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What’s important is teaching, not pronouns

Medford School District officials are responding in the only way they can to parents who are concerned about a nonbinary first-grade teacher, which is to say they will not comment, citing district policies and privacy concerns, but are willing to hear parents’ concerns.

A number of parents who took their concerns to a Medford School Board meeting last week were warned that personnel issues such as complaints about individual staff members could not be discussed in open session. That didn’t stop one parent from objecting to “district policies” he said were having “a direct impact on my first-grader.”

If the “district policy” was not to discriminate against staff members on the basis of gender identity, it’s not clear how the district could address his concern without violating the rights of the teacher in question.

The parents seemed to be most disturbed by the idea that their children might be exposed to “the complexity of preferred pronouns and gender roles,” as one parent put it, which is “not appropriate for this age group,” and suggested the teacher should be assigned to teach older students instead.

Let’s step back a moment and consider what “nonbinary” means. According to GLAAD, a media monitoring organization founded by LGBTQ people in the media, nonbinary means people who do not describe themselves as fitting the category of either a man or a woman.

We all have elements of what are considered male or female characteristics, to varying degrees. That just makes us human. Most of us identify as either male or female, but not everyone does. Gender identity is separate from sexual orientation.

Parents objecting that their children are being asked to use someone’s preferred pronoun might stop to consider that very young children tend to be far more accepting than older ones. In this case, a classroom of students has been asked to call their instructor “Teacher,” rather than Mr. Jones or Ms. Smith. That shouldn’t be difficult, or confusing.

And “teacher” isn’t even a pronoun. It’s a noun. The only time a student would need to avoid using a gendered pronoun in a situation like this would be when talking to someone else about their teacher, in which the respectful usage would be to refer to the teacher as “they” rather than “he” or “she.” Again, not particularly difficult. For that matter, “my teacher” works just as well, and doesn’t require any adjustment at all.

First-graders are far less likely to dwell on the complexities than older students such as, say, middle-schoolers. That’s a good reason to leave this teacher right where they are.

In any case, what really matters is whether they are a good teacher. The children will know.