Transgender guy standing in front of man and woman toilet.
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The Bottom Line The Radical Reshaping of K-12 Public Education (Part 1): Gender Redefinition & Self-Selection

Originally published at The American Spectator

[Editor’s Note: This is Part One of a three-part article. Click to read Part Two: Civics & History and Part Three: Critical Race Theory & Woke Academics.]

Extreme ideologies are quickly taking root in U.S. K-12 public schools through new school policies, practices, and curriculums — with devastating effects on students. Unfortunately, Americans are mainly turning a blind eye instead of speaking up against political and social indoctrination that threatens our children’s education and the very fabric of our nation.

One radical development is in the area of sex/gender. Although the terms are historically used interchangeably, a shift has occurred in recent decades, with sex primarily referring to a biological category or anatomy, and gender referring to a person’s thinking or feelings about who they are. Over the past several years, schools have increasingly embraced the cultural redefinition of gender – from male and female to a host of created alternatives. Despite the biological reality of only two distinct sexes formed in the womb and birthed, schools embrace, and in some cases actively promote, student questioning and then self-selecting their gender based upon how they feel.

The Gender Unicorn

Starting as early as preschool and kindergarten, taxpayer money is funding radical sex education content. Just one example is the Gender Unicorn (an iteration of the Genderbread Person), a purple cartoon image featuring hearts and rainbows. Adopted in 2016 by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in Charlotte, North Carolina, Gender Unicorn use has spread nationwide and into Canada. The Washington State ASCD Curriculum in Context Spring/Summer 2020 lists the Gender Unicorn as one of several “educational materials” for teachers. The Alberta Teacher’s Association includes the Gender Unicorn in their 152-page teacher toolkit aimed at cultivating LBGTQ-inclusive classrooms.

The character is designed to look endearing to young children, similar to the popular Barney or Boz. However, this unicorn walks students through self-selecting their gender identity, their gender expression, the gender they’re physically attracted to, and the gender they’re emotionally attracted to. Each option includes not only categories such as women/men and feminine/masculine but also “other.” Even their “sex assigned at birth” is open to interpretation — it includes female and male, but also “other/intersex.”

According to Ely Sanders, the Sexual Health and School Health Specialist for the Oregon Department of Education, “We have more and more kindergartners coming out and identifying.” Show young students the purple unicorn and ask them to choose from various options, and you’ll undoubtedly receive all sorts of interesting answers. Talk to any five-year-old for ten minutes, and you will be entertained and likely given misinformation on any number of topics. But without prompting or exposure to these concepts from adults, young students would surely not form the suggested conclusions.

Most kindergarteners don’t know how to read, tie their shoes, or recite their home address. But instead of teaching the academic basics, schools are now actively promoting identity confusion, emotional harm, and insecurity — negative impacts that last a lifetime. It’s no wonder that child and adolescent mental health issues are on a steep rise when students are taught to question their own identity and select from an ever-growing list of confusing options.

Meanwhile, parents are widely uninformed about what’s occurring in classrooms related to this material. For example, a concerned parent of a second-grade student in Oregon reached out to the teacher after her child was exposed to the Genderbread Person without any prior communication. (Tragically, the teaching of gender identity and fluidity and other LGBTQ concepts in social studies and science often come with no warning or option for parents to opt their students out). Her concerns were dismissed and the request for a meeting with the teacher to discuss was denied. Instead, the teacher directed the parent to the principal, who responded that gender identity is something our society historically has failed to talk about and declared it a positive development that students are being taught about this topic now.

Furthermore, the principal stated that gender identity teaching could occur throughout the school year in all subject areas. And while Oregon allows opt-out in health classes, the principal reminded the parent that the opt-out option does not apply to non-health classes. This deceptive strategy by the school evidently meets the letter of the law by providing parent communication and opt-out privileges regarding “sensitive health content.” However, it clearly violates the spirit of the law and circumvents parental control over the indoctrination of their children. 

Another example of this type of indoctrination is from Bethel School District in Washington State. Recently students were assigned to complete a survey related to COVID-19, in which students in grades six to twelve (i.e., as young as ten years old) were asked to select their gender. Options included “male, female, transgender, questioning/not sure of my gender identity, or something else that fits better.” Next, the survey asked students to indicate their sexual orientation from the provided options: heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or “something else that fits better.” Parents were not informed of the survey content, which plants seeds regarding sexual orientation gender identity confusion. When questioned, the district spokesperson refused to respond other than to pass the buck, saying people could talk to the survey creators. One Washington parent fittingly asked, “is the state’s intent to inject transgender and hyper-sexuality into everything they do?”

Defeat Radical Indoctrination

We need your help. An unprecedented campaign is underway to win the hearts and minds of vulnerable children in classrooms across America with extreme ideologies. Public schools are being transformed into radical indoctrination centers pushing gender redefinition and self-selection, rewriting history, and promoting Critical Race Theory.

It’s not too late to intervene and reverse these new radical policies, practices, and curriculums that go against our country’s best interest and that of our students. The American Center for Transforming Education, a program of Discovery Institute, is defending American ideals and fighting against radical indoctrination in our schools. As a non-profit organization, our work is made possible only by the generosity of our supporters.

Taking action now is critical because those promoting radical ideologies are becoming ever more aggressive in systematically pushing their agenda in our K-12 schools, with alarming success.

Will you join in a growing movement to expose and end this damaging indoctrination taking place in our schools?


The indoctrination of the young doesn’t end in elementary classrooms. Students of all ages are not only allowed but encouraged to use the school bathroom of their choosing: boys or girls, men or women, male or female. Furthermore, in the name of “safety,” an increasing number of districts restrict faculty and staff from entering these student bathrooms to ensure nothing inappropriate or unsafe occurs.

Hindering the rights and safety of most students in an attempt to promote and foster student gender confusion in others, in secret from parents, is not only unconstitutional but mistreatment of all students.

The policy defies common sense. Anyone who has gone to school knows that bathrooms have always been a prime place for student misbehavior — cheating, bullying, drinking, doing and selling drugs, and beyond. Obviously, those making mischief fervently hoped that teachers and administrators wouldn’t barge in and put a stop to their activities. Imagine how bad things could get now when students know that adults cannot enter the bathrooms. With zero supervision, a boy can walk into a girl’s bathroom at any time, stay as long as he wants, do what he wants — all without fear of an adult stopping him. At a minimum, one would think that the legal liability schools would be subject to from this kind of policy would give them pause. But clearly, in today’s schools, ideology and political correctness supersede protecting students and common sense.

Locker Rooms

The same logic that gives ideology supremacy over all else also applies to locker rooms. Adults know that even changing clothes for P.E. in the presence of same-sex peers can challenge the modesty and comfort level of many pre-teens and teenagers. Now imagine a locker room that welcomes students of the opposite sex to enter at will. 

To understand how this would feel, imagine trying on a new outfit at the mall in a dressing room void of private stalls and shared with those of the opposite sex. To avoid embarrassment, most of us would risk buying the clothing without trying it on and endure the hassle of return it if it didn’t fit once we tried it on at home. It’s baffling how parents would put up with their child being subjected to such conditions.

Athletic Fields & Arenas

But it doesn’t stop there. The new wave of self-selection of one’s gender identity has extended beyond bathrooms and locker rooms to athletic fields and arenas. Boys who describe themselves as transgender are given the opportunity to compete on girls’ athletic teams, which in turn denies girls who would otherwise have received positions on teams, playing time, victories, and school records.  

Until recently, there has been a nearly universal acknowledgment that the biological differences between male and female bodies make it inappropriate for boys to compete against girls, or men against women, in most sports (there are a few exceptions, such as archery, sailing, and equestrian events in which the size and strength of men are not necessarily advantageous). But now, girls have to prove they are not only the fastest, strongest, or most skilled female athlete, but that they can also beat biological males who choose to identify as female.

Some may think it unlikely that biological boys will compete as girls in high school sports. But the current reality proves otherwise. Only twelve states prohibit the practice, while nine have no policy, and ten states allow it after the transgender athlete has undergone a form of treatment. Nineteen states, plus Washington D.C., allow it without any restriction related to the athlete’s testosterone level.

Some have gone so far in their efforts to rationale transgender sports that they have lost sight of biological reality. CNN breaking news reporter Devan Cole, in his article entitled South Dakota’s governor issues executive order banning transgender athletes from women’s sports, falls into this category. Cole writes, “It’s not possible to know a person’s gender identity at birth, and there is no consensus criteria for assigning sex at birth.” No consensus criteria for assigning sex at birth? Every baby comes out of the womb with either XY or XX chromosomes, and in all but the rarest of conditions, unequivocal male or female specific body parts. That’s a plainly observable scientific fact. Cole’s absurd claim went viral, and CNN had no choice but to walk it back.

The Equality Act

The battle is not only being fought at the state level. Should the Equality Act, recently passed by the U.S. House, make it through the Senate, schools that aren’t currently taking part in transgender access to bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams will likely be forced to implement such measures by federal law. Consequently, students who claim transgender status will be granted almost unrestricted privileges, while the vast majority of students who acknowledge their birth gender will have their rights slashed. As usual, parental consent is nowhere considered in all these fiats. As Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia, aptly warns, the bill goes too far: “It protects the rights of one side, but attempts to destroy the rights of the other side.”

Parental consent was once a basic requirement — parents were deemed to have the final say regarding what was taught to their elementary, middle, and high school students. No more.  Consent is not sought or granted, but instead, school personnel are even instructed to deceive parents regarding what occurs during their student’s school day. Appallingly, these are not one-off situations but united, intentional efforts orchestrated by powerful organizations.

For example, consider Schools in Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools, a jointly produced document of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Human Rights Campaign, Gender Spectrum, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National Education Association (NEA). In short, the guide demands that school personnel treat as a boy any girl who identifies as a boy, and as a girl any boy who identifies as a girl. Age, immaturity, and impact on peers are not worth consideration. Instead, the document reads, “A student’s age and maturity — or that of their peers — should never be a basis for denying a transgender student an opportunity to transition.”

It should give the public, especially parents of public school students, great concern when the ACLU gets involved. As attorney Alan Dershowitz observes, the organization “is no longer a neutral defender of everyone’s civil liberties,” but “has morphed into a hyper-partisan, hard-left political advocacy group.” The four activist groups are working in partnership with the largest U.S. teacher’s union, the NEA (which maintains a tight grip on the reins of teachers’ purse strings) to advance an activist agenda with members who, in turn, incorporate the material into their classrooms.

School administrators label parents who do not go along with their child or teen affirming transgender feelings or condoning transgender behavioral choices as unsupportive and potentially dangerous. The guide states:

Privacy and confidentiality are critically important for transgender students who do not have supportive families. In those situations, even inadvertent disclosures could put the student in a potentially dangerous situation at home, so it is important to have a plan in place to help avoid any mistakes or slip-ups.

Schools in Transition: A Guide for Supporting Transgender Students in K-12 Schools

In other words, school personnel are instructed to create plans to intentionally withhold information from parents and legal guardians. According to research by Ryan T. Anderson, “they want to set up a school environment so your child or grandchild can transition at school without you knowing about it…to avoid any ‘inadvertent disclosures.’”

More specifically, Anderson explains:

You could drop your son off at school at 8:00 a.m., and he would go to the principal’s office where a new wardrobe would be waiting for him. And he could change into a dress, put on nail polish, lipstick, make-up, and spend the day at school presenting as if a girl — be referred to by a new name and with a new pronoun throughout the school day. At the end of the day go back to the principal’s office, change back into his original clothes, take off the make-up, the lipstick, and the nail polish. And be picked up by you, without you ever knowing what is going on at school. They even have a way — and this is what they mean when they say they have a plan in place — to ensure that inside of school they’ll use the new name and the new pronoun but externally when communicating with you, the parents, they will go back to using the given name and the proper pronoun, entirely to undermine your role as parents.

Ryan T. Anderson, President of the Ethics & Public Policy Center and Founding Editor of Public Discourse

In its subversion of parental rights to oversee the education and care of their children, the overreach and deceit by our public schools is a clear violation of the equal protection requirement of the 14th Amendment. Additionally, it is a violation of the 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which grants parents the rights of their children’s school records.

The move to subvert parental rights is not an isolated phenomenon. It is taking place in Montgomery County, Maryland, a Chicago suburb, the Metropolitan School District in Madison, Wisconsin, the New Jersey Department of Education, and the Los Angeles Unified School District, to name a few — and even at a national level through the NEA. A backlash is beginning to form, as the failure of school staff to communicate forthrightly with parents about their child, and the disregard for obtaining parental consent have resulted in a handful of sizable court cases with more likely in the future.

Addressing Gender Dysphoria

According to the Mayo Clinic, gender dysphoria is “the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics.” The American Psychiatric Association defines gender dysphoria as “clinically significant distress or impairment related to a strong desire to be of another gender, which may include desire to change primary and/or secondary sex characteristics.”

Rather than working secretively and at odds with parents, schools should offer support services similar to those provided to students experiencing other significant distress such as anxiety, depression, and self-harm. Professional services are necessary and traditional schools cannot always accommodate these students’ needs, which warrant specialized, expert care.

Journalist Abigail Shrier poses an important question: Why is it that two percent of high school students (female girls by majority) now describe themselves as transgender when prior to 2012, according to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it was associated with 0.01 percent of the population? Of these cases, almost none were teenage girls. Before 2012, the majority of individuals expressing gender dysphoria were boys ages two to four. Lisa Littman, Public Health Researcher at Brown University, conducted in-depth research regarding the sudden and dramatic shift from gender dysphoria claims, from predominately males to females and preschoolers to teenagers. Littman found peer influence and social media were key contributors. For example, influencers “insist that if you feel uncomfortable in your body you’re probably trans.” But what teenage girl hasn’t felt uncomfortable or unhappy with her body at some point?

Tragically, in some states an adolescent minor can walk out of a gender clinic with a prescription for gender altering hormones without parental permission. Even the most liberal medical experts argue that these puberty-blocking medications aren’t safe — they cause loss of body density, a high risk of infertility for girls, sexual dysfunction, and lifelong, irreversible physical damage. The emotional damage of these drugs is just as severe, including thoughts and behaviors of regret, anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide. Politically and socially liberal Sweden took a courageous step and is the first country to oppose the World Professional Association for Transgender Health promotion of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for children younger than age 16.

Gender Pronouns

Student confusion is further fueled by the new norm of public school teachers and administrators listing the pronouns they desire to be referred by. According to the Trans Student Educational Resources (TSER) website, “There are no ‘male/female’ or ‘man/woman’ pronouns. All pronouns can be used for any gender and are gender neutral.” Furthermore, pronouns should not be referred to as “preferred” as that “can accidentally insinuate that using the correct pronouns for someone is optional.”

Even correct grammar takes a back seat to the new gender ideology. Beyond she/her/hers and he/him/his, students are instructed to refer to individuals with the plural they/them/theirs. New pronouns include ze/zir/zirs and beyond. The TSER gender pronoun chart includes a bold warning: “these are not the only pronouns. There is an infinite number of pronouns as new ones emerge in our language.” Infinite? Prepare for a complicated future.

Concluding Thoughts

With the vast majority of students accepting their sex and gender from birth, creative solutions for those facing transgender thoughts and gender dysphoria, which do not trample on the rights of others, would be reasonable. This might include, for example, a separate private bathroom available to any student. Ultimately, the care and safety of all children must be of utmost importance. Hindering the rights and safety of most students in an attempt to promote and foster student gender confusion in others, in secret from parents, is not only unconstitutional but mistreatment of all students.

The radical reshaping of K-12 public education not only includes school policies and practices. Extreme ideologies are quickly infiltrating the academic content. Part Two of this series will examine the failure to teach civics and the redefining of U.S. history.

Are you concerned about educating the next generation?
The American Center for Transforming Education is a program of Discovery Institute, a non-profit organization fueled by its supporters. Will you help us advance the timely and vital work of transforming our K-12 education system so that it better serves students and their families?