Redwood Heights Elementary School in Oakland is teaching kids this week that boys and girls don’t all fit into neat gender norms, and that they shouldn’t laugh at or tease someone if they do (or wear) something different or unusual.
Two parent leaders whom I interviewed for a story about the issue said they knew of no controversy about the training — until today.
A few weeks ago, Redwood Heights invited parents to a staff training by Gender Spectrum and held an information session afterward, said Michelle Hatchell, the school’s PTA president. Principal Sara Stone included the information in several editions of a weekly memo to parents. (The training is about gender identity, not sexual orientation or attraction; it was funded by a grant from the California Teachers Association.)
But the chief counsel of the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative legal organization, said he learned of seven families who didn’t know until recently that the lessons were about to happen.
After getting wind of the upcoming training from a parent, the institute sent out a news alert. It was picked up over the weekend by bloggers who didn’t like the idea, either.
Kevin Snider, the institute’s chief counsel, said he felt the children were too young to be exposed to such things as a boy wearing a tiara or the notion that some children aren’t clearly one gender or another. He said such topics are for families to discuss. He accused the school of using children as proxies in a culture war.
From what I’ve seen and heard today, it sounds like most of the people who might agree with Snider don’t have a connection to the school.
“I hadn’t heard too many concerns, up until today,” Hatchell said. She added, “I am a heterosexual African-American female with three kids, and I didn’t have any major concerns.”
This morning, reporters from Fox News and USA Today visited Redwood Heights to observe a class, district spokesman Troy Flint said.
I did, too. The lessons I saw, in kindergarten and first grade, were mostly about being nice to each other and being yourself. Not that it was 100 percent comfortable. The kindergartners were visibly (and audibly) surprised by storybook illustrations of a boy in a dress. Some of them laughed when they saw the pictures, or shouted out in disbelief.
The first graders across the hall, meanwhile, listened quietly and later answered emphatically that they would not laugh at a “princess boy.”
Stone said there are a few children in the school who don’t fall into traditional gender molds. She said the lessons were just one of many things the school was doing to make everyone feel welcome — much like the black-and-white family portraits in the hallway that celebrate the various family structures present in the school.
“What is wrong about teaching kids to be caring and kind?” she asked.