Harvard EdCast: Jennifer Bryan and Rick Weissbourd On Gender and Sexuality in Schools

Rick Weissbourd and Jennifer Bryan

What an honor to create an EdCast with Rick Weissbourd of the Making Caring Common project at Harvard Graduate School of Education. See his article with Rebecca Rolland, Learning About Love: How schools can better prepare students for romantic relationships. If you are involved in a high school or college, you might also consider participating in the Young People’s Romantic Relationships (YPRR) research study. Enjoy!

Brilliant Teaching; Quick Spotlight on Invented Families

What’s the best way to teach kids about all kinds of families?

Answer: invite them to create families that are different from their own.

This thoughtful pedagogy was on display in the Beginners (4-5 y/o) classroom at Shady Hill School in Cambridge last week. Reading books that depict various family configurations is a standard approach to expanding students’ ideas about what and who makes a family. Teachers Maggie Beasley, Laura Ryan and Ruben Raskin went a few steps further.

there are many different kinds of families.


I had the good fortune of exploring photos of the invented families and talking to some of the students who created them.

One child asked me to read the caption on his photo aloud.

a dad, two babies- a sister and a brother, a granddaddy, a big boy, a mom, a nona, two uncles, a mom, a dad and a dog named Spot the fire leaders, brothers, a dad, a kid who is 5 and 16/4, the leader in the family, twins, sisters playing Ring Around The Rosie, a 2 year-old boy, a babysitter, a person who is kind of an uncle and kind of a dad, and a mom


On the other side of the classroom there is a collage of color photos, pictures of the students and their actual families. Maggie told me that students visit both displays regularly—learning about themselves and others—as they talk together about different kinds of families.

Valentine’s Day Pedagogy, PreK-12

What We Can Teach Students On Valentine’s Day

This is it! Your chance to proactively lasso a commercial holiday and turn it into compelling classroom fodder. If Halloween left you numb and dismayed (sweet children and cheeky adolescents wearing violent and sexualized costumes), let Valentine’s Day be a pedagogically corrective experience, for you and your students.

Last month I had the privilege of working with my colleague Debbie Roffman and fifty PreK-12 educators at a welcoming mountain retreat in the Hudson Valley. The setting was picturesque; our topic was complex: Sex, Gender and Sexuality: Educating Students, Supporting Families, and Creating Safer School Communities. Three days full of questions, clarity, contradictions, wonderment, fatigue, inspiration, uncertainty, good humor and plenty of timely resources. Under these conditions, a spunky group of Elementary, Middle and High School educators tackled Saint Valentine’s Day.  Read more

From My Little Pony to the Frat House: Bullying, Harassment, Sexual Assault

As the national conversation about sexual assault on college campuses continues to expand, we must turn our attention to the PreK-12 schools where college students have just spent their formative years. No one wants to imagine that schoolyard bullying could be a precursor to sexual violence. Yet Dorothy Espelage’s recently published study in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence establishes what many of us in Education have grimly surmised for a long time: young adolescent bullies who participate in gender-based and homophobic name-calling are at increased risk for committing sexual violence over time. Dr. Espelage and her colleagues at the University of Illinois previously proposed that a ‘bully-to-sexual-violence pathway” exists, and now there is hard data to support that contention.   Read more

Teaching Out on a Limb: Gender and Sexuality Diversity Education

Honoring Those Who Teach Out On A Limb: Gender and Sexuality Diversity Education

It’s a windy Tuesday night and about 35 parents have turned out for a conversation about Gender Identity in a PreK-5 public school in Brooklyn. During the Q and A a woman identifies herself as a 3rd grade teacher and says “I’m really afraid to have these conversations with my students. It’s great to hear parents talking tonight in a supportive way but…” Her voice trails off. Then she adds, “I just worry about what might happen.”

Read more

Don’t Celebrate LGBT History Month

Back in 1994 a coalition of education-based organizations in the United States designated October as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History Month, and the National Education Association (NEA) made it official in 1995. October is the month to celebrate LGBT history, along with the history of the gay rights movement. There’s also National Coming Out Day on October 11th. Read more

When A 6th Grader Comes Out

Consultation, Please! is a regular feature on the Team Finch Blog. Do you have a question? Quandry? Situation? Send yours in for free consultation.

Here’s the email I received last week from a middle school administrator.

We have a 6th grade girl starting at _____ this year who has already come out. I’d love a few minutes on the phone with you, if possible, to get your thoughts on how to prepare my faculty for this new reality.
Read more

Books for Disrupting Gender Role Stereotypes PreK-6: Clothes!

This is the second in a series of posts organized by themes that offer my favorite books (old and new) for challenging gender role stereotypes Read more

Books for Disrupting Gender Role Stereotypes PreK-5: Sports!

In 2004 my “book list” for elementary teachers was not quite a page long. In the past ten years it has grown to four single-spaced pages. I’m currently in the process of shrinking the list back down to a manageable size, because the good news for those who want to address gender role stereotypes in the classroom, there are now many wonderful, high quality books to choose from.

Look for a series of posts that offer my favorites, old and new, organized by themes. Read more

What “Homophobia” Is Not : Anti-Homophobia Education Reconsidered

My copy of gender and sexualities in education: A Reader just arrived. I have my own article in the book, but I’m excited to read and write about about some of the other rich and timely chapters in this impressive resource. The book is divided into three sections:

  • Section I Gender, Sexualities and the Cultural Politics of Education
  • Section II Beyond the Anti-Bullying Curriculum
  • Section III Queering Teacher Preparation and Higher Education

Elizabeth Meyer, a colleague and friend, and Dennis Carlson have done a superb job of editing this versatile collection, and I plan to highlight a variety of chapters in forthcoming blog posts.

From Section I: Gender, Sexualities and the Cultural Politics of Education

Taking Homophobia’s Measure, by Mary Lou Rasmussen

How does one define homophobia when taking its measure? Is all homophobia the same? If not, then do you need different measures for different types of homophobia? (p.53)

The language of Gender and Sexuality Diversity has been, still is and might always be in in flux. How come? Because the definitions of various terms and the understandings of relevant concepts related to gender and sexuality are highly dependent on context. Rasmussen explores the challenges of defining and measuring “homophobia” across contexts and considers the impact of these challenges on anti-homophobia education.

Her critique of various existing measures of homophobia begins with questions about the desired outcomes that each measure implies. For example, in looking at Riddle’s Scale of Attitudes Rasmussen wonders about the logic behind positioning “celebration” as the end goal for those trying to shift attitudes about homosexuality in a positive direction.



This scale assumes that being celebratory is the strongest and most recommended “state” for someone who is not homophobic. Does that mean that someone who feels appreciative of homosexuals is not as accepting as someone who celebrates homosexuals?

She also questions the attribution of certain negative personality characteristics to those who are deemed homophobic by the measures in question [see Witthaus, D. (2011); Zack, et al (2010)]. “These portraits portray people who are homophobic as paranoid, hateful, conservative, and unable to think for themselves.” (p.55) Similarly, those who have accurately discerned–in a particular context–the unacceptability of citing religious objections to homosexuality (e.g. a university classroom) and thus remain silent, are portrayed as “avoiders.” It’s possible that if the classroom discourse truly favored pluralism, those with differing views would not opt for silence or avoid dialogue.

People who believe that homophobia can be reliably measured also believe that people will become less homophobic with more education, yet Rasmussen cites research that directly challenges this correlation. She wonders about the “repeated tendency to attribute homophobic beliefs to a lack of education, rather than religiosity.” (p.57) When researchers use scales “based on systems of belief that almost ensure that particular groups of people will be classified as homophobic” (p.58), and then label those groups as “ignorant,” the data becomes problematic.

What happens if students do not want to alter their religious beliefs, and the refuse to be silent in the space of the classroom? When does saying no to homophobia become a means by which to discipline specific types of religious beliefs in the classroom? (p. 56)

My Thoughts:

Teachers present this dilemma frequently. How can I respect one family’s religious beliefs when those beliefs denigrate another family? For starters, we need to recognize that the literal definition of homophobia is “an extreme and irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people.” Those who believe that homosexuality is a sin because of religious doctrine consider theirs a moral position. A gay-bashing hate crime is extreme behavior. Following a religion that deems homosexuality a sin is not. And here the universal application and understanding of “homophobia” stumbles badly. If schools support true diversity of thought and experience, then the religious views of rational, educated community members who should not be labeled as homophobic.

The job of schools, then, is to be transparent about the set of values that shape their educational purpose and dictate community behavior. Be clear about what the values are and why they have been chosen. Affirm the dignity and worth of every person. Educate the whole child. Create an equitable and safe learning environment for every student. Prepare students for an increasingly complex global world. Provide students with critical thinking skills that will prepare them for college and to be good citizens. So when a student or family’s personal beliefs conflict with the school’s pursuit of these goals, the school’s educational values must prevail.

Rasmussen, M (2014) Taking Homophobia’s Measure in E. Meyer and D. Carlson (eds). Gender and sexualities in education: A reader. Peter Lang Publishers, New York.