Nebraska Watchdog has uncovered training documents given to middle school teachers in Lincoln, Neb., telling them not to use “gendered expressions” and to call out “binary models of gender” when they see them.
“Avoid asking kids to line up as boys or girls or separating them by gender,” begins a document called “12 easy steps on the way to gender inclusiveness.”
“Instead, use things like ‘odd and even birth date,’ or ‘Which would you choose: skateboards or bikes/milk or juice/dogs or cats/summer or winter/talking or listening.’ … Always ask yourself, ‘Will this configuration create a gendered space?'”
“Don’t use phrases such as ‘boys & girls,’ ‘you guys,’ ‘ladies and gentlemen,’ and similarly gendered expressions to get kids’ attention,” it continues. “Provide an opportunity for every student to identify a preferred name or pronoun. … When you find it necessary to reference gender, say ‘Boy, girl, both or neither.’ When asked why, use this as a teachable moment. Emphasize to students that your classroom recognizes and celebrates the gender diversity of all students.”
Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Steve Joel defended the materials last week, and told local radio host Kevin Thomas that “our position, ours is inclusiveness. … We know that there’s a correlation between bullying and gender, as well as sexual preference, and so you know, as a school district, we’re just trying to provide information for our folks to understand that a little bit better, and I think that’s what they’ve done, and I think they’re doing a great job with it.”
“Be intolerant of openly hostile attitudes or references towards others EVERY TIME you hear or observe them, but also use these as teachable moments,” the training sheet advises. “Take the opportunity to push the individual on their statements about gender. Being punitive may stop the behavior, at least in your presence. Being instructive may stop it entirely.”
“I’m happy, I’m pleased,” continued Joel, “because we have to create an awareness amongst ourselves, that we have kids coming to us from so many different backgrounds, and some of those are confusing to the students themselves, to other students, and to some of our staff.”
The sheet also encouraged the middle school teachers to “share personal anecdotes from your own life that reflect gender inclusiveness. Even better, share examples when you were not gender inclusive in your thinking, words or behaviors, what you learned as a result, and what you will do differently next time.”
When asked about teachers whose religious beliefs these instructions might violate, Joel explained that Lincoln Public Schools “don’t get involved with politics, we don’t get involved with gender preferences… The folks that have strong religious preferences, I mean certainly they might have a personal opinion on that, but the reality of it is we have to understand our children, and we can’t be judgmental, we can’t look at kids and say you know what, this child, this family doesn’t conform to the norm, therefore they’re not gonna get the very best we can. … If we have teachers that are offended or bothered by what it is we’re trying to do as a school system, in serving all students and all populations and all demographics, then they need to meet with their principal and talk through that, but the expectation is that we’re going to do it.”
He did explain that the materials had not been disseminated district-wide, and that the district instead takes a school-by-school approach to these issues. “Now obviously there might be a school where this isn’t a conversation and maybe doesn’t need to be a conversation. … To Irving [Middle School]’s credit, they have children that represent what the discussion points are and they’re helping their faculty understand, give definition.”
The materials also contained a handout on “the Genderbread Person,” put together by self-identified “social justice comedian” Sam Killermann, which explains that “gender is one of those things everyone thinks they understand, but most people don’t. Like Inception. Gender isn’t binary.”
“We’ve got to help kids understand, whether they’re observing it or whether they’re living it, that differences are okay, that we’re all there to learn,” said Joel.
Not everyone is pleased with the materials, which can be seen here. Al Riskowski, executive director of the Nebraska Family Alliance, said they go “way beyond trying to teach someone how to respect another individual,” and that they’re trying to push a “whole new idea of boy-girl.” He was also concerned that these materials were aimed at teachers responsible for very young children, since they contain suggestions like “Create classroom names and then ask all of the ‘purple penguins’ to meet at the rug” as a way of avoiding the phrase “boys and girls.”
One of the sheets defines “gender identity” as “a psychological quality; unlike biological sex, it can’t be observed or measured, only reported by the individual. Like biological sex, it consists of more than two categories, including those who identify as a third gender, two-spirit (both), or agender (neither).”
Asked about how they were handling parents or teachers who were upset with the materials, Joel said that “we’ll meet with anyone who’d like to meet with us. … we have to think about 39,000 students, more than 39,000… there is no one size fits all approach to this. … I don’t believe that this is going to cause us to make any changes.”
He was also asked whether the district had a locker room and bathroom policy for transgender students.
“It’s a work in progress,” he began, “and it’s relatively new, but it’s individualized. It’s between the family and the administration, and determinations are being made in the best interests of the child. That’s not something we’re ever going to talk about publicly because it’s pretty emotional and it’s very very confidential, but you know it’s a real life issue, and you know I think most people will understand that it is, and there’s probably not a simple solution. So we have to work with the family, and that’s what they’re doing.”