Education should be about our children, but it really seems that it has become just a little bit too much about parents. Candidates for our school board are eager to say that they are pro-parent, pro-parental rights, pro-parent consultations. I’m a parent, I get that I should have a say. But I think some candidates are taking this a bit too far.
Being a parent is a role that carries with it many obligations and responsibilities. For better or worse we are the people with primary responsibility for the care of our children. As a parent I know the sleepless nights or worry just as well as the happy moments. As parents my partner and I were there every step of the way for our children. We don’t claim perfection – no earthy human has a right to such a claim. But we did our best. When our children were in public school we become involved in all the regular parent volunteer things – hot dog sales, field trip assistants, driving teams to sporting events, participating in the parent advisory councils, etc. Much of my early involvement was like other parents – our kids were in school and we wanted to help make their situation the best it could be.
As parents we share an uneasy custody with teachers and our schools. Our children spend a big part of their day in school, with other children, under the care of other adults. Most parents might think ourselves experts on our own children, but we are not experts on teaching children. We have an obligation to work with and trust our partners in education. Part of our partnership is making sure that education works for all children, not just our own.
My own children’s years in public education were a tumultuously time for public education. There were massive government funding cuts that provoked repeated teachers strikes. There were diminishing school-based resources. Like a lot of others parents our initial involvement in school politics was because of our own kids. However, it soon became apparent that no child’s needs were being met. What was called for was more than a “my kid first approach.” Supporting public education meant reaching out to parents, teachers, and the wider community and politically mobilizing to make real differences.
I became part of a Vancouver parent group that called its self Save Our Schools and through that got more active in my school-based parent advisor council, ultimately serving six years as an executive member of Vancouver District Parents Advisory Council. During that time many of us shared the conviction that meeting the needs of all children was what a public education system was all about.
Of course just about everybody uses some variant of the same words: education should be about meeting the needs of all students. I learned that not every parent actually means the same thing when they say that. Some seemed to mean just what it says: real needs of all children. But there were others I have met who seemed to really mean "meet the needs of my student."
The same can be said for the slogan of safety in schools. Most of us we think this means something like ensuring no child is bullied, that schools are earthquake proof, and/or that it implies a focus on issues of emergency preparedness. However, this is also a coded phrase that speaks to a conservative anti-LGBTQ movement intensely opposed to any kind of non-heteronormative sexual orientation or gender identity.
I’ll be honest; I don’t get the anger and intensity of anti-SOGI activists. Their motivations seem opaque. What I do get is the harm and hurt they cause. Their actions intensify a climate of fear and anxiety for youth in our schools. While they claim to be concerned about school safety their fear that a gender-neutral bathroom might undermine their parental authority cause real harm in our schools. Does it really matter if a child prefers a gender-neutral name? or wants to be addressed as they/them? Should we really care that a child chooses to wear non-gender binary clothing or to dress in a way that deviates from cultural gender norms? I don't think we should. The weight of peer-reviewed research supports my assertion and undermines the anti-SOGI activists' misconceptions.
As an anthropologist I have seen enough of the world to realize that there are all kinds of ways to express gender identity. In fact there are no universally gendered codes of behaviour, dress, or identity. Humans are delightfully diverse and expressive. Yet I have met members of a parental minority who really seem to think that for all time and across all humanity there are only two genders, they are set at birth, and that any alteration is a threat to the wellbeing of all children – hence their deployment of the cover term “school safety.”
I am a university-based teacher. I have family members who were and are public school teachers. I have seen, and have been told of, the trauma that our children and youth face when adults demand the maintenance of a heteronormative binary orthodoxy of man and woman.
My professional work involves researching structures of oppression. I study the ways oppressive systems –like the Indian Residential Schools- create intergenerational trauma. By the same account demanding that a child conform to a male/female binary when that is not their orientation (or that they preform in any way that denies their true self) is a form of harm, it traumatizes: this is a form of oppression. We should not countenance such attitudes from fellow parents. We cannot tolerate this from people wanting to be elected school trustees.
As a parent I have always understood there are good reasons to involve parents in education. There are peer-reviewed studies that lay out how involved parents contribute to better educational outputs for all children. Parents should be involved and consulted. But I do not support the kind of hubris a minority of parents display when they try to insinuate their unfounded ideological beliefs into the public school system. Whether they code it as safety in schools or clearly state their opposition to BC’s SOGI curriculum they are creating a harmful school setting that further traumatizes children and youth who may already be at risk of harm.
So when I cast my ballot for school trustees in the upcoming election I will look very closely at each candidate, their political organization, and the people they have decided to align with. I will pay very close attention to the groups and movements that publicly endorse them. I will be choosing people who show they are not afraid to stand up to bullies. I will vote for people who speak clearly and mean what they say. I will look for champions of education.
This election I will be voting for these people (listed in order their names appear on the ballot):