Life’s shaping forces: Identity and the politics of parental rights in education

Jun 06, 2023
Gender identity has become an instrument of bitter political division. Source: Getty

Up (often referred to as Seven Up) is a unique documentary series that follows the lives of ten English boys and four English girls.  Beginning in 1964 when the children were seven years old, filmmakers have revisited the participants once every seven years since.

The latest episode, “63 Up” was released in 2020, by which time a couple of the participants had dropped out and a couple had died.  Inspired by the maxim “Give me a child till he is seven and I will show you the man” (variously attributed to Aristotle, St Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits) the series is a longitudinal study providing astonishing insights into the way our lives are shaped by our early years. 

I mention Up because child development in relation to gender identity has become a hot-button issue, with some parents worrying that gender identity, as distinct from genetic sexual identity, may take longer than seven years to develop and may be determined by factors outside of the home and away from the influence of family.

That concern could and should have initiated a rational exploration of the development of gender identity, but it has not.

Instead, gender identity has become an instrument of bitter political division. In the US State of Florida, Governor Ron Di Santos has made parental rights an election issue.

His claim that parental rights are at risk in the classroom where teachers push a ‘woke’ agenda that includes teaching about diversity and gender identity, has galvanised conservative parents into action. Not so coincidentally, NSW One Nation MP Mark Latham is following hot on Di Santos’s heels.

Mark Latham now promotes himself as the protector of parental rights that he also claims are threatened by the ‘woke’ agenda of teachers. Mark Latham would like to ban teachers from discussing gender identity with students or allowing them access to information about it without parental consent. 

Mark Latham’s “Educational Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill (2020) was rejected in State Parliament. Currently, NSW school teachers are mandated to present age-appropriate learning activities about diversity and gender identity as outlined in the Personal Development, Health and Physical Education K-12 Syllabus, which is freely available for anyone to read.

While some parents are opposed to teaching about sexual and gender diversity, It is worth noting that a landmark study published in the journal Sex Education found that 4 out of 5 parents (with children attending government schools) support it. 

Last year, the ABC was accused of grooming children after the appearance of drag queen Courtney Act reading a book about costumes on the iconic children’s television program, Play School

Following threats of violence, another drag-queen story time event was moved from its original venue, Eltham Public Library in Victoria, and rescheduled online. Bearing in mind that nobody was forced to view or attend either event, both attracted more than a fair share of outrage.   

One of the curious things about this vexed issue of gender identity is that there is (and always has been) a general acceptance of cross-dressing on television and on film. The long-running television series, Mrs Brown’s Boys, and popular films such as Mrs Doubtfire, Tootsie, The Nutty Professor and Big Mumma’s House feature male actors presenting as women. Not so long ago, men dressed as women also featured regularly on that blokiest of blokey television programs, The Footy Show and the audience approved.   

Meanwhile, the problem, if there is one, associated with children learning about diversity and gender identity at school or seeing a drag queen read a story, pales into insignificance when compared to the real problems with boys, who are hooked on porn and who watch it daily for long periods of time. Their confusion is not about their gender.  They already know what gender they are. Their confusion is about what their male gender means and how to express it in a loving relationship.

Concern about the supposed loss of parental rights in deciding what happens in the classroom is emblematic of our wider loss of trust in institutions, including teachers and schools. Logic and experience tell me that teachers are also parents and grandparents with the same conventional views and aspirations for their children and grandchildren as everyone else. I ask myself, why would they try (or even want to) interfere with any child’s gender identity? 

My lived experience of working in the classroom with thousands of children has persuaded me that who we are and how we live our lives is, indeed, largely determined by the time we are seven years old. There will always be an exception, but I have seen, over and over again, the way that a child’s home environment, secure attachments and parental influence equips them for success or failure in education – and life. 

Last, while you may not agree with me that the future man resides within the seven-year-old boy, remember that our parents are always our first and most influential teachers.  Whoever you have made your child to be is not easily undone.

Disclaimer: The following text is an opinion piece and should not be taken as factual information or professional advice. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of the platform hosting the article. The purpose of this piece is to stimulate discussion and encourage critical thinking. Readers are encouraged to conduct their own research before making any decisions based on the content of this article.
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