The Politics of Reading class has spent much of the past month discussing standardized tests and their impacts, looking at the way that standardized testing can unfairly and disproportionate exclude and hurt low-income, minority students. Certainly, credence and attention must be paid to these students who are primarily negatively impacted by hollow standards as set out by tests like No Child Left Behind.
However, other types of exclusivity occur within the realm of public education, mirroring larger injustices in society, that must be addressed – in every part of public schooling: the fact remains that school is often not a safe space for gender nonconforming, transgender, and genderqueer students. Forcing students in a binary for testing purposes — being labeled as “male” or “female,” as well as assessing the efficacy and progress in student test scores by gender leaves students who do not comfortably identify in the binary excluded.
I remember that every day, even before the administration of standardized tests, we said the pledge of allegiance in unison: one nation…with liberty and justice for all. Despite the promise of these words, many students, and in particular transgender students, fail to exercise these rights in schools.
Beyond standardized testing, the insidiousness of discrimination consistently harms transgender students, through ignorance, purposeful exclusion, and structurally-supported prejudice. Since the conversation about the gender spectrum ascended to the national stage, measures to exclude students have reached legislation. Recently, South Dakota Republican State Rep. Fred Deustch introduced a bill that if passed would bar transgender students from using bathrooms or locker rooms that do not correspond by their gender assigned at birth.
This is not the first type that discriminatory and, frankly, reprehensible measures have been undertaken to systematically further transgender students’ exclusion within schools.As reported by The New York Times, Houston voters rejected an anti-discrimination ordinance that would include the right for transgender individuals to use the bathrooms assigned to the gender with which they identified. Opponents of transgender rights have seemingly come out of the woodwork across the country as new, more-inclusive policies and practices are proposed for implementation.
In our class, we have recently discussed the lack of diversity in books, citing the Common Core Reading lists which is comprised of books from primarily white, English-speaking authors. Read more about it in my awesome classmates’ posts here and here. But inclusivity must range beyond a conversation about race or gender. The voices of transgender students and people have long been silenced, and creating an educational space that celebrates the struggles, stories, and accomplishments of people with all identities is necessary. For too long, students who do not comfortably identify within the normative gender binary have been marginalized and we have a responsibility to do something about it.
Although solutions are myriad and important — including teacher sensitivity training and internal education measures — it also prompts a need for standardization. Here, having national standards might actually seek to include rather than exclude: the national government should mandate that transgender, genderqueer, and non- gender conforming students have access to the spaces (such as locker rooms and bathrooms) that make them feel most comfortable. And, come election time, there is a simple solution for representatives who seek to exclude and to discriminate. We have the power to make schools more inclusive. We have the power to provide liberty and justice for all – as well as the responsibility.