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Monday, April 22, 2024
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Education: “It’s All About The Kids”

When one asks a teacher why they got into the teaching pro­fession, the answer is never “because the money is so good” (it’s not), “because I wanted a job where I get three months off during the summer” (you don’t), or “be­cause I have such in­credible knowledge about my field of ex­perience that I wanted to share it with the world” (students sel­dom care about their teacher’s background and knowledge until they know that their teachers care about them as people).

Typically, what one hears as a response to the above question has something to do with “it’s all about the kids”. Those who don’t have this mind­set, usually exit the profession after one or two years. Why? Because being an edu­cator is difficult, chal­lenging, stressful and incredibly rewarding though one typical­ly has to get through several “trial by fire” years before experi­encing the rewards.

Education serves a purpose that goes be­yond simply transmit­ting “knowledge”. The Lake Superior District has a concise, focused declaration of its pur­pose and mission en­titled, “Anchor Our Future”. This state­ment can be found on the District website. It reads, “Lake Supe­rior School District has a long legacy of helping students de­velop the skills and knowledge they need to pursue their dreams. That has always been our mission and our promise. Together, our schools in Silver Bay and Two Harbors prepare students for life beyond our class­rooms, whether they choose to attend col­lege or start their ca­reers.”

Such an educational mission is critical not only with regard to the future lives that dis­trict students will pur­sue, but it is essential to our society as a whole. Why? We expect to live in a civil, free, function­al society if we don’t have a well-educated population. It takes informed citizens to maintain a healthy, prosperous democracy.

Fulfilling this mission requires that district staff show up every day to teach students to think for themselves so that they grow to in­terpret, understand and appreciate the com­plexity, bless­ings, challenges and shortcomings that exist as a part of our Nation’s collective past, present and, as we face the future.

It requires a teaching staff that can inspire students to think crit­ically and analytically so that students grow in their ability to create new knowledge, de­velop new medicines, create cleaner energy systems, build better houses and push entre­preneurial, artistic and scientific boundaries. This is, after all, how we address pressing issues and advance as a society.

Corporate America is demanding a work­force where employ­ees are literate, able to work as part of a team, have emo­tional intelligence, are open to diversity, have strong time man­agement skills, have strong communica­tion and negotiation skills and are teach­able. These are skills that are taught in our public schools and go beyond the curricular designations of Lan­guage Arts, Science, Math, Social Studies, etc.

We live in an incred­ibly complex and di­verse society. This reality makes some people uneasy, but these complexities and di­versities are not going away. In fact, they are here to stay. As lyricist and drummer Neill Peart (Rush) wrote, “Changes aren’t per­manent, but change is.”

The issue of Gen­der Identity recently came up at a school board meeting and as I listened to some of the discussion, the thought, “It’s all about the kids” came to mind. School com­munities have been considering the gen­der identity issue for years and though the issue may seem “new” to some, gender diver­gence has been a part of human society since the dawn of recorded history. There is ac­tually a large body of research that can and should inform educa­tors and all of us about this issue as it relates to how we educate all students.

Transgender kids are, in many ways, like any other kid. In order to learn at an optimal level, which is what we expect from our public schools, they need to feel safe. They need to know that they are seen, heard, and valued. Like any oth­er student, they need to be recognized for their talents and abili­ties and encouraged to reach for a bright and reward­ing. Transgender kids also face a unique set of challenges. They struggle with gender dysphoria, anxiety, depression and often, suicidality. Like any adolescent, they are in a natural, yet chal­lenging process of de­veloping and express­ing their identity and they need to be able to do so in a support­ive environment, free from the judgments of those who are un­familiar or uncom­fortable with trans. If we mean it when we say “it’s all about the kids”, we have to take these unique challenges into ac­count. School districts have done this, by the way, when it comes to serving the diverse needs of students who are from marginalized racial, ethnic, and cul­tural groups. Schools have done this in order to meet the education­al needs of students with Au­tism Spectrum Disorder or stu­dents that have other unique educational or psycho-social needs. Embracing these di­fferences is part of the mission of public ed­ucation. If we fail to recognize and consid­er students who are transgender, the sen­timent “it’s all about the kids” becomes, “it’s only about some kids.” Ultimately, that translates into policies and behaviors where “only some kids” get to feel safe, be seen, are valued, encour­aged and supported so that they can find their place in the wider world. Unfortunately, we have a long history in this country regard­ing the sentiment that, “It’s only about some kids.” Think about the legacy of Indian Boarding schools and Jim Crow segregation and consider the im­pacts on the quality of education and life of children so afflicted. If we allow that only some are worthy, then we are in effect teach­ing our children that it’s alright to discrim­inate, marginalize and demean people that are “different.” Ha­ven’t we, as a nation, had enough of that? Doesn’t that fly in the face of the ideas of equality before the law and the God-given right to self-determina­tion?

Personally, I believe teachers when I know they have been in the trenches for years, and I hear them say, “It’s all about the kids”. Their track record proves it. The Lake Superior School District is rec­ognizing the fact that transgender students are attending Lake County schools. This is not about promot­ing or endorsing some current cultural trend. It is simply about rec­ognizing that there are transgender members of the school com­munity and applying that fact to fulfilling the School District’s mission and promise, for each and every kid that comes through the doors.

I graduated from high school in the mid-1970s, in a time when issues of sexual and gender identity were not open topics of conversation. Howev­er, we as students did have our suspicions about who “those” kids were. More often than not, they were quiet, kept to them­selves and were often openly ridiculed and bullied by their peers. Our teachers and ad­ministrators did little to intervene on their behalf. Haven’t we had enough of that?

I retired a couple of years ago after a 38-year career as a high school social studies teacher. I am relative­ly new to Two Har­bors. I have no desire to offend anyone or pick a fight over sensi­tive social issues. I do, however, applaud the Lake Superior School District for their ef­forts to recognize the educational needs of transgender students and set policies to ad­dress those needs. I unequivocally stand with LGBTQ+ stu­dents and all students who are marginalized by current cultural prejudices. Readers are not expected to take my word regard­ing any of the content of this article. I en­courage all readers to educate themselves on these matters. Includ­ed below are some of the resources that I have used to inform some of what has been written in this article. One can Google these sources as a starting point, if one wants to know more about the importance of recog­nizing, educating and supporting kids who are transgender.

Education. It truly needs to be “all about the kids.’’ Every one of them!

Why Does Democracy Need Education?
Top Business Skills for Success on the Job Transgender youth in school
Sex Redefined: The Idea of 2 Sexes Is Overly Simplistic
U.S. Departments of Justice and Educa­tion,
Joint Guidance to Help Schools En­sure
The Rights of Transgender Students
The Legacy of Indian Boarding Schools.

Rick Evans
Rick Evans
My wife, Marsha Kinzer (a proud DEHS Greyhound, class of ‘77) introduced me to the North Shore on vacation in 2012. It became our regular escape when the stress of our careers in education became overwhelming, and it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the breathtaking scenery, the nice people, and “salad” containing Jell-o and marshmallows. So you can either blame or thank my loving wife for my being here, because when we needed to choose a retirement hometown, Marsha advocated hard for her beloved Duluth, and here we are, six months later. Yes, this will be my first northern Minnesota winter. Yes, I welcome thoughts and prayers. Government, public policy, and social justice weighed heavily in the curriculums I taught at the high school level over a thirty-eight year career. In addition, we were a laboratory school focused on critical thinking in conjunction with technical and scientific writing. So when I found myself adrift on the great ocean of retirement and spied a raft, I jumped at the chance to take up what I’d left behind…minus the bad teachers’ lounge coffee. My position at the NSJ allows me to combine my passions for government and writing, and it’s helping me to feel less out of touch in new surroundings. When I’m not being “Cubby” (Marsha’s favorite new nickname for this green reporter) I enjoy pointing at eagles and saying, “Look, honey. There’s an eagle.” I’ve had an active side hustle as a professional musician for almost as many years as Charlie Parr. As a guitarist/singer/songwriter, I graced the stages of clubs and festivals around southern Wisconsin, including an appearance on A Prairie Home Companion. Should I even mention A Prairie Home Companion, or am I the only one here old enough to remember what that is? Look! An eagle!
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