The Gender Police (page 10)

In 2000, as a school social worker, I helped 100 percent of my students at an at-risk New York City public school gain entrance to four-year colleges, 35 percent of them with full scholarships to excellent private universities. Many of these students emerged from violent gang and drug cultures in their neighborhoods, homelessness, sexual abuse, extreme depression and anxiety, truancy, and other conditions that might have been predicted to doom their futures.

These students were instead inspired by the community-oriented focus of their public school and the work they themselves contributed to making the school more compassionate and supportive. The community support they received at school helped them become potential future leaders, instead of remaining in conditions of poverty and violence.

As I discuss in the book’s later sections, I’ve seen students leave gangs and become part of mediation teams, working heroically to recruit record numbers of new students to their school’s conflict resolution program. Some of my students initiated and wrote the first sexual harassment policy in their school, then worked tirelessly to get it the respect and support it needed to be instituted schoolwide.

Students collaborated to create different kinds of helpful programs and then thrived in the smaller communities we created. The warmth generated by these affirming and safe environments had positive effects on the students’ lives, attendance, grades, behavior, graduation rates, and entry to college.

They also enhanced the larger school environment. Many of my students had been brutally gay-bashed and slut-bashed in previous schools, whereas we worked together to support these students and addressed such concerns effectively in communitywide meetings. Methods for creating compassionate communities in schools are literally infinite.

I became a school counselor because I wanted to help those who struggled in school. I believed then and believe now that it is possible to create more supportive and empowering school environments. Right now the gender police dominate our schools: students and adults often monitor themselves and one another for perceived infractions against respective gender codes, in gangs as well as in more common social cliques.

To create safe schools, we need to examine the forces that turn them into gender police training grounds inciting so many forms of violence.

This book aims to help concerned families, schools, and communities understand the dangers of oppressive gender expectations, and offers alternatives. I hope it helps fuel the quest for the kind of community-oriented and caring schools children need to thrive.