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For an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum

It will keep students from developing rigid ideas about gender and sexuality that escalates into bias and bullying in the later years

As a child, I divided people into male and female categories. However, on numerous occasions, this binary would collapse. I have vivid memories of stopping at the traffic signal at Madhuban Chowk, watching a few tall, well-built individuals in bright-coloured saris conversing with random passengers in cars and scooters. I had seen them in my apartment complex on auspicious family occasions. They were a part of my living reality, but unfortunately, I never found them mentioned in my textbooks. It seemed that schools had a blueprint of a world that was different from mine.

A episode from school ingrained in my memory is the bullying of a ninth-grader by a gang of homophobic seniors. Later, I heard that the student withdrew from school after years of torment.

Bullying based on gender and sexual orientation has been going on in Indian schools for a long time. Rigid ideas about gender and sexuality that children imbibe in their early years escalate into bias and bullying in the later years. With the abolishment of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in 2018, it is crucial to open up classroom spaces for courageous conversations. There is an imperative need to integrate an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum right from the elementary grades.

Primary school teachers are ill-equipped to tackle conversations about diverse sexuality and heteronormativity. They tend to avoid such discussions as they feel obligated to preserve “childhood innocence”. Numerous research studies acknowledge the fact that children in primary school bring their sexuality into the classrooms and are aware of the diverse sexuality in their milieu. This awareness generates a need to prepare primary teachers in teacher education programmes to encourage courageous conversations around gender and sexuality in the classroom.

The notions about heteronormativity are conceived right from early childhood classrooms. Students acquire knowledge about sexuality through various multimedia avenues, along with different diverse family relationships that they encounter in school. However, teachers still view it as adult-only knowledge and not something for the primary students.

Concepts of sexualities are often a topic of controversy within elementary schools. In addition to this, the ideas of childhood innocence have affected the sex education curriculum, policy development and teaching practices in schools. However, some research studies show that primary school students are aware and talk about sexualities without intervention. But unfortunately, non-heteronormative sexualities are often missing from the context of primary school children.

Heteronormativity is often described as a universal discourse that contributes to the pedagogy being utilised by teachers. As a result, it normalises heteronormativity within the school system.

Kevin Kumashiro, an educationist, argues that rather than assuming that all students are heterosexual and sexually “innocent” and should leave their sexuality at home, educators must combat this situation by acknowledging the fact that students do bring their sexuality into the classroom. The categories of gender are often regulated by socially constructed practices and reinforced in the four walls of a classroom. Some researchers have studied the processes through which heteronormativity is maintained in schools. They discuss the active and passive means in school routines that reinforce heterosexuality, and the organisational structures in school that support heterosexuality as normal and rest as deviant.

Kumashiro has pointed at research studies which suggest that the knowledge that students have about the “other” is inadequate since it is distorted by their marginalisation. This problematic half-knowledge is internalised through the informal, or “hidden”, curriculum and carries more educational significance than the official curriculum. He suggests the integration of lessons on the “other” throughout the curriculum. This integration will enable educators to have a dialogue about the intersections of our various identities and the oppressions in that discourse.

“The strength of this approach is that it calls on educators to bring visibility to enrich their students’ understandings of different ways of being. In fact, by trying to treat other ways of being as something as normal as the normative ways of being, this approach attempts to normalise differences and otherness,” he says.

I recently saw the Tamil film Super Deluxe, and one thread of its story deals with a seven-year-old boy meeting his transgender “father” after a long period. The boy innocently questions “him” about “his” new identity. The “father” adequately explains a complex discourse in the most relatable analogies: “Sometimes, when we put on our shoes in a hurry, we confuse the left with the right. Similarly, god, in a hurry, put me in a male body.”

Conversations about LGBTQ can be as simple and child-centric as this. But we must begin somewhere.

Teacher education programmes aim to prepare teachers for diverse learners, but somehow leave out the LGBTQ questioning from its focus. Educators should work towards creating safe spaces and in the process, transform their identities in terms of providing and creating more equitable and humane classrooms and schools. Lesson plans based on family diversity, gender stereotypes, and the harmful effects of bullying could be the stepping stones. By addressing issues at this stage about language and actions that are hurtful, schools will become a more welcoming place.

It would also evade the escalation of bias and bullying that continues in middle and high school. But the only way to address the issue of heteronormativity is by orienting the teacher education programmes towards a compassionate, critical and justice-oriented curriculum.

anujasarda92@gmail.com

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 10:51:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/for-an-lgbtq-inclusive-curriculum/article30712646.ece

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