Among the Obama’s administration’s guidelines released last week for how to treat transgender students, teachers and staff are instructed to refer to each boy or girl as “he” or “she” depending on the child’s gender identity, not his or her biology. Not to be outdone, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is taking it one step further, pledging to fine businesses that don’t use a person’s preferred pronoun.
This effort to control the way we use language is central to the task of shifting how we think about transgenderism and forcing the acceptance of what some think is a mental disorder, not a true reality. But it also throws new obstacles into the path of teachers, who already have to navigate around accusations of political incorrectness and micro-aggressions.
According to the administration’s guidelines, schools aren’t allowed to require students to undergo a medical diagnosis, receive medical treatment, or produce a birth certificate before acquiescing to a student’s request (or the parents’ request on the child’s behalf) that they be referred to by a given pronoun (he or she, for example).
What A Social Mess
So, what would be required? It’s not clear if students would have to go through some bureaucratic process to request the change, or whether that would be considered a violation of their civil rights. Perhaps students simply have to tell their teacher what pronoun to use, but again this seems like it could be “triggering” for the student. Or maybe the teacher is just supposed to figure it out. But this too is fraught with problems. How does a teacher determine how a 5-, 10-, or 15-year-old gender-identifies?
Imagine a biologically female student starts wearing men’s clothes to school. Is it the teacher’s responsibility to notice this and start referring to her as “him”? What if the teacher is wrong and the female student is just what we used to call a “tomboy” (although I’m not sure if that term is allowed anymore)? This could be equally offensive.
Also, if gender is on a spectrum, teachers will have to stay up-to-date with each student and his or her gender identity, always wondering if they’re about to commit a terrible faux pas that could cost them their job.
This puts more and more of a burden on our teachers and professors who already have to tip-toe around every student’s particular identity “situation.” It’s yet another pitfall that a teacher must avoid, as though teaching in a public school or university isn’t already stressful enough in this regard. The news is filled with unnerving stories of professors getting fired or suspended over the most minor of incidents. The mob-like rule of higher education makes it a minefield for professors as more and more things become off-limits.
We Already Have Enough Witch Hunts
This is the reality for teachers, especially in the university setting, where almost any topic can get you into trouble and there are constant witch hunts for offending faculty. The new pronoun mandate fits into this perfectly because language is at the heart of the endless protests against micro-aggressions and triggering. For a teacher, every day is a day you could lose your job. Given the new transgender “guidelines” and the government’s control of federal funding, schools will be quick to dismiss teachers who refer to a student by the wrong pronoun.
This will be particularly perilous for foreign-language instructors. As a former French teacher, I can imagine the inevitable difficulties. How do you grade a student writing a paragraph in the target language for gender agreement if you’re unsure how the student identifies? Or what if a male student says he identifies as female, but then forgets to use feminine endings on the past participle—do you mark points off, or ignore it? The options aren’t great.
If you take points off, the student might claim that during the week of the exam he was having a crisis in his gender identity and was, in fact, identifying as male when taking the exam. A professor wouldn’t be able to argue with that because it would be discriminatory. If you decide to pre-empt it by asking the student what happened, you might offend him by suggesting that the student is unsure of his own gender. It puts professors in the position of either doing their jobs (teaching grammar) or being on the front lines of the latest culture war.
Get Outta My Way, I Need to Teach
The language-learning classroom is particularly difficult for gender identity issues because the focus of most exercises is to encourage guided conversation. Often, students must refer to their partners in the third person in the target language. To be consistent with Obama’s new mandate, wouldn’t language teachers have to instruct their students to inquire after their conversation partner’s gender identity before engaging in such an activity? This seems not only time-consuming but awkward for everyone involved. Or would you have to eliminate these types of exercises altogether?
The new pronoun recommendations are ostensibly intended to protect transgender students from discrimination and embarrassment in school. One of its effects will be to further complicate teachers’ jobs, putting them in the line of fire. Teachers shouldn’t have to deal with political and ideological warfare, which impedes what they’re really there to do: teach.
But the fact is, progressives, including those in the Obama administration, don’t view schools and universities as places of education in the classical sense. They view them as the loci of indoctrination of progressive dogma. They want instructors to teach not history or math or languages, but rather the “right” way to think. That’s the real purpose of school for progressives, and the true goal of the transgender guidelines.