By Pascale Bourgeois
Pascale is a mother of two children, a former pre-school, elementary and high school teacher and is currently completing her Doctorate in Philosophy of Education.
If there is a consensus in the essentially contested field of education, it’s that education should lead to freedom. No one could seriously argue the opposite. The problem is, and always has been, to determine what is freedom and how we achieve it. Two different traditions are increasingly in competition on this matter.
The first is the liberal model of education, where intellectual freedom is cultivated through the exercise of rationality, supported by broad knowledge and culture, in politically neutral schools. The second is critical pedagogy, suggesting that freedom can only be achieved by politicizing education, which means that schools and teachers must take a position in order to enlighten their students about the sources of oppression we need to liberate ourselves from.
Unfortunately, the second option is gaining more popularity in school systems across North America, particularly in the U.S., but recently in Canada as well. Teachers are turning into activists whose educational mission is to convert students to woke ideologies. We can see this with Critical Race Theory and Gender Ideology being pushed in our schools, at preschool-elementary and high school levels all the way to higher education. Some teachers don’t even realize that their teaching is ideological – they think they are only teaching what is right, as these ideologies are presented to them as the new “Truths” supported by pseudo-science that is apparently sufficient to be adopted without a second thought.
Gender Ideology in Canadian schools
Gender ideology, for instance, is filled with radical claims that are either scientifically false or, at the least, highly debatable, and yet is infiltrating our school curriculum and politics. Legitimized by laws that were recently passed to protect trans people all over Canada –and trans people should, indeed, be entitled to respect, dignity and safety, just as everyone else –, a gender affirmative approach has been implemented in our schools. To support the gender affirmative approach, however, one needs to endorse ideological views on sex and gender that one doesn’t necessarily agree with. So, by making the affirmative approach mandatory, we are exercising thought control over teachers, parents and students. Furthermore, its implications, though immense for our children’s intellectual, physical and moral integrity, are apparently not open for debate. Most parents and members of the community are unaware of the implications of switching out rationality for critical pedagogy unless they become directly concerned with it.
Under the directives of inclusivity, diversity and equity (well-intentioned social justice goals critical pedagogies exploit for their own purposes), teachers are being asked to systematically affirm the self-declared gender of their students, support their social and medical transitions – often in secrecy from parents – and accept the scientifically false assertion that biological sex is not binary, and the debatable one that masculine and feminine expectations of gender is entirely a social construct that needs to be deconstructed and replaced by an exponential multiplication of non-binary genders. Rather than support individual students who may be gender-questioning, all students are systematically taught, through unicorn charts and genderbread persons, that both sex and gender are a continuum, and that they can choose to be whatever they feel they want to be, making social and medical transitions sound like a trip to the mall to renew your wardrobe. Parents, meanwhile, are being told that they have no rights regarding their children’s safety and health and that they may even pose a threat unless they agree to submit to the tenets of gender ideology.
This ideology is being pushed into our lives and imposed on all of us, often by bullying techniques such as threats, insults, and intimidation. We are all now well aware that anyone who questions or criticizes gender ideology and its claims will be submitted to accusations of bigotry, transphobia, discrimination and hate speech, and that one can lose their job, their social network, and even the custody of their child over this – an effective way to force people into compliance (because, I am a good person, right?), or, at least, to close off any avenues for anyone who disagrees.
The importance of freedom of thought, speech and action in education
How is this allowing education to achieve more freedom you might ask? Well, according to gender ideology, we need to liberate ourselves from the cisheteronormative hierarchical system we have been living in for over two thousand years, as it favors “so-called normal people” over trans. And to do so, we need to deconstruct our dated ideas of maleness and femaleness, of masculinity and femininity, of family and parenthood and so on. Only then will we be free: free to be whoever and whatever we feel we should be – an assertion that deserves to be carefully considered from a philosophical point of view, especially when being who you are means undergoing hormonal and medical treatments for the rest of your life, including dangerous and highly experimental surgeries, with unknown long-term consequences.
In other words, like any other critical pedagogy, the path to freedom must start by recognizing the system of oppression we are living under: cisheteronormativity. In our schools, the approach starts with gender diversity training addressed to teachers and students in education faculties. Then, when they finally see the light, educators are encouraged to overtly take a position against this system of oppression, and promote the new gender order, in turn enlightening their students (and hopefully their parents), and contributing to their empowerment as well as a desirable social change.
Now, this may sound very nice and noble, but in fact, it is extremely problematic for the exercise of our freedom, as it imposes upon us a singular and predetermined idea of progress. Furthermore, its claim of moral superiority places it above any scrutiny: anyone who disagrees is either ignorant or worse, malevolent.
It has always been a temptation to instrumentalize education to achieve political ends – from Plato’s Republic to this latest version of woke critical pedagogy – but the thing is, it’s not freedom if you decide in advance what the outcome should be.
The great philosopher Hannah Arendt gave this question much thought in her analysis of the societal conditions that led to WWII. For her, freedom means one can think, speak or act in the public sphere in a unique and unprecedented way. Freedom is something we exercise through open democratic conversation.
To achieve this intellectual freedom, children must be protected from indoctrination in school. Therefore, we should favor the liberal model of education, offering our students food for thought without imposing upon them a single and narrow view of the world. By imposing its filter of interpretation of the world as the only legitimate one, the critical pedagogy of gender ideology hinders the very capability of thinking, speaking, and acting freely that education should be fostering in our children if we wish to ensure that our future is truly open for progress.
 The expression comes from W.B. Gallie (1995).
The gender affirmative approach consists in affirming (confirming) a person’s self-identification of gender, regardless of its physical or mental health history and its personal background. This means supporting the person’s social transition (i.e. by using their name and pronouns of preference) and medical transition without any other kind of medical or psychological investigation being required.
 To date, there are 112 gender identities https://dudeasks.com/how-many-genders-are-there-in-2022/
 Transition is falsy presented as something totally reversable, when scientific literature shows that it’s not. We know that puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones cause irreversible damage, both psychological and physiological, not to mention the irreversibility of the gender affirmative surgeries. Even with the sole social transition, it is proved to be hard for kids to detransition because of the social pressure they experience from having transitioned. Contrary to its claims, the gender affirmative approach does not encourage gender exploration but instead contributes to fix transgender identities permanently.
 Heterocisnormativity is a concept created to question the assumption that to be “’cis” (which means you don’t experience gender dysphoria) is natural and normal, and that heterosexuality is the sexual orientation of the majority. Instead, it suggests that this norm is, in fact, a social belief that has been forced upon us by politics, policies and medias, and that is part of a hierarchical system of oppression that privileges cisheterosexual people over trans. Therefore, gender ideology seeks to fight against heterocisnormativity in schools, by deconstructing this so-called belief through queer pedagogical ressources and queer teaching practices. www.herbesgourmandes.com https://dspace.library.uvic.ca/bitstream/handle/1828/10950/Cavanaugh_Lindsay_MA_2019.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
By imposing the gender affirmative approach in schools, we are putting pressure on our kids to go through social and medical transitioning – with the irreversible damage we now know it is causing : https://youtu.be/Wk-1iqa1jbY
 Students of the Faculty of Education of UQAM received this year a gender diversity training from an activist from an LGBTQ+ association that also offers training for teachers in preschool-elementary and highschool schools across the country, promoting the gender affirmative approach in education and explicitly encouraging teachers to fight against heterocisnormativity in schools.