What to Do about SOGI in School

school teacher

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) laws are being passed in various countries and jurisdictions, and entire school curricula are already in place in British Columbia and Alberta. Some Christian conservatives are sounding alarms south of the border about these developments, but how should thoughtful Christians respond?




Today, let’s focus on the school curricula here in Canada.

To begin, one wonders how necessary a new curriculum actually is, especially an ambitious one mounted all the way from kindergarten to Grade 12. Downstream of the massive popularity of TV shows such as “Will & Grace” and “Ellen,” do we really need a brand-new curriculum essentially saying the same things they have so convincingly said: that adults engage in different kinds of legal marital relationships, that everyone is entitled to safety and respect, and that it’s wrong to insult people on the basis of their sexuality or gender?

Every generation needs to be taught anew, of course. Today’s schoolchildren haven’t watched “Will & Grace” and likely think of “Ellen” only as their mom’s favourite show. But everywhere—everywhere—in Hollywood today these facts and civilities are being taught, imaged, and reinforced. Who doesn’t know them?

If school kids mistreat each other, it’s got to be for the same reason they disregard other rules of polite and respectful coexistence. And schools already have a long experience in dealing with bullies and other trouble-makers. So it seems unlikely that all this advocacy and creativity and planning is really required to obtain the teaching outcomes of mutual respect and daily civility.

Even so, having looked through the curriculum for B.C., it was hard to find fault with it. It seems to be nicely neutral about the facts of family diversity—that is, I couldn’t find it saying what conservatives would fear it says: that all forms of family are equally good. And it advocates what I’m inclined to see as mere common-sense courtesy. Christians and others who are concerned about the curriculum needn’t overreact.

Where things likely will go off the rails is in particular classrooms with particular teachers who will not stick to the script but will feel free, or even compelled, to say more or less than the guidelines prescribe. What then?

Then three things. First, parents once for all must abandon the assumption that they can just ship their kids off to school in the blithe confidence that everything they will be taught there will be just fine by them. Canadian society is too diverse now for that. And teachers understandably find it difficult sometimes, especially when stressed and tired (and what teacher isn’t?), to guard their tongues and say only what is absolutely proper for them to say.

Teachers will say more or less than they should—we should just count on it–whether out of zeal, or compassion, or sheer conviction. Few of them, after all, hold advanced degrees in ethics or law, and they can’t be expected to be absolutely correct regarding complex subjects about which those who do have advanced degrees in ethics and law regularly and vehemently disagree.

Parents therefore need to pay attention to what is happening in their children’s classrooms. They need to regularly talk with their children and look over their schoolwork to find out what’s being taught. And then if something seems amiss, they should engage the school.

Note: not attack the school. Something may not, in fact, be amiss. One’s child may have misunderstood. And if it is amiss, one still doesn’t need immediately to go nuclear, but instead should be nice. A quiet, cooperative word with the teacher might sort it all out. If not, then one has a quiet word with the principal.

But if that doesn’t work, then should one go for full launch?

Well, maybe. Or one might drop it and wait for the next problem to appear. Tell your child that this is one of those times when home and school disagree. (If you’re faithful Christians, there will be a number of those times.) And talk about what you believe instead.

There might not be another problem. And if there is, one can escalate one’s response. Again, however, we parents should not overreact as enemies, but engage as partners in our children’s education, as we should.

As important as it is to improve our children’s educational experiences, that is, Christians in particular need to stand back and take the Big View. Let’s not become those people who are forever criticizing what seem to many of our neighbours to be just obviously good policies. Let’s become those people who can be counted on to support the school and its staff, even if, yes, we have some concerns that we ask our children’s educators to bear in mind.

Canadian society has been very hard on nonconformists of all sorts, and particularly in these tender, volatile, and confusing zones of sex and gender. We Christians in particular should have been kinder, gentler, and more protective of kids who suffered because of their differences—in our families, in our churches, and in the school systems we used to dominate. So now let’s join with our neighbours who want school to be safe for everyone, as it should be.

And if we also need to take the opportunity to remind some of our neighbours that diversity really means diversity, including the reasonable accommodation of more traditional views of sex, gender, marriage, and family, then we should take it. Embracing diversity means truly embracing the whole community.

Or, at least, it should.

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John G. Stackhouse, Jr., PhD, serves as the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick. A graduate of Queen’s University, Wheaton Graduate School, and the University of Chicago, he was formerly Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba and held the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College, Vancouver. He has given interviews to ABC, NBC, CBC, CTV, and Global TV as well as to CBC Radio from coast to coast. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Atlantic, Time, and Maclean’s. Author of over 800 articles, book chapters, and reviews, his tenth book has been released this year: “Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World” (Oxford University Press).