by Gracie Bucklew
Kindergarten through fifth grade is the prime time when our minds and core understandings of life and ourselves are being molded by our guardians, the media, other kids, and perhaps most intensely, by school. It is the time during which we learn the basics of life: how you’re expected to treat others, the difference between right and wrong, and how you’re supposed to be and act if you’re a girl and if you’re a boy. These core understandings, if misconstrued, incomplete, biased, or outright wrong, can seriously skew our expectations of others and our self-image and identity. Thus, it is imperative school curriculum include a diversity of perspectives and life experiences throughout all grades, but especially, in the early years. Seattle progressed in this regard earlier this school year with the introduction of a new K-5 Gender Book Kit.
Assembled by a task force of parents, teachers, librarians, and public health workers and piloted in a dozen Seattle Public Schools (SPS), the Book Kit ultimately aims to “provide accurate, age-appropriate information about gender identity and expression.” Inclusive curriculum like this kit validates trans students by allowing them to see themselves reflected in school assignments and lessons. (Please note: I am a cis student writing about trans issues. I am not an expert.) Contrary to popular belief, excluding trans issues and history from curriculum does not simply ignore that population, it sends a very clear message to them that they do not matter and their narratives do not belong in our schools, just as they themselves do not.
Inclusive curriculum also has measurable benefits. 75.2% of LGBTQ+ students report having somewhat or very accepting peers if their school has an inclusive curriculum, compared to 39.6% if it doesn’t. This social acceptance rating increase is stark. Students in schools with an inclusive curriculum hear negative remarks about transgender people and gender expression less frequently. They are also half as likely to experience severe victimization, compared to students in schools without an inclusive curriculum.
While moving in the right direction with this kit, Seattle still falls short. The Book Kit is but only a resource for teachers who seek it. The argument for keeping inclusive curriculum optional is weak. It sends a message loud and clear to trans students: It’s optional to acknowledge your existence in our schools. It’s optional to acknowledge your history in our schools. It’s optional to acknowledge your body in our schools. It’s optional to acknowledge your lived experience in our schools.
Further, consisting of a measly one little book and one little lesson per grade for six years, the Book Kit is a nearly laughable advance toward the end goal of total trans inclusion and integration in school curriculum. This is hopeful but insufficient representation.
In my investigation of SPS, I learned that none of the 12 schools piloting the Book Kit mention it anywhere on their website, which isn’t incredibly shocking; all of the SPS websites woefully need tremendous updating and attention. Also, not all of the 12 schools participating reported having actually received the materials for the kit, defeating the entire purpose of the rollout. Many of the office administrators both at schools participating in the pilot and not participating in the pilot had not heard of the kit at all, which leads me to believe the district is not excited enough about this new development in curriculum or else more people would know about it.
Only when every elementary school in Seattle is utilizing the Book Kit, only when the Book Kit expands to more than one book and one lesson per grade, only when this learning and exploration continues into middle and high school, only when the Book Kit seems insignificant contrasted to the great inclusive curriculum SPS uses, only when trans inclusive curriculum is mandated at every grade level in every school, only then will SPS successfully “build empathy for people whose experiences are different from their own and reflect the lived experiences of students, families, and friends.”
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Gracie Bucklew is a musician, artist, Unitarian Universalist, intersectional feminist, and activist and contributes a regular local pop-culture column to the Emerald. She is currently a student at The Center School. She lives on Beacon Hill with one of her moms, and is a lifelong resident of Rainier Beach with her other mom. She loves her friends, cats, and ice cream.
Featured image by Carolyn Bick