On Saturday, January 19, eight members of the Stoneleigh-Burnham community attended a diversity conference, 'Everybody, Everybody': Reimagining Gender and Sexuality in Our Schools," hosted by Vermont Academy. Our group, or “pod” in the terminology of the Dalton Conference model, represented a past and present cross section of students, faculty, staff, administration, parents, alums, and trustees.
This page is meant to represent current thinking on the fundamentals of how we see gender and sexuality based on the writings of experts and the reported lived experiences of people of a diversity of gender and sexuality.
“But don’t you think there are differences between men and women?” I thought for a moment, and responded, “Well, I know that brain differences at birth are minimal, and it seems to me that the gender constructs created by society drastically amplify those differences.” The conversation continued for a moment, still focused on binary gender differences, and I added, “But we don’t even know what would happen if a child were to actually grow up in a non-patriarchal society. I only know of a few isolated examples.” My friend affirmed that a few matriarchies do exist, at a minimum two in China that she knew of.
Before you keep reading, I’d like to invite you to read a piece my friend Christina Torres wrote for Teaching Tolerance entitled “We Can’t Dismantle What We Can’t See: Teaching Concepts of Masculinity.”
<pause>Done? Good. Thanks.
As it turned out, Alaine Jolicoeur, our French teacher-intern, and I wanted to attend the exact same sessions at Saturday’s GLSEN-Massachusetts conference and, as it turned out, we both had good instincts as that made for just about the perfect flow for the day. It began with keynote speeches focusing on affirming the wonderful spectrum of people attending as well as the inclusive theme “both/and,” moving on to a morning session dominated by trans and non-binary kids telling their stories and sharing methods of self-care, lunch, a session on intersectionality with a mix of kids and adults, a session attended entirely by educators on supporting K-8 kids, and finally a closing moment written and performed by those attending Trenda Loftin’s final workshop session.
In Humanities 7 classes, the students design most of the units and, along with group work, choose individual Focus Questions to explore. For a recent unit on Education, Beatrice '20 chose "Should we teach gender in schools?" and created the essay below as a basis for her in-class presentation, which generated a thoughtful and moving discussion.
At Stoneleigh-Burnham, we support religious freedom and ask that all members of the community be treated with respect. I should be clear in that context that Beatrice pointed out during her presentation that she does not believe the family mentioned in the first paragraph represents all Christians, or even all Catholics. And later on, the point was specifically made that many Christians embrace the full spectrum of gender and sexuality with love.
As does this class.
With Beatrice's permission, then, here is her essay.
- Bill Ivey
“Gender needs to be taught in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something,” was written in the suicide note of 17 year old transgender girl, Leelah Alcorn. “My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that’s f---ed up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.” Leelah was a mistreated girl from an oppressive Catholic family. Her family's disapproval of her transgenderism caused her to commit suicide last year. It was this and even more recent death of a transgender boy named Zander, that ignited something in my mind. A fire called injustice burned. They weren't even adults yet and they died because of ignorant people, bullying, and no one being there to help them. This turned something over in me because I knew that this wouldn't have had to happen if someone had helped them and accepted them. Why no one did, I don't know. So should we teach gender in schools? There are positives and negatives to teaching it. But think, if kids were taught how to deal with this in school, how to help friends with their problems then maybe we could start on 'fixing society' as Leelah requests. But on the other hand, considering this would be an entirely new topic, how can we teach to young kids and explain to them what it means to feel that you are not who your chromosomes tell you to be?
So I finally taught somebody something,
namely, how to change her mind.
And learned in the process that if I ever change the world
it's going to be one eighth grader at a time.
- Taylor Mali, from "Like Lilly Like Wilson"