September 11, 2017

Your kindergartner can and should read books about transgender people

by

It’s September again: time to load up your backpack and head back to school.

At Rocklin Academy Gateway charter school in Northern California, a student brought in a copy of I am Jazz, an autobiography by transgender teen Jazz Jennings. The student, a transgender child herself, brought the book into class for the teacher to read, a common practice in the classroom.

Can you guess what happened next? (I bet you can.) As reported by Sonali Knohli in the Los Angeles Times, some parents were unhappy that the book had been read to the class, and did not want their children taught about transgender issues and gender identity. As one parent put it, it’s about “giving us the choice and rights of what’s being introduced to our kids and at what age.”

Look. It’s 2017. We’re finally free to be you and me. As society progresses and transgender men and women are increasingly visible, not to mention increasingly supported and accepted, it is unavoidable that children will be exposed to transgender and gender fluid people. Sometimes, these people are even children themselves: GLSEN, an LGBT education and advocacy group, found in a 2010 survey that eight percent of elementary school students do not conform to traditional gender norms.

Depriving your child of knowledge, under the false pretense that they aren’t old enough to handle the topic, doesn’t protect them. It hurts them: it leaves them ignorant about the world at large, isolates them in their bubble of privilege, and discourages diversity from entering their lives. And experts say that kindergarteners are old enough to handle the truth. From Becca Mui, education manager at GLSEN:

“Young people learn about these things whether we’re having conversations about them or not…. At kindergarten, they’re at a place where they understand developmentally the difference between boys and girls… and they also developmentally can think about identity versus expression.”

And what’s the best, most time-honored tradition of teaching our youth? Say it with me: books!

Age-appropriate books like I am Jazz, which was specifically written for children, “use simple words and break down concepts in a way children can understand,” says Knohli. Historically, books have taught children about a litany of complex topics: death, civil rights, politics. Why should transgender issues be any different?

Books allow us to see the world from alternative perspectives, opening our minds and providing us with the knowledge to understand the personal experiences of others. And transgender children deserve classrooms in which their stories are told, too. Let’s allow our children to learn about the realities of the world through books. As Dr. Seuss wrote, “The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

 

 

Stephanie DeLuca is the director of publicity at Melville House.

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