Can we have a rational conversation about what SOGI looks like in classrooms? Too often it seems like the answer is “apparently not.” A better answer is, it depends on who’s in the conversation. When it involves protestors and propagandists, it’s hardly a conversation, because nobody’s making the effort to listen.
As educators and students return to classrooms, it is a good opportunity to start a dialogue on the inclusion of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) content in the classroom. During the summer, I’ve read a lot of passionate threads on social media about SOGI. Passionate parents advocating for the protection of their LGBTQ+ children, and passionate advocates for the abolition of SOGI. As an educator, I’m surprised by the dialogue about the topic. I’m not necessarily surprised by the bigotry of some of the most vehement opposition to SOGI. What I’m most surprised by is the inaccuracy of what is being reported about what goes on in classrooms. There are some pretty dangerous claims about what transpires, and the claims are dangerous because they are inaccurate.
I have heard ridiculous claims about directions teachers have been given to implement SOGI inclusive education (i.e. the words “boys” or “girls” are now banned from classrooms). I have never been given these instructions, nor have I ever given any of them to anyone else. Please be reminded to thoughtfully consider where your information is coming from, and how reliable it is. If you want to know what SOGI looks like in classrooms, talk to your child’s teachers. They are the ones making daily decisions about how best to facilitate the learning of students in their classrooms. It is their obligation to implement curriculum in a thoughtful manner that is sensitive to the needs of their learners. There are a lot of reasons to trust the judgement of your child’s teachers and your community school’s administrative teams. They have professional training, they have classroom experience, they care about your kids, and they tend to be responsive to your concerns.
What I hope to share here is an example of what SOGI is and how it works from the perspective of a classroom teacher. Some groups who oppose SOGI inclusive education leave you with the impression that what teachers do all day, every day, is to indoctrinate students with SOGI content. Listen to the teachers of your children talk about the curricular plans and goals they have for the year, and you will quickly recognize how ridiculous some of the claims about SOGI are.
My experience reviewing a novel this summer feels like a pretty good analogy of what SOGI is and how it is actualized in a classroom.
I was assigned to review the novel, Rebound by Kwame Alexander. It is an engaging read; a 414 page narrative about a boy dealing with the sudden loss of his father, and finding comfort, purpose, and passion in basketball. It is unique in that it is a novel in verse, a growing genre in adolescent literature. It is also a prequel to Alexander’s previous, Newberry Award-winning novel, The Crossover. My task was, working as a member of a team of educators, to determine if the novel was appropriate for classroom use. After considering social considerations, and curricular fit, the novel was recommended for middle school grades
On page 347, we encountered the following passage:
How hot is it out here?
my Uncle Richard says,
wiping his face
with the bath towel
his tank-topped chest.
It’s so hot his boyfriend responds, I saw a coyote chasing a jackrabbit and they were both walking, which NO ONE laughs at.
Granddaddy hollers, It’s so hot even the Devil took the day off, which EVERYBODY laughs at.
It’s the only specific reference to homosexuality that we encountered in the book. The characters are peripheral, and not hugely influential in the development of the plot, but they are present. In choosing to use the book in a classroom context, it communicates an important message; for those of you who may identify with these characters, you are worthy of mention. You are not alone. There are other people like you and other families that are like yours. The novel has merit as a read aloud, as a novel selection, or as part of a classroom library collection. It’s not a novel that would likely be catalogued as LGBTQ+ fiction.
It is not a crusade to convert or recruit anyone. It is not a glorification of a character’s identity over another. The simple mention will not inspire someone who is heterosexual to suddenly become gay. It simply puts characters of a historically marginalized group into the narrative and acknowledges their existence. In the same way that stories about Indigenous experiences, or experiences of People of Colour, or experiences of New Immigrants are important, it simply provides a representation of diverse identities. Every child, in every classroom should be able to see representations of themselves reflected in their learning materials.
One passage on one page. That amounts to 1/414 of the book (or 0.2% of the book if you prefer percentages). Hardly as dangerous as some people would have you believe.
It may lead to some questions. It may lead to some conversation. A teacher may need to provide a definition of what it means to be gay. But it is hardly the indoctrination that some would try to convince you that it is.
**If you are finding this content helpful in clarifying what SOGI is, and developing a level of comfort with SOGI content in a typical classroom, please consider sharing this material with others, and please consider subscribing to this site. There is obviously a need to clarify the value of SOGI and to provide some real-life context to how SOGI inclusive education unfolds in classrooms. Unfortunately, this is hardly as newsworthy as some of the inflammatory claims being made by Anti-SOGI extremists, and not nearly as combative as 280 character tweets being made from the anonymity of a faceless profile. More to come on this topic…
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