Mike Goodman (a pseudonym) is a music teacher who makes his living by teaching, playing and writing and arranging music. He has thirty years’ experience teaching in schools and is married with three grown-up children. He is interested in the link between depth psychology and spirituality and has recently become increasingly concerned about the teaching of gender identity in the classroom. Mike contacted us with an essay he had written outlining his concerns and we are very grateful to him for giving us permission to publish his insightful piece here.
The New Fundamentalism in the Classroom
I have been working as a peripatetic music teacher in two schools in the Home Counties for over thirty years. One is a private girls secondary school which I visit every school day and have a somewhat extended role, involving running several ensembles. The other is a co-ed comprehensive state school with approaching three times the number of students.
It is at the girls school where the transgender and non binary/gender neutral issue has come to the fore in recent months with former girls now identifying as boys, with male names, and others as being gender neutral or fluid. There is a large and growing Stonewall group meeting weekly and there have been visiting speakers from the Mermaids charity to educate the students on these issues.
Recently a very large contingent of the whole body of students took part in a ‘Day of Silence’ in support of LGBT. It was an education for me as I found that it was difficult to teach saxophone and direct ensembles with girls that were mute.
In a one-to-one teacher pupil relationship – especially when the teacher is peripatetic and a measure of trust has been built up over a period of time – pupils often feel they are in a safe space to open up about things that are bothering them. Maybe have a little moan about the school regime, or about how they feel that they have been unfairly treated by a teacher.
As there had been a fair degree of muteness on one Friday, I felt entitled to enquire as to what their feelings were about the issue in their next lesson.
I found that not all were really so keen on taking part. One girl told me that, as her whole class was taking part, she didn’t want to be the odd one out. Others felt that by not taking part they would be making ‘a statement.’ Two sixth form girls told me that they felt slightly paranoid in the sixth form centre and were worried about saying anything that might offend anyone. They articulated themselves very intelligently and clearly and none as far as I could see showed any sign of transphobia. One sixth former said that she didn’t understand the need for another set of toilets, as they had cubicles. I hadn’t realised that the bathroom issue has arisen. All but one felt that she wasn’t free to openly discuss her views, mainly for fear of offending anyone.
In the staff canteen I brought the issue up, asking several teachers what their feelings were about the subject and if there had been much discussion in the staff room about the issues concerned. Not really it seemed, other than instructions coming down from senior management. I confessed to them that I felt slightly uncomfortable. Not by anything in particular, but just a sense that I needed to keep my mouth shut; that just by discussing these issues I was committing a crime. One teacher said to me, “think what you like but be careful of the pronouns you use.”
So what did I think? After some thought, I decided that it wasn’t any particular thing about transgender in itself that was bothering me. There have always been girl boys and boy girls. Or gender dysphoria as it is called. So why was I still having the uncomfortable feeling that something wasn’t quite right?
I then began to get an inkling of what the problem was.
In any healthy educational environment, students, guided by staff, need to be free to discuss things openly – to be able to argue, debate, agree, disagree and whatever. And of course they should be educated on subjects such as racism, sexism, etc. But it is very difficult to establish forums of discussion on topics such as LGBT once the ‘ideology’ of political correctness has been embraced by the institution. This is because the linguistic territory and the terms of the debate have already been defined and set in stone. That is, there ‘is’ no debate.
The 2010 Equality Act protects transgender, non binary etc people from discrimination, but at the same time puts them in a position where they can potentially hold the rest of the population over a barrel. And this seems to be what is happening.
Edgar Friedenberg defines ideology thus:
“Ideology is the system of beliefs by which members of a social group – it may, but need not, be a social class – develop a way of seeing, and interpreting what they see, congruent with what they have come to define as their interests; while denying, or providing no validation – perhaps even no language – for sensations that, if allowed to become perceptions and then ideas, would threaten those interests. Ideology is a powerful force; more powerful usually, than any evidence or even any experience that might oppose it. Argument does not prevail against ideology.”
Friedenberg’s lines are effective in bringing into focus the cultic and sinister nature of ideology. Anyone who has tried to argue with a Jehovah’s Witness will know that it is a complete waste of time. They are never going to say something like: “Now that’s an interesting point – I need to go away and think about it.” But to be told that “there is no debate” feels like a complete shutdown. A punch in the face from an iron fist.
Friedenberg goes on to say that censorship and propaganda are the methods used to protect and further the cause.
Political correctness in general doesn’t at first seem to be an ideology that is harmful in any way. It can seem very reasonable and rational. What reasonable liberal minded person does not agree that racism and sexism are bad things that should be opposed or that homosexuals and transsexuals should be free to live the way they want to? Who does not agree that values such as inclusiveness and equality seem reasonable? But in all things there are always grey areas and points for discussion.
It is my contention that P.C. behaves like a ‘fundamentalism’ and so I will use the phenomenon of Christian fundamentalism to help shed light on things. Having been part of a fundamentalist group in a past life I feel, to an extent, qualified to do this.
Theologian James Barr defines Christian Fundamentalism as a ‘conservative ideology.’ In this world, as in any ideology, there are varying degrees of rigidity and conservatism between different churches and church groups, most of which are non denominational. The main form of censorship employed is referred to as ‘Biblical Correctness,’ a sort of dumbed-down rationalism based on the premise that the bible is ‘true’ in the narrowly objective sense of the term.
There is little theology as such in the movement, or encouragement to explore the mystery and meaning of scripture in a free and open-minded way. Forums for discussion are limited and are always policed by someone in authority. It is easy to see why, with such a rigid interpretation of scripture, the accusation of ‘heresy’ is readily and frequently brought forth to deal with those who have a different view.
It is necessary to point out here that we are looking at ideology in only one sense of the term. One could call ‘any’ set of ideas an ideology, and who is to say that one set of ideas isn’t as good, or bad as another? We are dealing here with fairly closed thought systems, where propaganda poses as education and where there is a high level of censorship.
I feel something akin to a duty of care in this situation. If there is such a thing as a healthy environment for growing, learning, becoming, forming one’s identity etc. be it school, family, church or whatever, then shouldn’t we all be working towards the same thing? So it is my duty of care to point out, if I can, where and how I think it is going wrong.
My contention is this: that the feeling of being ‘shut down’ by an ideology strikes me as evidence of what is known as a ‘double bind’. If we embrace gender ideology we are immediately caught in a double bind: ‘You must conform to my increasingly high standards.’ For instance, ‘learn and respect the seventy odd different gender categories, or I will come down on you’. Fail to do this and you offend me deeply. You are a threat to the very core of my being. Disagree with or criticise me and I will annihilate you (narcissistic rage). ‘I’ define the standards of what is right and wrong. And there is no negotiating, discussion or debate.
Human groups are powerful entities and it is very tempting to try to lose the ‘burden’ of oneself in a group or ideology. The group becomes toxic relative to the extent of the denial invested in it. So in the Kierkegaardian sense, a toxic ideology is based on ‘the denial of despair’ or a high level of narcissism.
So to go back to the subject of LGBT and of political correctness in general, we may ask: ‘Is there a level of narcissism at work here?’ If we look at two examples of individuals who have dared to question the established mantra of how transsexualism should be interpreted and how transsexuals should be treated, we see something that looks very much like ‘narcissistic rage’ as opposed to ‘righteous anger.’
Germaine Greer, who can hardly be described as a right wing bigot, is a highly respected intellectual with a PHD from Cambridge and has spent her life studying, writing on and speaking on women’s issues. Politically she is liberal left. She is a passionate feminist and a bisexual. But she dared to state that she didn’t think, in all circumstances, that just because a man decides to become a woman, even after genital operations, that he ‘is’ one. This caused a humongous uproar and there was a campaign to ban her from speaking at universities. She had committed an act of heresy (and probably feared for her life).
In Canada, Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and a highly respected public intellectual had a similar experience when he stated that the new pronouns invented for the different forms of transgender, non binary etc. individuals, should ‘not be enshrined in law’. Another act of heresy, which was met by vicious anger.
This is not dissimilar in nature to the explosive responses we’ve seen when those such as Salman Rushdie and the Danish Cartoonists were felt to have insulted the Islamic faith. If there ‘is’ an all powerful all loving God, why does he/she need to be shielded from insults? Can’t he stand up for himself ? Is it ‘he’ that hat has been insulted or the ideology that has been built around him?
If we go back around 5 years it wouldn’t have seemed unreasonable for say, an R.S. teacher to pose the question to a group of students ‘ Do you think that just because a man identifies as a woman that he actually is one?’ It would probably have opened up a very lively discussion. Today the teacher doesn’t go there. Too dangerous. No discussion. Maybe in another 10 years the teacher would be banged up in prison for opening up such a discussion.
P.C. originated from the Liberal Left and interestingly it is those, either from, or originally from the liberal left that are its fiercest and most feared opponents, as well as being the most prophetic voices on the subject. None of them would deny that the issues concerning oppressed minority groups are real issues that need to be discussed and addressed. None of them are racist, homophobic, transphobic etc. What they do fear is this new form of fundamentalist religion that has emerged in recent years and gives out the message; ‘If you’re not with us you are against us’ and brands anyone who tries to question or even discuss any of its basic tenets as some kind of phobic.
We often hear the term ‘political correctness gone mad’ and it’s all too easy of course for those of the extreme right to use it to thoughtlessly sling mud in the other direction. However when we look at the situation that has been taking place on some of the U.S.’s top university campuses the term does seem appropriate. We are talking about the emergence of groups of ‘Social Justice Warriors’ who are on the lookout for those who dare to commit ‘micro aggressions,’ demand not to be offended in any way, and therefore demand a ‘safe space’ in their lecture rooms where this can’t happen. They expect ‘trigger warnings’ before lectures.
It could be argued that every human being, throughout their lives, has upon their lips two questions; ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Do you love me? ’Every parent of teenagers, teacher of teenagers, or anyone who is, or has been a teenager will know that around the ages of 13 -14 these questions become more acute. In my experience in teaching, some kids seem to become a bit quiet and aloof and others a little more loud and outspoken, especially in groups, i.e. with back-up.
Some children who are extrovert in nature and at the same time particularly needy (for whatever reasons), will resort to attention seeking. (Just to add here, that an above average degree of narcissism is perfectly normal in teenagers). It becomes very difficult for a teacher to negotiate all this if the child suddenly becomes say, gender fluid and assumes a different name each lesson, and also takes every possible opportunity to (legitimately) disrupt the lesson to point out to the teacher that he/she has just crossed a boundary in terms of what is acceptable according to the codes of P.C. The child becomes aware that she is in a powerful position.
I must confess that I don’t like generalising about young people. The vast majority of the kids that I teach seem to be perfectly lovely, free, grounded, intelligent, interesting and sometimes wickedly humorous individuals. I just hope that they can stay that way.
Under the power of any ideology, sensitive, intuitive and deep thinking people will naturally come to question things. This is not to do with intelligence, reason or logic but because of the natural instinctive drive towards freedom, individuality and authenticity. History shows us what often happens here. They are branded heretics and executed, such as Socrates or Jesus; or they are branded ‘enemies of the people’ and are banished to labour camps or mental institutions, such as Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn.
Any individual with a particular or individual view is a threat to ‘the people,’ the ones who have thrown in the towel as it were and ceased to strive to be individuals. In a mysterious way an ideology seems to become ‘a thing in itself.’ This is what Orwell meant by ‘Big Brother.’
Just as in Christian Fundamentalism, P.C. shuts down the individual voice. Individuality is a threat. There is only one view; the biblically correct view. There is only one view; the politically correct view. The situation we are in at the moment should be taken seriously. It was in fact predicted by both Nietzsche and Orwell. Some commentators are already talking of ‘the Orwellian nightmare’ already being upon us.
Abiding by this type of blanket ruling in which ‘there must be no grey areas’ wipes out any possibility of healthy organic community in a school. As soon as people begin to accept this sort of thing as being normal and healthy they are well on the way to ‘giving in’ to ideology.
The transgender issue has come upon us all too quickly. We don’t know what we think. We haven’t had a chance to sort it out in our heads. And we are told we don’t need to think. There are no grey areas. We just need to be educated. There ‘is’ no debate.
There ‘are’ grey areas though.
There was a recent case of a 7 year-old boy who was being dressed as a girl by his mother, from the age of 2. The Mermaids charity was supporting the mother in this. The father insisted though that the child wanted to be a boy and that the mother was forcing the child to be a girl. In a High Court ruling on the issue a judge declared that ‘there was no independent evidence that the boy wanted to be a girl’ and that ‘the boy had been pressed into a gender identification that had more to do with his mother’s needs than his own.’
The child was separated from the mother and now lives with the father, as a boy. The father also criticised social workers for failing to challenge the mother because they were in thrall to ‘gender ideology’. He also claimed that the school had been bullied by Mermaids into supporting the mother’s wish that he should wear a dress and that they told staff that they would be guilty of discrimination if they did not let him wear a girl’s uniform.
He also said that ‘The authorities including social workers are all too terrified to intervene for fear of being accused of discrimination by the vocal transgender lobby.’
This begs a few questions:
Is the charity simply supporting children in their growth and development or is it pushing an agenda and actually helping to further and create a cause?
Why are Mermaids the experts when they have no formal medical back up?
Why were they so keen to support the mother as opposed to the father in what looks like a classic case of ‘Munchausens by Proxy’?
Why didn’t they hold their hands up and say: ‘ok, so there’s just a chance that maybe we got this one wrong’ instead of branding the ruling ‘a horrific scandal’?
Why did the school, who had initially supported the father, back down so easily as soon as Mermaids got involved?
Was it education or propaganda the girls were receiving in the classroom the other week?
I will leave the reader to answer these questions.
In their online advertising to educational establishments, via their website, Mermaids reminds schools that: ‘We have a number of resources that identify the responsibility you have as a school towards these pupils and your duty of care’ and also that ‘The most important thing is that the young person is respected and their views listened to.’
Shouldn’t all of the children be given the freedom to air their views? Shouldn’t that be our duty of care to all students?
Today is Sunday. Tomorrow I will go to work, banter with the kids; laugh, teach, practice on the piano etc; the sun will be shining (hopefully) and the birds singing. But since I have become sensitised to this issue I will not cease to look for creative ways to combat something that only a few weeks back seemed a little annoying, but of no great significance.