Pushing tomboys to change their gender?

The Department for Education has issued guidance on Relationships and Sex Education, and the Daily Mail started a culture war. “Teachers are told to stop pushing tomboys to change their gender”, it said. “Tomboys must not be encouraged to think they should change sex just because of the way they like to dress or play, schools have been told.”

I agree. I don’t like the word “tomboy”- girls ask, “Why call me a ‘boy’?” Just because they don’t like pink, or skirts, or even worse because they climb trees as well as liking ballet, does not make them any sort of “boy”. I disagree with all gender stereotypes, and find the adjective “harmful” tautologous. Oddly enough, neither the Statutory Guidance, nor the separate Guidance, uses the word. Where schools depart from statutory guidance, they “need to have good reasons”. Guidance is less binding. The Mail is wrong to call it “instructions”.

The Mail quotes out of context, from the Guidance.

You should not reinforce harmful stereotypes, for instance by suggesting that children might be a different gender based on their personality and interests or the clothes they prefer to wear. Resources used in teaching about this topic must always be age-appropriate and evidence based. Materials which suggest that non-conformity to gender stereotypes should be seen as synonymous with having a different gender identity should not be used and you should not work with external agencies or organisations that produce such material.

I don’t know whether that was written out of ignorance, or with the intention of permitting Mermaids to continue to provide resources. Mermaids never suggested that non-conformity was synonymous with having a different gender identity, only that some children really do have a different gender identity and they will flourish if allowed to transition. Trans people exist. We should be worried, if the guidance echoed transphobe organisations, suggesting that gender identity is a falsehood, the product of gender stereotypes, but it does not.

The Mail quotes the “Safe Schools Alliance”, so I looked them up. They are a transphobe organisation, currently taking legal action to get the Crown Prosecution Service to withdraw from the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme, and against Oxfordshire County Council because they believed the council’s guidance was too accepting of trans people. The first thing they say about themselves is that they are against gender identity policies they find too pro-trans. They do not disclose their funding. They are happy to damage Britain’s leading LGBT charity because of their loathing of trans. They object to “trans lobby groups push[ing] policies which allow males into female spaces”. Well, they call trans girls “males”. They want to prevent transition.

Enough of the propaganda. What do the Guidance and Statutory Guidance actually say? Continue reading

The Trump Effect

The Presidential election is having a terrible effect on schools. Minority children are terrified. A kindergarten Latino child, told by classmates he would be deported, asked every day “Is the wall here yet?” Bullies are empowered: some use the word Trump as they taunt or gang up on others. Teachers who normally use elections for lessons in democracy and the responsibility of citizenship find that the word “Trump” alone is enough to derail a class, and that the election inflames ethnic tension and the fear and anxiety of children of colour.

The need for teachers to be non-partisan stymies attempts to impart positive lessons about the electoral process. Every student from pre-schoolers up is aware of the rhetoric, tone and catch-phrases. “We’re going to build a wall”. Now the notorious phrases include “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”  The campaign is omnipresent, on social media and rolling news. Children talk about this whether or not the teachers take part. If a child says When Trump wins, you and your family will get sent back in the classroom, they say worse in the hallway. Students take the campaign intensely personally, and marginalised pupils bear the brunt of abuse.

Children worry about being sent back to where their parents or grandparents came from, and even the descendants of slaves fear being sent to Africa. They cannot feel safe with the level of hatred expressed in the news and even by trusted adults. Undocumented students have a right to education but come to school fearful that they will be interned, and separated from their families. Students from six to twelve cry in class. This reduces grades and ability to concentrate. One student can’t sleep at night, another has panic attacks. A Muslim teenager was suicidal after other pupils shouted slurs from their cars. Where the home country is unsafe, the fear is greater. Syrian children are traumatised again. Students with undocumented relatives think all the other students hate them. Even very young children use the N word as a slur. Students in majority black areas, with less interracial tension in the playground, still feel fear, and wonder if this is what all white people think of them.

Distrust grows as students recall lessons about American ideals, then wonder how someone who holds those ideals in such contempt could be so popular. America is a “Nation of immigrants” but immigrants feel unvalued. The usual rule is that a teacher will not discuss their own politics, but how to respond to a child who begs you not to vote for Trump because he will deport their parents? I have tried to reassure my students that no matter the outcome, they will be okay. I don’t even know if that’s true.

Teachers work to keep their classrooms respectful, so must remind students that there are different rules there from the debate stage. Bullies are emboldened, claiming they are just saying what everyone is thinking, using slurs, name-calling and inflammatory statements. Muslim students are called “ISIS”, “Terrorist” or “Bomber”. Kids tell other kids they will be deported forcibly. Even at an all-white school, “Dirty Mexican” became a common insult. Bullying affects health and can lead to self-harm. Bullies claim they are not bullying, but “telling it like it is”. Students have become very hostile to opposing points of view, regardless of the topic. Any division now elicits anger and personal attacks. Bullying, though, crosses party lines and “Trump” can be used as an insult, implying the victim is the type of person who would support him. Students are angry, and their anger can escalate into fist-fights.

Educators want a lively exchange of ideas in healthy debate. One of the goals of education is to teach students how to make persuasive arguments, support opinions with facts and listen to the perspectives of others. Those goals are out the window in many classrooms. Some teachers are enthusiastic about the opportunities to teach about media bias and fact-checking rather than gossip, but find it hard to find age-appropriate factual information. Teachers find teaching about the election “stokes the fires”. If it can get you suspended from high school, it is not appropriate in a candidate.

Being a good citizen of the US democracy is a main goal of schools, but children are disillusioned and disconnected. The rhetoric does not help their ability to use reason and evidence.

From the Southern Poverty Law Centre report The Trump Effect (pdf).

Key Stage One

How do we test the English Language skills of seven year olds? By checking whether they write sentences they- and I!- would never speak. To be classified at “working at the expected standard” they must use four different forms of sentences- statements, questions, exclamations and commands. A sentence has a subject and a verb, and an “Exclamation sentence” must start with “How” or “What”. “How odd!” would not do, as it has no verb.

We learn to write by reading and thinking. But what we read rarely has exclamatory sentences in this form, so one can only learn it by rote. What a lot of bullshit this is! How it reduces writing, an exploration of freedom, into a boring rote-learning!

Ah. I could just add “How” to the start of a sentence, check if it just might do, and tick the box in my own mind; though not to the sentences beginning with conjunctions. I understand you are not supposed to start a sentence with a conjunction. But I do it all the time, and now have found out about “subordinating conjunctions”. I am not sure what they are, exactly: I must ask a primary school child.

Key stage two writing assessment

These changes take writing back to the 19th century, and I remember a story of children learning Willie, Willie, Harry Steve (I never learned that, it was not mine, no-one has made Three Alexanders John ROBERT!! David two Roberts six Jameses into a rhyme. Onywye. Why learn it? Not so’s they could understand history, but so’s they could practice learning by rote. “So’s” mightn’t be one of the contracted words included, as it is regional.

“Stories that teachers have to make checklists of hundreds of different tickboxes are just plain wrong” says Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, but this is a lie. To count as “Working at the expected standard”, the child needs to tick all the boxes on that list, and so must write exclamation sentences; and evidence of their exclamation sentence, suffixes and contracted forms must be preserved. I have no idea what “exception words” are, and this list makes it no clearer. I was right, more or less, they are exceptions to spelling rules, but the abbreviation GPC for Grapheme Phoneme correspondence did not make it easier. I also found that “ture” in creature is pronounced tʃə: so my pedantry of saying “creature” rather than creacha is condemned. You might realise from that “t” that I liked rules- until now.

The 2014 English curriculum has set out the various spelling rules (and exception words) that need to be learnt by children in each year of their primary education.