Discover more from Christopher F. Rufo
How to Combat Gender Theory in Public Schools
Strengthen parents' rights, regulate classroom instruction, and require curriculum transparency.
As radical gender theory has made its way into public schools across the United States, children as young as five have been exposed to ideas that encourage them to question their gender identities, sometimes with life-changing and irreversible results. Despite Americans’ broadly shared skepticism about gender-identity curricula and practices in schools, many ideologically motivated teachers and administrators have not relented in their mission to advance radical gender theory, even in otherwise-conservative areas.
Among many other examples I’ve uncovered, in Illinois’ Evanston-Skokie School District, kindergarteners read books affirming transgender conversions; in Springfield, Missouri, teacher and administrator training recommends recognizing and affirming a panoply of student gender identities. Over 4,000 schools nationwide feature “gender and sexuality” (GSA) clubs, the national organization which calls for the abolition of the American judicial system and the “cisgender heterosexual patriarchy.”
Too often, teachers and administrators keep parents in the dark or pressure them into “affirming” their child’s claimed gender identity. Indeed, school policies often advise—or require—teachers not to share gender-related information with parents. Michigan’s Department of Education encourages teachers to facilitate students’ sexual transitions without parental consent. In Fairfax, Virginia, and Montgomery County, Maryland, teachers are expressly barred from “outing” supposedly transgender children to their parents. The GSA Network instructs adult club “advisors” to keep a child’s involvement in a GSA club confidential.
Even where parents learn that their children have adopted a new gender identity, they’re often cowed into supporting gender “affirmation” when school officials present them with the Hobson’s choice of “a live son or a dead daughter.” Worse still, parents who agree to transition their children socially unwittingly invite a form of iatrogenesis— that is, “affirming” their child’s newly adopted name, pronouns, and dress in public likely increases the chances of the child’s persisting in that identity, which in turn raises the probability of unnecessary medicalization.
These practices are not only deeply misleading; they fly in the face of a century of American law. The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause protects parents’ fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their children. States should stand with parents and the Constitution against these intrusions on the family.
To that end, I have crafted a policy document designed to guide state legislatures wishing to curb the excesses of radical gender theory in public schools. With the American parents’ rights tradition as its lodestar, my proposal seeks to accomplish three main goals.
First, it includes measures to strengthen parents’ rights. These include prohibitions on school employees’ withholding information from parents about their child’s gender identity and health information, engaging in private conversations with students about matters related to sex and gender, or pressuring parents to proceed with “gender affirming” therapies or interventions. School officials would be required to inform parents about any change to their child’s health and wellness, and would no longer be allowed, without written parental approval, to affirm a student’s gender transition or to address students by names and pronouns other than those indicated on the enrollment forms provided by their parents.
Second, it regulates classroom instruction on sex- and gender-related concepts. As a blanket matter across public schools, it prohibits instruction on human sexuality and gender identity in elementary school, except when required by law as part of the state sex-education curriculum. Parents of children in elementary and middle school would have to provide written consent prior to sex education or instruction on gender-related concepts, and parents of high schoolers would have the ability to opt out of any instruction on such matters. And in response to the disingenuous attacks on Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, my proposal expressly allows teachers to discuss the presence of same-sex households and human reproduction within a biological context.
Third, building on earlier efforts at the Manhattan Institute to provide transparency in school training and curricula, it requires schools to post on their websites information about sex- and gender-related materials and activities used to instruct students and train teachers and staff. Curriculum transparency is broadly popular, facilitates democratic accountability, and gives parents the information they need to opt in or opt out of classes. My proposal would further require posting information about all school-sponsored clubs, regardless of type, and alert parents of their planned activities.
To be sure, these proposals alone cannot solve the problem of educational institutions captured by gender ideologues and their allies in the teachers’ unions. While the law plays a critical role in protecting children and parents, it is not a panacea. Conservatives, moderates, and pragmatists concerned about radical ideologies in their public education institutions must also push back by actively engaging in their children’s education, running for school board seats, and even urging their legislators to reinvent public institutions in conformity with the ideals of the American Founding.
Meantime, state law can play an important role in ensuring that parents fulfill their role as recognized under the Constitution. My proposal would go a long way toward achieving that goal.
Originally published in City Journal.