The Australian, by Rebecca Urban. Student teachers are being schooled in gender studies, including the contentious idea that gender and sexuality are socially constructed and changeable, sparking concerns about the topic’s rising influence in classrooms.
Universities, including Sydney, the Queensland University of Technology, Wollongong and Melbourne’s La Trobe, all offer units of study focusing on gender and sexual diversity, gender and social justice or sexuality education for teachers.
The subjects are available to those studying early childhood education as well as primary and secondary teaching courses.
The revelation comes in the wake of ongoing controversy around the Safe Schools anti-bullying program, which critics argue is steeped in gender theory, as well as the emergence of a respectful relationships curriculum in schools, which promotes a feminist view that inequality in opposite-sex relationships is at the core of family violence.
The University of Sydney’s elective unit, called Young People, Sex and Sexual Health, is offered to teaching students and promises to foster a “new view of the ways in which the sexual identities of young people are often constructed from outside influences”.
“Still not quite sure what all the letters in LGBTPPQQIIAA stand for or why it’s really important to know them?”, says a brochure promoting the unit. “Wonder no more — in this unit you will learn why issues of sex, sexuality and sexual health for young people are considered ‘difficult and contested knowledge’ and how institutions go about dealing with this.”
The semester-long unit cites the work of US comedian turned social justice activist Sam Killerman and provocative sex educator Janet Hardy, who identifies as a “girl fag” (a gay man in a woman’s body) and promotes gender fluidity. Among the list of suggested readings is a TedX lecture given by Killerman, who claims “gender is something we all learn about as kids, but we learn a very limited concept about a concept that’s truly unlimited”.
“The biological characteristics of sex you’re born with don’t really have any mandate on who you’ll grow up to be,” he says.
“People who are born with penises are taught to be boys; people who are born with vaginas are taught to be girls.”
The course also relies on the work of La Trobe University’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, which spawned the Safe Schools initiative.
Bachelor of Teaching students at the Melbourne college are required to undertake a compulsory subject called Diversity: Relationships, Gender and Sexuality in their fourth year. Topics include psychosocial development, influences on construction of gender and sexual identity, and violence in relationships.
A spokesman for La Trobe said the unit had been designed to help pre-service teachers develop a better understanding of their students, including their social and emotional development.
A University of Sydney spokesman said the Young People, Sex and Sexual Health unit was available this year to students enrolled in more than 30 degrees, including education. It will continue to run next year. Jennifer Buckingham, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies, agreed that teachers should be educated on issues around diversity, preferably “in ways that have been informed by good research”.
However, she queried the prominence given to the subject lately and urged “perspective”.
“To have a whole course devoted to gender and sexuality issues, or a whole subject, seems to me to be a bit unnecessary,” Dr Buckingham said.
“Delving into gender theory is really beyond what a high school … teacher needs to know.”