The UK Government’s Department for Education has just begun a consultation with schools, parents and pupils (in England) on a long overdue revision to the Relationships Education in primary schools and the Relationships and Sex Education in secondary schools. (Here’s an article at the BBC: Sexting to online porn: What should sex education lessons cover?.)
Question No. 1 is:
Thinking about relationships education in primary schools, what do you believe are the three most important subject areas that should be taught for different age groups/key stages and why. Please include any considerations or evidence which informed your choices.
I have been thinking a lot (more than usual) this past week about gender and transgender issues. I am not a trans person, but even so I find the naked hostility towards trans people, and especially towards trans women, quite shocking. (Indeed, it’s not the childen, but their parents, who are in need of this education.) So here below is my answer (there’s a 250 word limit).
A recent study (Kids Believe Gender Stereotypes by Age 10, Global Study Finds) has shown that gender stereotypes and associated health risks are established by Age 10-11. “In fact, the researchers suggest that some programs aimed at redressing gender imbalance that are targeted at 15-year-olds might actually be more useful for a younger age group. Getting preteen kids to rethink why they believe males and females should behave a certain way may even be protective of their physical health.”
There’s so much pressure from society and media to conform to gender stereotypes: girls must be sweet and pretty, and not assert themselves; boys must be tough and independent, and must never wear dresses. But these are superficial things and vary with culture – once upon a time, men wore corsets too. Is there any reason why daddy shouldn’t stay home and cook dinner while mummy’s out at work? Or, indeed, while Daddy No. 2 is out at work…
The language we use is also very important (“You throw like a girl!”) and needs consideration. Natasha Devon has recommended the use of gender-neutral language in schools (‘Removing gendered language from schools doesn’t threaten anyone’s rights – it’s about inclusivity’): “Changing the way we speak is about inclusion, acceptance and broadening our understanding.”
And it works – Sweden has had gender-neutral pre-schools for several years now (Sweden’s ‘gender-neutral’ pre-school and Sweden’s gender-neutral preschools produce kids who are more likely to succeed): “Children who attended one gender-neutral preschool were more likely to play with unfamiliar children of the opposite gender, and less likely to be influenced by culturally enforced gender stereotypes.”