The problem with Purple Penguins


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I come from a long line of educators. My mother is a teacher, my stepfather is a principal, and I have lost track on the number of aunts and uncles who also fall into the category. Whenever there is any controversy or annoying mandate involving education, I always know about it. Common Core never bothered me, and the issue of gender identification and bathrooms only caused me to raise an eyebrow.

But when I read about the issue of the gender-inclusive mandate enforced in Nebraska, I had to do a double take.

The Lincoln Public Schools system of Nebraska circulated a letter among the staff. It stated that in order to maintain a “gender-neutral environment,” teachers would no longer use gender-specific identifiers. Terms such as “Hey guys,” “Ladies and gentlemen,” and “Boys and girls” are now to be pushed aside for other ones. School officials prefer to call the students titles that do not restrict them.

Their suggestion: Call them Purple Penguins.

One can see what they are trying to do. Much like gender identification and bathrooms, this is a policy created to pre-emptively put an end to problems before they start. Transgender young people are, statistically, at more risk than people who conform to their birth gender. The National Gender Discrimination Survey (2014) revealed that 41 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide, with 45 percent of it being done by teenagers. School officials are doing what they think is best to help their students feel accepted instead of being outcasts.

That being said, isn’t calling them Purple Penguins a bit much?

There is a very fine line between tolerance and over-sensitivity. This is more in the over-sensitivity zone. Whether an adolescent identifies as a boy or girl, what remains true is that they identify with a gender. If they identify with a gender, then shouldn’t calling them “Ladies and gentlemen” or “Boys and girls” be all right?

The biggest criticism comes not from the media (minus Fox News of course) but from parents in the district. Specifically, there is Rachel Terry, a mother of two, who states that by doing these verbal actions, the administration “places a higher priority on social reformation than on education.” OK, fair enough. However, she then continues by saying that the new policy would help quicken the “deconstruction of fundamental family and religious values.”

I loathe the use of religious pretext as a reason for any action. Despite being a practicing Roman Catholic, I have a staunch belief no religion nor individualistic ideal has the right to dictate the lives of every single person. But then we have the other part of the argument, the one about fundamental family values. What does that even mean? It means the values she thinks are basic and essential.

Overall, this issue is just a mess of pre-emptive “tolerance” strikes and personal discomfort that is going to stew until it comes to a boil. It is yet another change that many try to fight because it alters an aspect in their lives that has always been a constant, but it is also a case of oversensitivity and a ridiculous substitute for gender identifiers. So when both outcomes have negative aspects, which one will we choose?

The answer, it seems, is whichever one bothers us the least.

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