By Jonathon Van Maren/Bridgehead.caOctober 01, 2019
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In the October edition of The Atlantic, there is a fascinating and revealing long-form essay by George Packer titled "When the Culture War Comes for the Kids."
Packer, who appears to be an old-school liberal with a few progressive sympathies, writes about his family's decision to remove his son from an elite private school and send him to a public school in New York City, where he will be exposed to more diversity and give the family a chance to participate in a community.
For the first several years, he writes, they were happy with their choice--until, around 2014, the school community began to be seized by wokeness.
The first sign of this was the school's attempt to do away with traditional grading systems as well as test-taking. Test-taking, the parents were told, was too stressful for children and often discriminatory towards minority students (the racism of low expectations present in this surge of sympathy, as always, went unnoticed).
Soon, the staff were actively discouraging parents from permitting their children to take tests, and there was enormous pressure to get with the new political program.
Additionally, Packer says, identity--sexuality, race, disability, etc.--became such a focus that Packer grew concerned that the school was entrenching differences rather than reducing them. In fact, he wrote, several other schools in New York "had taken to dividing their students by race into consciousness-raising 'affinity groups,'" which caused several mixed-race families to transfer their kids out because they were sick of the focus on race. They didn't need their children to start with the identity politics at such a young age.
And then, Packer writes, the "bathroom crisis hit our school...A girl in second grade had switched to using male pronouns, adopted the initial Q as a first name, and begun dressing in boy's clothes. Q also used the boys' bathroom, which led to problems with other boys."
The school began searching for a solution, but instead of simply creating a single-stall bathroom (one already existed), they decided to "get rid of boys' and girls' bathrooms altogether." This, they presumed, would handily eliminate any confusion, and the problem would be solved, and "within two years, almost every bathroom, from kindergarten through fifth grade, had become gender-neutral."
Every previous generation could have predicted that this would end in disaster, but with minds addled by wokeness and identity politics, the school staff somehow forgot some very fundamental facts about children--and human beings in general. Packer's description of the confusion experienced by the school children as a direct result of the decisions of deluded adults is genuinely sad to read:
Where signs had once said boys and girls, they now said students. Kids would be conditioned to the new norm at such a young age that they would become the first cohort in history for whom gender had nothing to do with whether they sat or stood to pee. All that biology entailed--curiosity, fear, shame, aggression, pubescence, the thing between the legs--was erased or wished away...The school didn't inform parents of this sudden end to an age-old custom, as if there were nothing to discuss.
Parents only heard about it when children started arriving home desperate to get to the bathroom after holding it in all day. Girls told their parents mortifying stories of having a boy kick open their stall door. Boys described being afraid to use the urinals. Our son reported that his classmates, without any collective decision, had simply gone back to the old system, regardless of the new signage: Boys were using the former boys' rooms, girls the former girls' rooms.
This return to the familiar was what politicians call a "commonsense solution." It was also kind of heartbreaking. As children, they didn't think to challenge the new adult rules, the new adult ideas of justice. Instead, they found a way around this difficulty that the grown-ups had introduced into their lives. It was a quiet plea to be left alone.
Fortunately, at least some of the parents were outraged when they discovered what had taken place, and a crowd of them showed up at a PTA meeting to protest this policy, where they faced off with parents who proposed a series of profoundly stupid ideological solutions to the problem:
The parents in one camp declared that the school had betrayed their trust, and a woman threatened to pull her daughter out of the school. The parents in the other camp argued that gender labels--and not just on the bathroom doors--led to bullying and that the real problem was the patriarchy. One called for the elimination of urinals. It was a minor drama of a major cultural upheaval.
The principal, who seemed to care more about the testing opt-out movement than the bathroom issue, explained her financial constraints and urged the formation of a parent-teacher committee to resolve the matter. After six months of stalemate, the Department of Education intervened: One bathroom would be gender-neutral.
It is interesting to note that it is again students--in this case children--who are pushing back against the delusions that adults are imposing on them. As I reported back in April, teenage girls have staged school walkouts to protest biological males identifying as females being permitted into their bathrooms.
In Sussex, England recently, a large crowd of female students protested outside their high school, furious that the staff was enforcing a change to "gender neutral" uniforms and eliminating the traditional--and feminine--skirts. In Alberta, Canada, students rebelled against a gender-neutral bathroom policy and started a petition to demand a return to the old system. "I don't know whose idea this was," one student remarked bitterly, "but it wasn't a very good one."
I sometimes wonder if the adults creating and imposing these policies remember anything at all about growing up, going through puberty, or being a teenager. Would they have wanted to sit in the bathroom stall next to the girl they had a crush on? Or vice versa? Would they have wanted to use the same change rooms as awkward teens from the opposite gender, just as their bodies were changing and they were trying to make sense of everything?
Did they not stop to consider that essentially eliminating privacy for boys and girls--or pretending, with brazen asininity, that there is no difference between the two--would make difficult years even harder?
Obviously the ideologues do not remember such things, or perhaps they have forgotten them. But perhaps it will be children and teens who will be forced, out of embarrassment and necessity, to lead the pushback.
It is possible, after all, to force your ideology on to other people. But it is not possible to conform the natural world to your will, no matter how hard you try.