Recently, when I mentioned I wasn’t yet part of any homeschooling support groups, a (non-homeschooling) friend mentioned a local co-op called Branches, so I looked it up. It is far more structured and school-like than I am interested in, and also has several concerning (to me) points in its code of conduct and statement of faith. When choosing a homeschool group, as when selecting a private school, it is important to read through to that level of detail because no matter where the co-op or school falls academically, it will be detrimental to your child if its culture differs dramatically from your home culture or endorses cultish or prejudiced beliefs.
Some of those concerning aspects were (unfortunately) fairly familiar to me – the parent must sign a strict statement of faith, and must cede to the group’s board the final word on the interpretation of that faith. Considering they are not my pastors, nor theologians, nor even members of my church, I don’t think they can legitimately claim to have that level of authority. I did appreciate their honesty, however, in stating that while they believe the Bible is the final authority it is their interpretation of that authority that will have the ultimate say… it reveals a weak point in Protestant understandings of religious authority in general.
However, one point that I had not run across before was as follows. In a list of forbidden behaviors, along with things like cheating and bullying, the group prohibits “personal appearance and behavior contrary to one’s biological sex.”
That is so broad and vague. While it was most likely intended in a transphobic manner, it is so loosely worded that it essentially prohibits all display of non-gender-stereotypical behavior. So… apparently in this group, math is only for boys, and the girls can’t be competitive in STEM topics or hope for a career as a scientist. Apparently, it’s inappropriate here for little boys to wear pink and purple shirts, or play house, or take care of baby dolls (because heaven forbid they grow up to be engaged and involved fathers when they have babies of their own). Apparently, girls need to wear makeup, do their hair neatly, wear skirts, and make sure they stay clean when they play; boys on the other hand should probably get muddy every so often to avoid an appearance of girliness. According to the words in this code of conduct, it is ok for girls to giggle and cry with each other, but boys should stick to anger and aggression if they have strong emotions. If a girl does just happen to be athletic, she should definitely stick with acceptable sports like gymnastics and volleyball, and avoid playing pick-up basketball or touch football with the boys. And just to be on the safe side, boys should play with boys, and girls should play with girls, to ensure that all the play is happily gender-conforming.
How can a child feel free to explore the fullness of the world around them if they have to be worried about stepping over a (socially-constructed, averages-based, generally-applicable, ambiguous) line all the time? Even a feminine, female-identifying, biologically female individual is going to have some aspects of their personality and behavior that fall outside female gender-stereotypical lines (for example, I am a cis-gendered female who likes my hair cut very short, does not wear makeup or heels, and has a career in the hard sciences). In this group, would that behavior be censored in a (transphobic) attempt to force all people into one or other of two black-and-white categories? I’m guessing it wouldn’t be – but the exceptions would be tolerated in an unpredictable, social-norms-based way (kind of negating the whole emphasis on biological differences) instead of by any sort of reliable and consistent rubric, which creates confusion and has the potential to lead to shame or stigma.
And finally, because this is what this kind of discriminatory rule is really intended to address, what happens to the child who actually struggles with gender dysphoria? Here, they would not be met with support and help, but with shame and rejection. Here, they would be told that because their brains and their bodies aren’t in sync, they are unfit to be part of an educational activity with other children (a mixed-gender educational activity, no less). Here, they would be told that the shape of their body is more important than their identity, their natural inclinations, their talents and giftings, and their mental health and emotional well-being.
That isn’t ok with me.
Trying to discriminate against one group of people usually ends up this way, with the implementation of vague social rules that constrain and restrict all sorts of unintended behaviors while adding to the stigma and isolation faced by the target group. I would rather be with people who may not always act as I would, but who accept and love each other anyway, around whom I can be my authentic self and know their authentic selves. While this co-op may have good things to offer, they don’t outweigh the negatives of prejudice and social control. After all, we are homeschooling in part so that our children can be free to explore, learn, and grow in their own time and in their own way; we don’t need a group of self-appointed parental “experts” trying to shape us into their acceptable mold anymore than we need the public school system doing so. And I am sure that in the right time, we will find the right group and homeschool community for our family.