In November, the Colorado Board of Education plans to vote on new social studies standards which threaten to remove references to LGBTQ+ and people of color for grades K-3. We are worried we have chosen to prioritize the opinions of politicians over the shared values of diversity and respect taught by the selfless professionals who love, care and educate our children.
Do we trust our teachers?
As Board Member Steve Durham said, “The problem is not inclusion or exclusion, but whether the discussion of sex in its various forms is appropriate for Kindergarteners. I think most parents would conclude that a public discussion in front of Kindergarteners of sex is not appropriate.”
The truth is that the acknowledgement that LGBTQ+ people exist is not the same as a facilitation of a sexually-explicit discussion. In any case, sex education standards are not scheduled for board review this year and will be updated in a separate, future year.
This year, the standards subject to board review only focus on social studies: history, geography, economics and civics. As stated on the CDE website, social studies education is “essential to understanding the complexity of the world,” and should “provide the context and understanding of the human experience.” This cannot be done without centered discourse of family, inclusive of the wide diversity of identities that have made meaningful impact on the components of social studies. Ignoring their existence is akin to erasure of their identity and sends a subtle signal of prejudice towards those individuals.
Kindergarteners and first graders start learning basic family structures and how their family may be different or similar to others. In second, third, and fourth grade, students start learning more about other communities, and early years of American society and government.
Not all cultures subscribe to the belief that there are only two genders, and early American life had much more LGBTQ+ representation than we’re usually led to believe. It’s important for all students to see themselves reflected in the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48% of LGB students seriously consider suicide at some point, and over 60% reported feeling sad or hopeless. We must broaden the definition of “normal” to reduce the risk of bullying, mental health struggles, and suicide amongst these marginalized populations.
More recent studies have begun to look at the impact of support from family, friends and society. One study funded by the National Institute for Mental Health found: “Early experiences of support had a lasting impact on the mental health of the youth in this study, illustrating that early support is important across adolescence and young adulthood.” Unsurprisingly, students with family support showed the lowest levels of psychological distress regardless of external events like bullying. Social support couldn’t quite make up for family support, but it made a substantial difference to the students mental health and wellbeing.
All students should receive a diverse learning experience inclusive of cultural context and understanding of all identities. We should be reinforcing the importance of these lessons and continue adding more age-appropriate lessons throughout high school. The argument that including LGBT content in school curriculums is ‘inappropriate’ is ignorant at best and fear-mongering at worst. Teaching an inclusive, factual version of history to kids is not teaching them about sex; it is about showing them that love, identity, and family structure exist on a continuum and not in binary molds.
Learning how to be accepting of other people and other cultures is only going to become more important as we figure out how to co-exist in an increasingly interconnected world. Needless restrictions like this hamstring the professionals in the best place to make sure our children are thriving as they grow into well-adjusted and productive members of society.
We all have stories about that one teacher who touched our lives – helping us discover a passion or make it through a particularly rough time. Empowering today’s teachers to help their students to the best of their ability will pay dividends, improving students’ experiences in school and eventually creating a happier, healthier generation than any before – the true American Dream.
If you would like to help support our teachers, and protect the wellbeing of our students, make your voice heard by contacting Chairwoman Angelika Schroeder and the rest of the Colorado State Board of Education at email@example.com to tell them you vehemently oppose any action that would erase or remove the ability for educators to represent LGBTQ+ identities in the classroom.
Obi Ezeadi is a member of the Westminster City Council.
Alanna Barras lives in Westminster.
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