Transgender bathrooms not the only diversity issue facing schools

don mugshot july 2016 (2)By Don Kirkland

Commentary

When I was in high school in L.A. in the mid-1950s, the popular TV show “Leave It To Beaver” pretty much  characterized our lives
as teenagers.

Ward, June, Wally and The Beav, along with their real-world counterparts, comprised most of the families we knew and, in the latter example, hung out with.

Oh, sure, there were some kids we considered unhip (read Eddie Haskell and Lumpy), but I don’t recall that we spent much time thinking about them or giving them a hard time because of their heritage, their appearance or how they fit (or didn’t) into what we thought normalcy should look like.

That was how things were more than 50 years ago, if you do the math.

Today’s environment is so markedly different for teens and their parents that one might think we’re living in another century—Oops: We are.

Which leads me also to realize that although we’ve made huge strides in technology, medicine and other scientific endeavors, our advances toward better understanding the ranges of human diversity seem not only less noteworthy but in many cases worse.

I regularly walk my dog for a couple of miles every morning and use the time to catch up on the news, thanks to my little pocket radio that stays tuned to NPR. And, being a news junkie, I subscribe to two papers: The Arizona Republic and The New York Times.

I can’t help but take note of the abundance of coverage involving the transgender-bathroom hullaballoo, now expanded to include the entire transgender phenomenon, which has drawn interest from many sides: those who fear their children will be exposed to an unnatural (and, if it were proven, understandably undesired) likelihood of cross-gender hanky-panky, along with those who see this new transition simply as a controversy that has been over-discussed, over-analyzed and seemingly way overblown.

So all of these somewhat random thoughts prompted me to call Jill Hanks, the Tempe Union High School District’s public-information officer, to learn just what exactly is happening in the world of transgenderism in the hallways (and, not to lose sight of the origins of this discussion, bathrooms) at Corona del Sol, Marcos de Niza, McClintock and Tempe high schools.

Jill’s measured, and I felt thoughtful, response was that high schools in the Tempe Union domain are not working on the transgender question exclusively but on the many-faceted tentacles of diversity in their entirety.

Beyond that bit of conversation, she felt that the district’s superintendent, Dr. Kenneth Baca, would be the most articulate spokesman for what’s being done in our local high schools; what if any resources may be coming into play; and what realistic hopes are being brought into focus for the long-range future.

She was right.

My request obviously wasn’t the first time Dr. Baca has been asked about this issue nor the first time he’s given it deep and, in my view, productive thought.

In a few words, Dr. Baca expresses the notion that today’s generation of teens looks at the world entirely differently than did his (and, once again, mine in 1950s-era L.A.). Nor does the transgender evolution represent a stand-alone discussion but rather has become part of a broader examination by our educational leadership exploring the entire scope of diversity-related challenges.

“We continue to address the diversity around us to help ensure that all of our students feel safe and understood and included,” Baca told me.

“We want to make it clear that it’s OK to be different. We’re all human; we may look different, we may act different but we share our commonality in many ways.”

Editor’s note: Tempe Union High Schools have announced they expect to have a newly filled Director of Diversity hired in time for the start of the 2016-17 school year.

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