Story at a glance
- Red Oak Elementary school introduced a new lesson plan discussing gender identity.
- The community has voiced concerns about the dialogues, wondering if these are talks that should stay within the home.
- The demand for education about gender is increasing, however, with gender-nonconforming children seeking guidance.
At Red Oak Elementary in Ventura, Calif., kids gathered for a classic story time session read by school counselor Holly Baxter.
Rather than “Goodnight, Moon,” “The Rainbow Fish” or “The Giving Tree,” Baxter presented her students with a more modern story: “Sparkle Boy.”
It’s a story about big sister Jessie learning to understand and love her brother Casey’s affinity for more traditionally feminine types of fun.
Educators and school officials expected pushback when the program was announced on July 30, and sure enough, multiple parents have come forward questioning the role of a public school in teaching children about gender.
Oak Park Unified School District Superintendent Tony Knight wrote to the community that “It is expected that some families will be uncomfortable with this discussion, especially when it comes to how it is shared with children.”
Amy Ditarz, a Red Oak parent with three children in the district, told the Los Angeles Times that she thinks “...they’ve crossed the line, as far as teaching my child what I believe should be taught at home.”
School officials counter these concerns by citing statistics about gender nonconforming students at school. Studies report that young children express gender nonconforming behavior frequently, and that they tend to become aware of the disconnect between what they enjoy and their gender role in society. Without proper support and acceptance, these children can become predisposed to anxiety and depression.
Teaching children awareness and empathy at a young age can help undermine stigmas and social taboos associated with gender fluidity.
California law does have an “opt-out” policy, in which parents can withdraw their children from sexual education or HIV awareness programs, but it doesn’t say anything in regards to gender identity lessons.
The idea of gender-inclusivity lessons did not appear suddenly, however; counselors at Red Oak felt that it was a genuine need for a better understanding of the social construct of gender after counseling about 10 gender-nonconforming students annually.
Baxter is one of these counselors. The symptoms of depression and anxiety she saw in young children worried her.
“If they’re not seeing themselves represented in what we teach, they get a sense that who they are is not a part of the culture, that they are some kind of a secret, that they are something to be ashamed of,” Baxter told the L.A. Times.
Sweeping changes in school sexual education curriculums have been brought up all over California, as well has whether some lessons are best left at home.
Until then, however, Baxter continues to run with Red Oak’s new curriculum, teaching their students that “Just like a rainbow has a variation of colors, with many different shades of orange and purple, there are many kinds of boys and girls.”