About this sample
About this sample
Words: 1918 |
10 min read
Published: Aug 31, 2023
Words: 1918|Pages: 4|10 min read
This essay will examine a specific educational dilemma that has been discussed in the news and has been a controversial subject these past few years. It shall begin by looking at different ways of understanding gender, school uniform, equality, and education. In essence, this essay will discuss the educational and ethical dilemma of gender and education currently faced by teachers within the diverse South African school context. “There is a plan and a purpose, a value to every life, no matter what its location, age, gender or disability.” - Sharron Angle
Education and teaching are some of the most critical and challenging professions in today’s society. Educators are not only the people who convey knowledge and guide students. They often are a key figure in promoting an affinity to knowledge, creating study habits, and shaping their students into critical thinkers. Therefore, a teacher becomes a guide and mentor for their students. The proximity and frequency of their interactions create a bond between the teacher and a student. It is a popular belief that a good teacher can change the life of their students, either by making them fall in love with certain knowledge areas, giving them life lessons or helping them develop useful habits. On the other hand, the authority of the teacher in the classroom also creates a hierarchy. This dynamic could help to enhance the mentor role. However, in some cases, the teacher is perceived by the students as a dictatorial and antagonist figure. The result of this is a dynamic that impedes educators to accomplish their tasks.
Teachers and educators are also forced to deal with administration issues of their institutions, such as funds, budget, use of uniform and clothes. The proximity and influence they have on their students also create certain ethical issues. One of these issues is the way teachers deal with racial, ethnic, and gender diversity. In the last years, the LGBTQ+ movement has raised awareness about the social nature of the concept of gender. In this context, many people reject identifying themselves with the gender they were imposed when they were born or even to identify with a gender. Also, the feminist movement has challenged the way society establishes certain characteristics, such as clothing, colours, and roles, to women or men. As a result, young adults are expressing their gender identity in ways that oppose school rules and dressing codes. For example, some male teens are starting to wear makeup, wigs, and skinny jeans for school, while some girls prefer to wear tuxedos to school dances. Other examples of these are prohibitions for male teenagers to participate in activities like cheerleading, the lack of feminine sports teams or, the discriminating policies against transgender students (K12academy, 2009).
This represents a dilemma for the teachers. On the one hand, the teacher is supposed to make their students more aware of social issues such as racism, sexism, and homophobia (Delpit, 2006). However, in many cases, the regulations of educational institutions are not aligned with these objectives. These regulations are part of administration structures that no longer work for society anymore. One of the elements that are problematic for the LBGTQ community and girls are uniforms. According to many academics, school uniforms have many benefits for schools and students. School uniforms have shown to lower student victimization, decrease gang activity and fights, differentiating strangers from students in school buildings, enhanced learning environments, heightened school pride, increased student achievement, high levels of preparedness, conformity to organizational goals, increased chance of staying in school, increased commitment to learning, increased use of school setting to the student's advantage and reduce sexual harassment (Brunsma, 1998). The last one could be problematic because it conditions sexual harassment to girls' clothing, which implies girls have a certain responsibility for this kind of aggression.
School uniforms are also problematic for transgender and nonbinary students. Most of these uniforms are based on stereotypical and traditional gender roles. They restrict individual and gender expression by establishing certain clothing to a gender. This conditioning starts in nursery school and pre-school. The skirts and dresses girls are forced to use, prevent them from climbing a tree, playing sports and games with their male partners. These issues could seem harmless and trivial. However, they perpetuate gender roles where girls are not allowed to play sports or participate in male activities. These gender roles evolve in primary school and high school to more harmful beliefs and behaviours. In this way, skirts and dresses promote the belief women should be delicate and feminine, that they should not be strong or participate in physical activities, and that their activities are restricted to home chores.
According to Maarman and Lamont-Mbawuli a learner’s mental health depends on four points: “(1) a sound physical constitution, (2) a nurturing family, (3) a positive school or apprenticeship, as well as (4) a supportive, stable and safe community” (Maarman & Lamont-Mbawuli, 2017). This means that the encounters of a pupil may affect his/her mental state which sequentially also poses a risk, that they might withdraw from school and society as a whole. While outside schools, big clothing brands sell pants and trousers for girls, forcing them to wear skirts to school seems pointless and archaic. This restriction also reinforcers a binary conception of gender, which could exclude many students. Non-binary or transgender students would be conflicted at the time of using a gender-based school uniform. He or she would not only be forced to pretend to be something they are not, but also be forced to deny or hide their identity. By imposing a traditional uniform, the institution creates an environment where the students feel that they are not included or welcomed. This could result in low academic performance and emotional stress for the learners. In South Africa, it is unconstitutional for educators to force a student to wear a uniform that does not reflect their gender identity. Despite this, some schools and institutions continue to impose gender roles on students (Igual, 2018).
An alternative for the traditional uniforms is the gender-neutral uniform, which means there are only trousers or skirts and trousers are allowed to be worn by any student. In some countries such as Australia and England, schools have begun to establish gender-neutral uniforms (Windust, 2019). The purpose behind these actions is to make schools a safe environment where students feel comfortable. Another regulation in schools that affects students in similar ways uniforms do is hair. In many schools, boys are given sanctions for growing their hair and are not even allowed to take classes. In these kinds of situations, teachers are exposed to a dilemma, allowing the students to take classes or follow the school's dress and hair code. Some teachers could argue these codes create discipline and responsibility in the students. However, not following these codes does not harm any of the students or the teacher. Furthermore, students could argue that their education right is being violated. For solving this dilemma, the teachers' principles and values would be crucial. A traditional educator, who values discipline and order more than individualism and free expression, would follow the school's dress code. On the other hand, a more tolerant educator would not follow these codes.
In addition to these values, it is important to consider the morals and beliefs of the teacher in question. A conservative educator would be more willing to punish this kind of behavior, while a progressive educator would not see the harm in this behavior. The type of institution also plays an important role. For example, Catholic or Christians schools would probably impose more restrictive dressing and hair codes. By traditional catholic morals, sex reassignment surgery is considered as self-mutilation and immoral. Therefore, in this kind of institution, a male student wearing makeup and a skirt could be considered as an immoral behaviour that should be punished. Educators and employees should be trained in dealing with these situations and in creating a safe environment for LGBTQ+ students. The conditions to create this environment would be the use of inclusive language, use in schools records the student's preferred name and gender designation, use of the preferred pronoun of the student in class, use inclusive social categories, avoid dividing the class between boys and girls, respond with disciplinary actions to hurtful language and harassment, create inclusion policies, allow all students to participate in physical education and athletics that correspond to their gender identity, have inclusive restrooms and locker rooms and eliminate negative portrayals of LGTBQ+ community (Fraser Health, 2018).
However, the teacher's task does not end there. Classrooms should be a place where students feel free to discuss topics such as gender and sexuality. Children and young adults are more vulnerable to be exposed to hate and discriminating discourses. That is why it is so important to create a safe positive environment for pupils to feel part of something bigger, a connection to society can be the strength that pushes the learners to be successful individuals. “Whatever approach or methodology is implemented, however, one factor that is necessary for excellence is that children are demanded to think critically about what they are learning and about the world at large” (Delpit, 2006). Teachers should promote the development of abilities such as critical thinking and investigation to give future generations the skills to create a more inclusive society (Biegel, 2018). Despite this, modifying education is a process that involves a governing body, a body of taxpayers in the case of public schools, a body of parents and financial donors in the case of private schools, and many other intermediaries. Thus, applying inclusive policies in schools and institutions is often prevented by the interests and moral terms of intermediaries. However, if teachers and educators challenge these structures they will create safer environments for students of all cultural background, sexual preferences and race.
“Schools need to undertake a more fundamental review of values, policies and practices. Taking the social and emotional aspects of school into account, strengthening relationship skills and giving people a say in what happens is more likely to create a learning environment that promotes academic outcomes” (Roffey, 2012). More consideration should be given to the multifaceted position of the student, including his/her physical, mental, and socio-economic welfare. Educational achievements can increase immensely if various influencers; Department of Education, educators, schools, parents and students work in partnership for a positive change.
Sharron Angle, 'There is a plan and a purpose, a value to every life, no matter what its location, age, gender or disability.'
Delpit, L. (2006). 'Education in a Multicultural Society: Our Future's Greatest Challenge.' Multicultural Perspectives, 8(2), 3-8.
K12academy. (2009). 'Discrimination in Schools: Student Dress Codes.' K12academy. Retrieved from https://k12academy.com/discrimination-in-schools-student-dress-codes/
Brunsma, D. L. (1998). 'The school uniform movement and what it tells us about American education: A symbolic crusade.' Current Issues in Education, 1(2), 1-25.
Maarman, R., & Lamont-Mbawuli, N. (2017). 'The Mental Health of South African Children: A Review of Current Research and Practice.' School Psychology International, 38(5), 501-517.
Igual, A. C. (2018). 'Educational Institutions vs. Transgender Students: The Role of Courts in Defining Equal Protection.' Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, 37(2), 215-241.
Windust, K. (2019). 'Gender-Neutral School Uniforms: When 'Equal' Isn't Equal.' Global Gender Studies, 1(1), 102-115.
Fraser Health. (2018). 'Creating Inclusive Schools and Safe Spaces for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Two-Spirit, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQ2+) Students.' Retrieved from https://www.fraserhealth.ca/-/media/Project/FraserHealth/FraserHealth/Professional-Practice/Developing-Practice/Guidelines-and-Protocols/Transgender-and-Gender-Diverse-Populations/Care-Pathway/Guidelines_LGBTQ2_YOUTH_FINAL.pdf
Biegel, D. E. (2018). 'Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice.' Routledge.
Roffey, S. (2012). 'Inclusive and Exclusive Belonging: An Essential Partnership for Promoting Well-Being?' Educational and Child Psychology, 29(4), 7-25.
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