Thursday, January 15, 2009

Test Prep Time.

During the weeks after winter vacation and leading up to the January 21st statewide English Language Arts exam, a Title I public school – like mine – can feel like a pressure cooker. No Child Left Behind and administrators (more directly) begin to put a tremendous amount of pressure on teachers and students. Administrators who have never before stepped foot in my classroom suddenly storm in demanding to see my data binders (which I happily show them) and rattle off admonishments – “we need these kids to get 3’s and 4’s!” - without asking about anything about that is actually going on in my classroom. It is frustrating and stressful, to say the least. I sympathize with my students, eleven-year-olds who have already learned to get so nervous before The Test that some get nauseous just thinking about it.

To add to these anxieties, three weeks ago I thought my “transgender cover” with my students had been blown. One of my sixth graders came up to my desk at the end of the school day to pose a question that caught me completely off-guard. His demeanor was not awkward; in fact, he appeared ready to inform me of some random fact he’d learned in science class. (That would have been in line with this particular student’s typical personality.) But then what came out of his mouth made me do a double-take: “Mr. K, there’s a rumor going around the school – I swear I didn’t say it - that you used to be a girl and had plastic surgery.”

It took me a minute, certainly, to figure out how to respond. I decided to acknowledge the legitimacy of the "rumor" he'd heard without touching on the “plastic surgery” part, since specific characteristics of my body are irrelevant to the conversation and inappropriate to discuss in school. (Also, how would I possibly explain that SRS is not exactly “plastic surgery,” or the fact that I haven't technically undergone SRS, without venturing into deeply controversial territory?) I responded by saying: “Well, it is true that I used to be ‘Ms. Krywanczyk’ and that I used to identify as a woman. I am transgender. I don’t really talk about it very much. I think I just hope that students can be…” I trailed off, searching for the proper word to conclude my thought. The student actually spoke up and finished my sentence for me, nodding “mature! We can be mature,” and then shouting “bye, Mr. K!” as he vanished out the door to chase after friends who had passed by in the hall. As though nothing had happened. Just found out your teacher is a transsexual? No biggie.

Overall, it was far less painful than I had imagined. The student has not brought it up since, and there has been no apparent “pronoun crisis” in the wake of it like I'd' feared. The ripple effect I anticipated after that conversation has not really happened – at least not to my knowledge. I continue to be slightly on edge, waiting for the day when it comes out in the middle of a lesson or in front of an entire class. But I realize it's possible that more of my students know, and that they are simply more composed and relaxed about bodies, gender, and sexuality than the adults in the building. Actually, the latter possibility seems highly likely.

As I have witnessed over the past month, my students generally think about bodies, sex, sexuality, and gender all the time. The moment the door is opened for them to engage with these realities, incredible - and overwhelming - amounts of curiosity and fascination and angst bubble to the surface. I recently acquired an entire section of “Body Books” to augment the depleted non-fiction section of my classroom library, and the texts themselves have prompted a steady flow of interesting conversations. Last week, one student walked up to my desk wielding “Our Bodies, Our Selves: For Boys” and stated “Mr. K, this book tells me to ask someone about when he went through puberty. So… when did you?” My thoughts in response, in the order that they occurred to me after suddenly having my body put on the spot by a student , were:

1. "Which puberty?"
2. "About five and a half months ago." (When I started physically transitioning to be male.)
3. "Oh, damn! I’m the teacher!"
4. "Maybe you should ask someone else, one of your peers, that question."

The last thought was what actually came out of my mouth, accompanied by a “teacher smile” that I intended to indicate “this is not something you should ever ask a teacher, because we will not indulge you.” The student looked down at his shoelaces and shuffled back to his desk to ask his tablemate.

A few days ago, a different student approached my desk carrying a copy of “The Boys’ Guide To Becoming a Teen.” He held the book out, pointed his finger at a page, and genuinely asked “Mr. K, what does this word mean?” I followed his finger and read: “Masturbation.” After an initial moment of panic, I opted for the route that would encourage the student’s pursuit of knowledge on his own. “Why don’t you look it up in the dictionary,” I responded, “and then decide if you want or need to ask me that question afterwards.” The student nodded, fetched a dictionary, and proceeded to avoid me for the rest of the class.

The “masturbation” scenario was, in many ways, more difficult to handle as a teacher than any inquiries about my personal identity. After all, “what happened to your breasts?” can be easily and quickly deemed inappropriate. It is not so simple when a student has a question about a vocabulary word that is loaded with social significance (and stigma). It is challenging to respond encouragingly in such moments without worrying someone will accuse me of pushing an agenda. Regardless, though, I am glad these texts are in my room and have sparked such thought and interest among my students. It would be infinitely easier when students are left in the dark about “controversial” issues like their own bodies – aren't people who are ignorant always easier to control? - but, clearly, I do not consider that an option.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Exodus Mandate calling to pull Christian kids out of secular schools

Thanks to Pam Spaulding's Pam's House Blend for this one
Fundies call for exodus from the public schools -- again

where she wrote:
An outfit called Exodus Mandate has released an unhinged video, "Call to Dunkirk," that stresses the urgent need to pull "Christian" kids out of the secular schools.
Watch the twisted propaganda video from the religious right, and be prepared to be offended:

The Call to Dunkirk

The video doesn't specifically mention LGBTQ persons and issues in schools, but I had a feeling they did have things to say connected to that so I did a search on Google for the words "homosexual" and "gay" on the website and came up with these:

Whereas, the promotion of homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle in the public schools constitutes a far greater risk to far more children than the “Gay ...
Why Homosexual Activism in Schools Endangers Students - File Format: Microsoft Word
These are frequently initiated through school alliances with influential homosexual pressure groups such as GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education ...
20050509 - SBC Resolution Asks for Investigation of Homosexual ... - File Format: HTML
May 9, 2005 ... Groups like GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and PFLAG ... Radical gender and homosexual advocacy groups influence ...
Front Jan08 (Letter).indd - File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat
children from homosexual indoctrination in our government schools. ... GAY “ MARRIAGE” PROMOTION – positive portrayal of “marriage” other than God-ordained, ...
Articles Index - File Format: HTML
2005-May 09 : SBC Resolution Asks for Investigation of Homosexual Influence ... 2002 - Aug 05 : Get Our Kids Out - Dobson says pro-gay school curriculum has ...