- The Student-Teaching Model Is Outdated: Here's How We Can Do Better - September 15, 2021
- Visualize: How Seeing What's Coming Changed My Teaching - August 16, 2021
- 10 Lessons About Teaching from My Youngest Son - June 24, 2021
- Ending the Epithet “Try-Hard” Once and for All in Classrooms - June 18, 2021
- From STEM, Let's Pivot to the BRANCHES of the Humanities - May 25, 2021
- Would Education Collapse If Teachers Stopped Working for Free? - May 20, 2021
- 10 Ways to Teach Like Ted Lasso: Part II - April 21, 2021
- 8 Tips So Your Substitute Plans Don't Suck - April 14, 2021
- 10 Ways to Teach Like Ted Lasso: Part I - March 12, 2021
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers: Habit 3 - First Things First - February 26, 2021
When the U.S. Dept. of Education issued its "Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students," it essentially asserted that transgender bathroom rights will be an issue that schools are expected to solve. This upcoming fall will no doubt make school bathrooms a boiling issue. Will you be ready for it?
Schools have not been asked to take up a rights' issue of this magnitude since Brown v. Board of Education ended Southern segregated schools in 1955. That controversial ruling offers us many lessons because the primary "battleground" was the school AND the bathroom. Prior to Brown, white students went to different schools, used different bathrooms, and had other rights that blacks were unable to use. When the Little Rock Nine enrolled as the first African-American students in Central High School two years later, they took a daring path towards integrating schools, an issue that is, arguably, still in process in 2016.
Tomorrow's fight will surround how far we can integrate or separate frequenters of bathrooms. The factions are quickly occupying different stalls:
[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"]Tomorrow's fight will surround how far we can integrate or separate frequenters of bathrooms. Click To Tweet
On one side of the bathroom divide, we have:
- Charlotte, NC's City Council, who voted to allow people to use the public bathroom of the gender they identify
- Superintendent Dan Scribner (Ft. Worth, TX), who (along with the district) adopted new bathroom guidelines for their students, including options of using restrooms for all kids (which you can read by clicking here)
- Slate Magazine has, following her comments on North Carolina's law, dubbed U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch the "world's most powerful trans-rights advocate"
- And The Daily Show's Trevor Noah who stated (tongue-in-cheek) that the whole controversy really "comes down to our fear of exposed penises"
On the other side:
- Robert Cardinal Sarah (of the Vatican), who said, simply, "shouldn't a biological man use a men's restroom?"
- North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and the NC State Legislature passed HB 2, which overturned Charlotte's ordinance
- Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who stated that bathroom law changes are "going to obliterate morality"
- Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called the permission of men to enter women's bathrooms "mind-boggling and appalling," a general danger to women, and (also tongue-in-cheek) stated that "the 'M' does not stand for 'make up your mind' and the 'W' does not stand for 'whatever'"
This issue's partisan stakes is so lengthy that you'll see "Battle of the Bathroom" emblazoned across the front cover of this week's Time Magazine. Here, Michael Scherer approaches this difficult topic with depth and fairness, wading through the muck to share a history of public bathrooms, speaking to Los Angeles school district leaders who've had a successful transgender policy in place since 2005, and speaking to Pastor Jack Cunningham, who's counseled people through sexual abuse and doesn't "want anybody that is male going in the restroom with my family." The Wall Street Journal has also provided a different, well-rounded side to the issue as well.
But after you digest all this information, what does it mean to us -- the teachers signing lavatory passes? And how do we clean up this bathroom mess before the stench permeates our classrooms?And how do we clean up this bathroom mess before the stench permeates our classrooms? Click To Tweet
Flashing back 15 years ago, I still remember my high school senior social studies class. Our rural area didn't experience much diversity; that is, until our final senior project, where we were instructed to deliver a speech on a hot topic, which the teacher randomly assigned us the positions we were to take. One of my classmates was given the task of being opposed to gay rights. During the speech, she broke down and said she... was... gay.
None of the students, including me, were surprised by her revelation for many reasons. The novelty of this specific social situation was strange, but the rationality (us being unsurprising) wasn't.
When your first transgender student enters your classroom, you'll find yourself searching the same difficulty of balancing the challenge of novelty and rationality as I did in 2001.
IDENTIFYING THE REAL ISSUE
Today, dealing with transgender issues is strange, but only because it's foreign to us. It's estimated only 0.3% of Americans are transgender. I know of two students; one is happy using the teachers' gender-neutral bathroom, the other is demanding to use his bathroom of identity - the boys' restroom.
Which begs the question: don't they have the same rights to THEIR restroom as you and I do?
And, when the Supreme Court has to decide on this issue - whether it's 10 days, 10 months, or 10 years from now - and regardless who's on the Court (liberal or conservative) - aren't they going to rule that people have the right to use the bathroom that makes them the most comfortable?
As a teacher, I want to find comfort for the 70% of transgender people who've stated they've been denied using the restroom or harassed while in there. I want the 58% of them who avoid public bathrooms to feel that they don't have to pee in the parking lot. I want the transgender students who are 13x more likely to attempt suicide to feel like they can go #1 or #2 and not have to go 6 feet down.
As a parent, I also don't want to explain to my son that a person dressed as a woman who claims to be a woman is using the bathroom because our state legislature told her she was born a male. And, when my son has to use the restroom with his mom, I don't want a bathroom cop forcing him to use the other restroom alone, which is where the real fear of pressing danger should be.
And as a citizen, if there are perverts, voyeurs, or abusers who break this law or any of the other bathroom regulations we have in the respective states, they should be fully and immediately prosecuted and incarcerated. And, if there are possibilities to remove awkwardness (like Fort Worth schools' bathroom regulations), all the better for everyone.
Public bathrooms are uncomfortable for everyone. I can't tell you how many men walk around freely with their manhood in full view in my gym's male locker room. My wife says she looks around in the bathroom, not for transgender people, but for voyeurs who will willingly break this social code whether a law is in place or not (which, there already is, similar to gun laws, where criminals don't really care about the law).
I understand there's a fear of men loop-holing a law to use the women's room. But that same fear was on full-court press in post-Brown v. Board debate in what is today known as "Black Peril" (black men want to have sex with white women). It was unsubstantiated. That same fear was present when gay and lesbian people openly came out, as others thought they'd be fondled in public bathrooms. Again, unsubstantiated.
What will be of substance is letting everyone feel comfortable to use their restroom of choice. Adding restroom police, video cameras, and unenforceable laws in our schools won't get us there. Creating an environment where our kids feel safe using the bathroom will. Some of that will include education. Most of it will include reasoning on the side of what's best for our students.
At the end of the day, I understand that transgender students are a super-minority, with approximately 150,000 of the 50 million American students labeled as transgender. In defending his Federalist Paper #10, James Madison stated that American democracy has the obligation to defend the "minority" from the "turbulency and weakness of... the majority." Though a distinctly small number, minority factions still have rights. It's as old as our Constitution.
The group is so small, most schools won't even have a transgender child in 2017. But for those of us who do, we don't want them channeling their inner-Hamlet,"To pee, or not to pee - that is the question?"To pee, or not to pee - that is the question? Click To Tweet
We, teachers, should support whatever needs to happen at our respective school to ensure public bathrooms are a safe place for all - 100% of - our students. It will be an evolving process - nothing more and nothing less. Will you be ready to disarm the battle before it even begins?