Gender Curriculum Coming to a Classroom Near You

Heritage Explains

Gender Curriculum Coming to a Classroom Near You

Instruction about “gender identity” and unquestioning affirmations of subjective impressions of gender have drastic consequences.

This fall, New Jersey public school second graders will be getting lessons related to gender identity under state sex education guidelines. Jonathan Butcher, Heritage’s Will Skillman Fellow in Education explains the states lesson plan, where else this is happening, and what parents can do about it. 

Michelle Cordero: From The Heritage Foundation, I'm Michelle Cordero, and this is Heritage Explains. I remember when gender issues first started showing up in public schools. I remember exactly when, because it affected my family.

Cordero: I was scrolling social media one night. When I saw a Facebook post from a parent, urging us to check out our school district's reading list for the year. My son was in first grade at the time. I thought there's no way there could be anything concerning on the first grade reading list, right? Wrong. After browsing the document with my husband, we came across My Princess Boy. A book about a boy named Dyson who loves pink, sparkly things, and sometimes wears dresses. We talked to our school's principal to see if the book would be read out loud in the classroom. And we were told that it would be up to the teacher, but it would definitely be in the classroom library.

>>> New Jersey Schools Want To Talk to Kids About Sex—And Keep It a Secret

Cordero: What if we didn't want him to hear it? Well, we were told we could let the teacher know ahead of time and he could sit in the hallway instead. I'm not alone when it comes to incidents like this. In fact, my story is not nearly as concerning as many of those that have been flagged by the media over the past few years. Until recently it was really up to the teachers how far they wanted to take this. Here are a few of the many, many examples flagged by Libs of TikTok.

Cordero: In this clip, a kindergarten teacher explains why teachers need to talk about pronouns with their students.

Clip: I currently work at a preschool, and I have just the story, from today. One of the little girls was asking a little boy, why do you wear fingernail polish? And I responded, boys can wear fingernail polish. It's not just a girl thing. Anybody can wear it. And I could tell she was confused because she wanted to say, but, but, but, but, but ... I love taking every opportunity to break down the stereotype and empower all genders. Not just boys and girls, but they and them, non-binary. All of the above.

Cordero: We also have a fifth grade teacher sharing the gender unicorn that she uses for her lesson plan for teaching gender and sexuality.

Clip: This is a tool I use to teach students about gender and sexuality. First step, we have sex assigned at birth. This is what the doctor says you are when you come out of the womb. It should be based on chromosomes, hormones, and genitals, but most time doctors just look at genitals. Next step, we have gender identity, which is totally different from sex assigned sign at birth. This is what you feel you are inside. And no one can see this from the outside. There are three different sliders that you can move up and down to describe your gender identity.

Clip: Then we have gender expression, which is how you show your gender to the world. It's usually based on a binary system, which isn't perfect. Again, you can slide these up and down to show the different gendered ways you express yourself. Then we jump down to attraction. We have physical attraction and emotional attraction. These are different.

Cordero: And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Today, we're going to talk about how one school district isn't leaving it up to the teachers anymore. This fall, New Jersey public school second graders will be getting lessons related to gender identity under state sex education guidelines.

Cordero: Our guest today is Jonathan Butcher, Heritage's Will Skillman Fellow in Education and author of the new book, Splintered: Critical Race Theory and the Progressive War on Truth. Butcher's going to explain to us, what's in this lesson plan, where else this could be happening, and what parents can do about it. Our conversation, after this break.

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Cordero: Jonathan, thank you so much for joining us today.

Jonathan Butcher: Great to be with you.

Cordero: So can you tell us a little bit about what's happening at schools in New Jersey this fall?

Butcher: So in New Jersey, they have developed a curriculum that teaches children as young as second grade about, really the idea of gender. Which is an ambiguous concept on its own, because you're separating from biological sex, this decision to whether act as though you are a male or act as though you're a fInstruction about "gender identity" and unquestioning affirmations of subjective impressions of gender have drastic consequences.emale. I mean, this is a pretty heady concept, even for adults, right? To deal with and to grapple with what the outcomes are going to be for your potential surgeries in the future or hormones that you may need to choose to take in order to change your biology. But for second graders, this is a pretty serious topic.

Butcher: Added on to that ... and this is where it starts to get really concerning. Is that the State Department of Education there in New Jersey has a policy that teachers do not have to tell parents when a child comes to school and says that they want to assume a different gender.

Cordero: Wow. So second graders are going to be learning about gender identity in New Jersey. Do we know anything about what the lesson plans might look like?

Butcher: There are some examples that were posted both through my research and my piece for Fox News, as well as elsewhere on Fox News about what this content is going to be. The thing is that a lot of these lesson plans have some similar things that we can always find, right? And the biggest piece is that it separates the idea of biological sex, right? What you were born as, either a boy or girl from a choice that you could potentially make later, to choose to be either male or female.

Butcher: And these are big decisions to make because in the counseling sessions and the therapy sessions that students or children will often pursue once they've made a big choice like this, they'll be counseled to potentially take hormones or puberty blocking treatments that will then begin to change how they look and how their bodies start to function. These are huge health decisions that parents really should be a part of, right? They should be at the center of what's going on here.

Cordero: So if this is meant to be a secret, how did parents find out that this was going on? That the curriculum was going to change in the fall?

Butcher: Well, I think that some of this was uncovered by investigative reporting. I think some of it is by those who were looking online to see what the State Department of Education was putting up as expected material in the fall. And also, really, you're seeing groups such as the ACLU even write letters to defend these practices. So for example, in Kansas, the ACLU wrote to a school district to say that they cannot tell parents when a child comes to school and wants to assume a different gender. And so you have this information going both ways, right? You have groups that are trying to advocate for this element of ... it really can't be called anything but secrecy. Who are writing letters to school districts.

Butcher: And then you also have the school districts themselves putting these statements about whether or not they're going to tell parents these important health decisions that children are making on their websites. And these are increasingly common. I mean, I found examples of statements such as these from Topeka, Kansas, to this example in New Jersey, and many places in between.

Cordero: Yeah. So this county in New Jersey recently approved a resolution to create something called a Parent's Bill of Rights. What is a Parent's Bill of Rights and how would this stop something like this from happening?

Butcher: So this is really important to know because states around the country are considering these parent bills of rights. They actually have been around for more than a decade. I mean, about 10 or 15 years ago, states like Arizona, for example, had already adopted a Parent Bill of Rights, but it was pretty simple back then, a decade ago. It would say something like, parents are a child's primary caregiver and are responsible for the child's education and moral and religious upbringing. It usually would be pretty concise like that.

Butcher: What's happening today in places like Florida, Kansas lawmakers were considering one until just recently, as well as other states around the country, you have these parent bills of rights, getting larger to include things such as health and medical decisions. So for example, down in Florida, the governor approved a piece of legislation, a Parent Bill of Rights that said that parents should know when a child has any medical issue at school. And school officials must get permission from parents before administering any health or medical services, including counseling services to a child. So these parent bills of rights put parents back into the relationship between school officials and children and students and families.

Cordero: So this sounds like it's a way ... Lawmakers heard the things going on and that parents are unhappy. And this is the mechanism in which they're putting forward to now where parents can gain control again?

Butcher: That's right. It's requiring school officials to get permission from parents before they can engage in any of these therapy services. Which, in books that we've seen in recent years from our former Heritage colleague, Ryan Anderson's book, When Harry Became Sally, to Abigail Shrier's book, Irreversible Damage, where there are stories in here of how doctors and medical professionals, they're really not asking many questions when children, even minors come to them and say that they want to assume a different gender. And so sometimes these processes of assuming a different gender are being fast tracked. And that is why, to learn that school officials are actually being told that they cannot tell parents when children want to do these kinds of things, all of this can happen very quickly before a parent even realizes what's going on.

Butcher: And there's a big piece here that I don't want to miss. And that is that the research on this issue finds that when minors have some sort of confusion about their biological sex, when they're young, in ... I see numbers from 80% to 95% of the cases. It resolves itself by the time the child reaches the latter years of their teenage years or into adulthood. So often this confusion resolves itself without the kind of drastic changes that would come from a hormone treatment.

Cordero: So Jonathan, you have a new book out, Splintered: Critical Race Theory and the Progressive War on Truth. And in this book, you write that teaching about gender theory and critical race theory are connected. How do you make that connection?

Butcher: So both critical race theory and critical gender studies, as well as critical pedagogy, all trace back to the original critical theory, which was a Marxist idea that was developed in the 1920s. Often called the Frankfurt School, because the University of Frankfurt was where some of these scholars came together to develop these ideas of how to rejuvenate Marxism in the 1920s and 30s. It came to the United States in the 1930s. And from there, it influenced a whole generation and more of professors and students, particularly when it came to law schools.

Butcher: And so in law schools, we saw in the 1970s a field of study called critical legal theory. Which one of the original critical legal theorists, named Duncan Kennedy, described as an effort to take apart American law, either piece by piece or all at once. Okay? The critical race theorist in the 1980s and early 1990s, they attribute many of their ideas to critical legal theories. But they argue that the power struggle that critical race theorists are describing has to do with racial differences.

Butcher: In the same way, critical gender studies, which was part of strain of feminism from the 1960s and 1970s, also can trace back to critical theory, the original critical theorists. Gender was a big part of the writings of some of the key critical theorists from the original thinkers and writers of that time, including Herbert Marcuse. And so these two ideas are connected because you both have a insistence that there's a power struggle. In the case of critical gender study, or gender theory, it's between male and female. In the case of critical race theory, it's between white and any other ethnicity.

Butcher: So they share that commonality, and they share this common belief that there is no objective truth that we can base our ideas on. And that goes in critical gender studies, that biological sex either doesn't exist or is as not as important as the choice of gender, right? It's fluid. And so that this kind of relativist thinking is found in both, critical race theory, as well as critical gender study.

Cordero: Interesting. All right. So in conclusion, what advice do you have to give parents who might worry that something like what's happening in New Jersey could happen in their child's school?

Butcher: Well, first, make sure that you are in touch with your child's teacher and school principal, and let them know that you absolutely insist on being informed of any health or medical treatments that's happening to your child at school. And secondly, I think that these parent bills of rights are an important step from state lawmakers to protect parents and their children. They're being mischaracterized by the media. Many who have read the headlines may have seen in Florida, they called it the, Don't Say Gay Bill. Which of course, this Parent Bill of Rights doesn't say, Don't Say Gay. It actually talks about age appropriate content being taught to young children, is really what the focus of the proposal is.

Butcher: So I think you have to not follow what the mainstream media is trying to tell you, that this is somehow an assault on your rights, when in fact it is really trying to protect parents and children and not kick parents out of these important decisions that are being made about their student.

Cordero: Well, Jonathan, thank you so much. Congratulations on the book, and thank you so much for joining us today.

Butcher: Thank you.

Cordero: And that's it for this week's episode. If you liked this episode, we would love it if you could share it on social media. We run the whole episode on the Heritage Facebook page as well. Or you could rate us or leave us a review wherever you get your podcasts. We would really appreciate it. There are so many liberal podcasts to compete with, and it truly makes a difference. Thanks for listening. And we'll see you next week.

Heritage Explains is brought to you by more than half a million members of The Heritage Foundation. It is produced by Michelle Cordero and Tim Doescher, with editing by John Popp.