On Monday, BC teachers went on full strike. That same day, the Vancouver School Board took full advantage of the situation. Faster than a Liberal gets kicked out of a Conservative rally, the school board moved to approve the use of genderless pronouns in area schools. Totally radical! Vancouver students now have the freedom to define their gender. Is that a good thing?
Yes! Gender is such a restrictive subject. Many adults hold entrenched views because they grew up in a different time: a time when society was straight and narrow. That doesn’t mean that today’s kids should have to grow up the same way. We shouldn’t force them to choose from two gender identities that may not fit their vision of themselves. This policy is a step in the right direction. It is rightfully liberating.
On the flip side, this policy may cause more problems than it avoids. By allowing all students to choose what name and pronoun they want used to refer to them, the school board is enabling a lot of childish behaviour. How many high school students will use this opportunity to change their names for childish reasons? I know that high school me might have. That’s not to say that it’s the right thing to do, just that it’s hard for a 15-year-old boy to resist the temptation to change his name to something featured in a Simpsons prank call:
I’ve done it before, and if I was back in high school I’d probably do it again because, well, high school is boring. I would find it funny, and I probably wouldn’t think about the few kids I’d be hurting. Again, it’s wrong, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
So what’s the alternative? How does a school board build an inclusive environment without enabling little jerks like me to ask to be called “xe” (seriously, that’s the genderless option)? A solution may lie in the policy the Toronto District School Board put forward in 2011: a commitment to handle requests for referral using genderless pronouns on a case-by-case basis. Sure, it’s slightly less inclusive, but it might avoid creating a bigger problem than the one it is trying to solve.
School board officials need to remember with whom they are dealing. We’re talking about kids. Since the vast majority of kids are perfectly content with the traditional pronouns, they might see this as a chance to make a joke of a serious issue. As the policy architect, it is the adult’s responsibility to imagine all the ways in which things could go wrong. The Vancouver School Board members need to go back to square one and think of all the ways that they would have abused this policy when they were in high school.
And seriously, wait until the teachers are back on the job after the teachers strike before changing their work environment. Moving ahead without them is as childish as changing your name to Hugh Jass…and nowhere near as funny.