It’s back to school time. COVID is still with us, but we know a lot more about how to manage it. Schools are open, first-day-of-school rituals are in and masks are out. If more people were vaccinated, fewer people would be ill, but individual freedom has become more valued than the collective good in our country.
Most parents, teachers and kids are happy to be back to “normal” at school. Some students seemed to do better with online education, and now we have a better understanding of how that option might be offered, but most kids benefit from the in-person version.
A vital part of public education is the socialization part. Our 5-year-olds arrive at kindergarten with a wide variety of skills for getting along, sharing, taking turns, paying attention. School should not be a setting where students’ individuality is extinguished, but it should be a place where kids are helped to understand the benefits of social graces.
Sadly, the civility and common courtesy we once took for granted is not exactly being modeled by the adults in our communities. Instead, for many parents, it’s no holds barred when it comes to their language and behavior, be it at school meetings or sporting events.
School board meetings have degenerated into shouting matches where teachers and school administrators are berated, belittled and threatened. Meetings have been abandoned mid-agenda due to the behavior of those attending. Social media posts mock and criticize school personnel for everything from their policies and practices to their appearance. Administrators’ families are threatened.
Sporting events are even worse. Every parent’s kid is meant to be a star, to play every minute of every game. Visiting teams are booed. Obscenities are traded from one sideline to the other.
The concept of being a “good sport”? Of accepting the rulings of the referees? Of being courteous to the visiting team, humble in victory, gracious in defeat? Gone.
The result of all this is that those who participate in educating our children are giving up. If there is one thing COVID taught us, it is that there are many more ways to earn a living than showing up in an office – or a classroom – every day. Who would want to be an educator when it means suffering the abuse of parents and the disrespect of their children each and every day?
Being an administrator or a teacher would be hard enough if “all” they had to do was keep abreast of the social changes of our day. DEI – diversity, equality, inclusion – is an important focus for our society but it involves new ways of thinking about how we treat each other and those in our charge. Change is never easy.
School personnel are older than students, maybe by a little, maybe by a lot. For those significantly older, concepts of gender diversity can be perplexing and unsettling. We have come a long way from the days when gender preferences were a deep, dark secret, but now we’ve gone from straight or gay to cisgender, LGBTQ, non-binary, trans and other terms for expressing a gender identification or preference.
Individuals identifying with these gender preferences or others have preferred pronouns that do not follow the old rules of gender or even grammar. A person’s preferred pronouns may be the plurals “they” or “them,” a challenge to the ear of those of us educated decades ago.
But if we think we are challenged by these new gender identifications, what about the challenge for an adolescent or teenager living through them? And what about the teachers and administrators who are trying their best to understand, support and respect them?
Teens, or even pre-teens, are facing enormous life changes as they move toward adulthood. From considering their post K-12 futures, where and what they want to be or do, to the physical changes they are undergoing, no wonder it is a time when choices are repeatedly made and abandoned, when uncertainty marks the age.
And now, who gets to be the decider? Parents who grew up in a very different time may find it difficult to accept their child’s gender preference. At school, is it the student’s choice or the parent’s that prevails if there is disagreement about name, pronouns or gender identification? According to the National Center for Gender Equality, U.S. Department of Education policy says students “have the right to be addressed by the names and pronouns that they use … even if they have not legally changed their name or gender.”
Whether it is about life-altering choices or playing time on the soccer field, education has become a battleground. Experienced administrators and teachers are finding the strife and stress to be too much. They are leaving the field because of it, and that is not in our children’s best interest.
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.