Editors' note: Mara Drummond is the president of an independent computer consulting firm, author of the book Transitions - A Guide to Transitioning for Transsexuals and Their Families, and co-producer of the award winning film Unraveling Michelle.
In the national debate over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009 (ENDA), opponents of this ground breaking anti-discrimination legislation that prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the workplace like to point out that ENDA will allow LGBT educators to continue teaching in the classroom. They claim that allowing LGBT educators, particularly transgender teachers in the midst of a gender transition, to continue to teach will "confuse" the children.
Excuse me for asking, but what is so wrong with having confused children in the classroom?
Confusion is the stimulus for intellectual development in a child. When a child belongs to a closed community where all people look and act the same, the child may not experience confusion but correspondingly he or she is never introduced to the stimuli required to develop into a responsible adult. The child never experiences people of different races, people with different religious beliefs, people from various economic classes and people with varying senses of sexual orientation and gender. The child grows up incorrectly believing that all people should be just like the non-diverse group of people that make up his or her community, and that anyone who is different is either sub-human or a lesser person.
As the opponents of ENDA correctly point out, a child exposed to diverse people is often initially confused by the different traits that people exhibit. But this confusion over the diversity of people triggers intellectual growth in the child in many areas as the child tries to determine why people are different, and what differences besides appearance truly exist among people and cultures. Most importantly, though, the child is forced to address the issue of how to treat people who fall outside of his or her realm of previous exposure. What place is more appropriate than a classroom in helping a child answer the questions that arise during encounters with diverse people?
A child who experiences diversity in the classroom through exposure to a teacher or student who presents traits and characteristics that the child has not previously been exposed to learns that people with differences are still people. The child learns that diverse people have the same needs, wants and desires as others, and in some instances, that diverse people have special needs as a result of the characteristic that makes them unique. However, the most valuable learning lesson occurs when the child realizes that people who are different deserve to be treated with the same level of respect and dignity as other human beings regardless of their differences.
Learning to accept and embrace the natural variations that exist within a population improves a child's ability to be a better leader by giving the child the skills to recognize the talents and worth of individuals regardless of their race, religion, heritage, sex, gender expression or sexual orientation. Accepting and embracing all people regardless of their differences improves a child's chances of becoming successful in business when the child develops into adulthood and works in a global, corporate world that mandates interacting with people of all ethnicities and backgrounds. As the countries of the world, the United States included, become increasingly diverse, a child who fails to embrace the diversity of mankind will find his or her options in life severely constrained.
When a child accepts the variance that exists within a population, the child comes to recognize that there are artificial barriers society promotes that inhibit personal development. A child with interests that fall outside of the gender, racial and religious norms of his or her community will become a richer and fuller person if allowed to embrace and grow those interests.
Why should a boy with interests in the fine arts and typical male sports not be encouraged to pursue both? Why should a girl be discouraged from following her interests in both science and theatre? Being free of artificial social barriers, including the artificial barriers related to gender expression, allows a child to follow his or her dreams wherever those dreams lead. Ingenuity in a child is born out of the freedom to think outside of the box. Parents should be encouraging their children to be broad thinkers, innovators, inventors and compassionate citizens of the world. Failure to do so will deny the next generation of children a world that continues to grow and prosper.
So I have to ask, if the intellectual growth of a child begins with a stimulus that leads the child to question the limits of his or her world, just what exactly is wrong with having a little confusion in the classroom?