heartbreak and anger and confusion about why this was allowed to happen, before claiming you’re on the right side of history. You may be wrong, and it won’t be you who pays the price.

Jason Anger
Jason Anger is an educator from Wisconsin, a father, and a part-time bartender. He is a regular contributor to Chalkboard Review, where he is also a fellow and member of the social media team. He has been published in Chalkboard Review, City Journal and National Review.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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