Graphic New Standards in Public Education



By Janet Stephenson

This discussion is about the changes in public school teaching regarding gender, not about sexual education. The graphic nature of the new standards in sexual education is also concerning to parents, but I’ll restrict this to the new social constructionism that is being introduced to California classrooms starting as early as kindergarten.

With the new gender teachings in California, what is playing out in schools goes beyond simply wanting to liberalize the minds of children, and is the outcome of two conflicting theories of social thought, with one, social constructionism, winning the hearts and minds of the California Department of Education. The opposing theory, which has been the norm for most of known Western civilization, is essentialism. Essentialism can be broken into different variants, but at its core simply means that, in the norm, there are two genders, that these genders are manifested through biology, that men and women are different, and that they have unique qualities as a man or a woman.

In modern times, essentialism evolved to realize that, although there is a difference between men and women, those differences do not necessarily determine behaviors or preferences. For instance, a woman might be a truck driver, which is traditionally considered a “male” profession, but that does not take away from her gender as being a woman. Also, a man might be a cosmetologist, which is a traditionally “female” profession, but that does not take away from his gender as being a man.

In essentialism, people have gender, behaviors do not. It is based on biological science, and decades of scientific and psychobiological research have been devoted to understanding the differences and how gender shapes individuals. It is recognized that genders will exhibit certain behaviors as a norm or a tendency, such as women being more nurturing, and men being more protective, due to their unique biology and chemistry, but time and again we see men and women displaying behaviors and tendencies outside of the norm which does not take away from their being male or female, but which show an expansion of innate abilities. Men can be at-home fathers who care for the children, and women can be soldiers. Essentialism states that the behavior does not determine the gender.

It should be noted that a majority of cultures and faiths have a variation of essentialism as part of their world view, so much so that an attack on essentialism, is also an attack on their culture and faith. As we’ll see, this is where the problem lies in implementing the new theory of social constructionism.

Social constructionism theory is the shiny new toy of the California Department of Education, and it takes the stand that essentialism is wrong and can not coexist with its worldview. In social constructionism, gender is not a biological reality, it is a social construct determined by the individual and society. It writes off essentialism as being the unnatural dominance of society over an individual by assigning gender at birth, based on biology, without the knowledge or consent of the individual.

Social constructionists ignore biological gender, except when they want to suppress it. The individual chooses what gender, if any, they wish to have based on how they feel, what interests they have, and what their behaviors are. Strict social constructionists encourage children to select their gender as early as toddler years, and then create a reality around that choice that can lead to a path of biological reassignment before the age of puberty to the point of using harmful chemicals and hormones to suppress the natural biology of the individual. What is ignored by most social constructionists, is that research has shown that most children who have selected a gender different from their biology, will, after puberty, choose their biological gender if reassignment was not performed, bringing into question the wisdom of gender reassignment at early ages.

In California, under current law, if a child, even in grade school, has displayed behaviors and identified as the opposite gender, that child will be considered to actually be the opposite gender and is able to change in locker rooms, join sports teams, and compete as the gender of choice. A child that is transitioning into an opposite gender, can receive counseling that encourages that transition and be taken to doctors to assist in reassignment without the parents’ knowledge or consent during school hours.

For social constructionists, gender reality is fluid, and can be changed at will, because it is simply a social construct and not a biological fact. Gender is assigned to interests and behaviors, and participation in these interests and behaviors are used to determine an individual’s gender, not their biology. In reflection, it is actually a very sexist theory. Whereas, under essentialism, a little girl that climbs trees, plays baseball with the local boys, and wants to be a truck driver like her parent, is still a girl; under social constructionism, she might possibly be a boy and should consider transitioning. In elementary school, introducing social constructionism can lead to self-doubt, poor self image, and depression as the student is faced with choosing their own gender.

As a society, we have made great strides in removing gender labels from activities and professions as being male or female. Social constructionism seeks to not only bring those labels back, but to use them to determine an individual’s “true” gender and offers up a cornucopia of possible genders and gender mixes as possibilities. To ask an elementary age student to fully understand this new social theory is like asking a child who is learning addition and subtraction to grasp calculus.

I will not ascribe motives to the California Department of Education. California, in general, has been known for trying out new social theories from polyamory to social constructionism, and that this theory has won the hearts and minds of liberal California legislators is not a surprise. However, it does have a legal and civil rights snag. California law protects the rights of certain groups, including diverse cultures and faiths. Social constructionism is not a fact, based in science, it is a social theory. As such, it conflicts with other social theories, such as essentialism which is a core tenet in many cultures and faiths.

Objectively, there is nothing wrong with teaching a new social theory. However, considering its complexity and possible life changing outcome, it should be taught to the higher grades, not lower ones. It’s domain is in sociology, psychology, or philosophy courses, not elementary school. This theory, when it is taught, should be taught as a worldview that some ascribe to, and should be taught in conjunction with other worldviews without forcing the student to take sides. In learning about these theories, students should be taught how to live in a world with multiple worldviews that may differ from their own, and how to be tolerant of each other, even when they disagree. Civil discourse should be encouraged, not shaming one side or the other.

I understand that the California Department of Education is concerned with bullying, particularly as it pertains to the LGBTQ+ community. This should be a concern and bullying should not be tolerated in any grade. No matter what a classmate looks like, believes, expresses as, identifies as, or has interest in, there is no excuse for cruelty, aggression, and isolation. Children must be taught to be kind, generous, and tolerant in a world as diverse in thought, belief, and expression as ours is.

However, anti-bullying can be taught without also teaching social constructionist theory. In fact, exclusively teaching social constructionist theories would lead to discrimination of individuals who ascribe to essentialist cultures and faiths. Children should not be forced to answer questions on tests or make affirmations that are against their culture and faith. There is no reason that social constructionist theory must be taught to lower grades, and forcing children to affirm this theory is prejudicial and discriminatory to students whose cultures and faiths don’t ascribe to it.

Unfortunately, the California Department of Education currently has an all-hands-on-deck attitude in pushing social constructionism as the only theory of choice. In doing so, it is inevitable that it will violate the rights of parents to care, medically and psychologically, for their children, and will also violate the rights of cultures and faiths whose social outlook is essentialist.

Janet Stephenson is a resident of Thousand Oaks

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.

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Peggy Rosenberg

An outstanding explanation of what is happening and why. The clarity you bring to the issue is much needed and truly refreshing. It would benefit our educational system for this to be required reading for all teachers, administrators, and board of education trustees.