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Taking stock of our assumptions in a divisive time

A new school year is upon us! As we re-enter a time of year that feels familiar, it recently had me thinking that despite the predictability of the seasons, we're actually always grappling with an element of uncertainty. This includes the ways in which we approach challenging issues in sexuality education. Recently, I was faced with a question that prompted a great deal of reflection. An inquisitive and concerned parent asked, "is questioning the diversity of gender and sexual orientation alone, bigotry? Does it qualify as a ‘slur’ and warrant a student being asked to leave class?" I admit, in that moment, I had a strong reaction in one direction. But I knew that for the sake of the parent and their child, I had to pause. I had to dig deeper. I spent the days that followed asking myself “Is that inherently discriminatory? And if so, why?” “Aren’t students supposed to be able to question issues in a respectful way in a classroom? Isn’t that the point?” “But, what constitutes 'respectful'?” and, “How does this affect students who identify as gender-expansive or LGBTQ+?”

5th grader asks question in Puberty Talk program

As I pondered, I also remembered research that asserts 98-99 percent of our decision-making is driven by deeply held beliefs we are often completely unaware of. Why does that matter? Because those unconscious beliefs inform the questions we ask and how we ask them. Equally important, it frames how we interpret questions. So while a student may believe their question is rooted in respect and curiosity, others may receive it as inflammatory and offensive. I believe fiercely in the right of every student, regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, cultural or ethnic background, or religious belief, to be able to feel safe, welcome, and acknowledged at school. And I also believe fiercely in the importance of open and respectful discourse about our different experiences, beliefs, and values.

The truth is, I don’t have an answer. More importantly, I don’t believe there is one answer. But I do believe we all want the best for our kids - that we want them to be happy, healthy, and have the opportunity to pursue all life has to offer. And, I do think this is something we each need to keep top of mind, when we’re teaching students in a classroom, talking to our own children about their decision-making in relationships, or chatting around the proverbial water cooler with colleagues. “Quick to listen, slow to speak” may be an equally important mantra to consider in a time that can feel more divided than ever.

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