Our schools should be places where children are trained to pursue the true, the good, and the beautiful — or, at the very least, equipped to honestly and rationally engage with objective reality. A school should be a place of education, not ideological instruction.
But a “transgender toolkit,” approved on July 24 by the state’s School Safety Technical Assistance Council (SSTAC), is a clear instance of that vital mission being flipped on its head. The recommendations of the toolkit, advertised as a means of combating bullying, instead distort reality and impede real education.
Faith in the Public Arena
The falsehoods of gender ideology — essentially, the view that gender is unrelated to biological sex and can be chosen at will — are not fit to be disseminated anywhere, least of all in our schools. The council’s decision to distribute this toolkit to public schools throughout Minnesota reveals that state bureaucrats are more concerned about colonizing students’ minds than forming them to seek the truth.
Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has drawn attention to what he calls “ideological colonization,” or the imposition of secular values on religious societies through threats or incentives.
We typically think of ideological colonization in places like Africa, where Western nations and NGOs attempt to impose contraception and abortion on countries in exchange for development dollars. But Pope Francis has also linked it to gender ideology being taught in the classroom.
The pope told the Polish bishops in 2016 that gender theory is the “exact opposite of God’s creation,” and that this “sin against God the Creator” is an example of “ideological colonization” funded by powerful institutions.
“Today, children are taught this at school: that everyone can choose their own sex. And why do they teach this? Because the books come from those people and institutions who give money,” the pontiff said, calling the situation “terrible.”
The transgender toolkit is a clear instance of ideological colonization in our own backyard. Through the threat of lawsuits against schools, well-funded activists work to enact anti-bullying measures that are instead vehicles for making disordered views of the human person and human sexuality normative in the broader culture, all the while punishing those who dissent.
We all agree that public schools should be places that are welcoming to all students, regardless of personal challenges that they bring to the classroom. Persons struggling with gender dysphoria or who identify as transgender should be treated with compassion and sensitivity, and reasonably accommodated.
These steps should be taken to create an environment where students can participate in the pursuit of truth, unhindered by things that might hold them back, such as bullying or fear and anxiety. But the advance of gender ideology in the mask of anti-bullying programs undermines the heart of the educational enterprise by injecting a false vision of reality into the language and culture of schools. It requires students and faculty to speak and accept actions in contrast to plainly observable fact, namely, that boys are boys and not girls (or some other thing), and vice versa. As First Things editor R.R. Reno notes, gender ideology forces students to accommodate themselves to lies knowing that truthful words will be punished.
Gender ideology has no credible scientific basis. It requires people to perpetrate falsehoods and is a clear example of the triumph of the subjective will taking precedence over objective reality; it has no place in a setting serious about intellectual inquiry.
When we see gender theory imposed by public officials, or perpetrated in schools, we have the responsibility to respond, proposing instead the reality of our created nature and the beauty of sexual difference — man and woman, made for each other and made for life.
If the Church is to be a field hospital, as Pope Francis calls us to be, prospective patients need to know that things like gender theory that are peddled by the culture as elixirs of happiness are really poison, and that there is a place that offers healing and hope.
In addition, we must continue to assert that the facts of objective reality and the task of pursuing the truth of things should guide our public discourse and our education system. Otherwise, our discourse becomes mere sophistry and our public policies become tools of oppression and exploitation by those in power.
Jason Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.