Let's Teach Children How (Not Just What) to Think

02/03/2014 05:40 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016


I was born to two educators, people who deeply believe in the responsibility and power of our schools to ready children for life. During their 60+ years of combined experience, they have had profound impacts on students, educational institutions and their community. They are smart and compassionate and dedicated, but I think the richness of their success comes from their deep belief in the need to teach children how to think and not just teach them what to think.

Very unfortunately, Utah's Rep. Mike Kennedy (R-Alpine) is proposing a piece of legislation this session that most directly affects transgender children, but also robs all Utah kids the opportunity to learn how to address diversity thoughtfully - an increasingly more vital skill as we continue to become a more global community.

Kennedy's HB87 aims to mandate use of the male or female restrooms in schools based on genetics. With the intent (guise?) of keeping kids safe, this legislation does two things: isolates and nearly completely invalidates the experience of children whose gender identity is not in accord with their biology, and it suggests a problematic and unbecoming institutionalized method of treatment to people who are different.

With transgender visibility on the rise, we have a huge opportunity to teach children what compassion looks like and how to gracefully acknowledge and celebrate diversity. And if we do not take this opportunity, we risk teaching our children an idea we have long worked to deconstruct in this country: that our bodies could or should define our most basic human rights.

I suggest, instead of mandating which students use which restrooms, we mandate informed and constructive dialogues in schools - both about what it means to be transgender, and also what it means to coexist with people who might be different from us in other ways. Let us teach children to be inquisitive and compassionate. Let us teach them the value of empathy and a life led by love, not fear. Let us give them the tools to be kind humans (which are probably far more likely to be used than, say, calculus).

Because, as my mom has long said, "We cannot work to prepare the path for the child; we must prepare the child for the path."