I saw a Christian Bale movie the other day, called ‘The Big Short’. It’s about the 2007 Global Financial Crisis (GFC).
Bale plays genius hedge fund manager Michael Burry, who – unlike the US government and Wall St – foresees the financial collapse. Before the crisis, Bale’s character looks ‘under the hood’ of the US Housing market, and is shocked by what he finds.
Whilst everyone is saying ‘Safe’ – ‘Safe as houses’, Bale’s character sees a ‘Sub-Prime’ market that’s built on sand.
And of course, Bale’s character was right.
Now that was the USA, 2007. But I couldn’t help thinking how the GFC resembles an issue that’s made headlines here in Australia: the government approved ‘Safe-Schools’ program. Just as senior US politicians declared the Subprime housing market was ‘Safe’, senior Aussie political figures – the Federal Opposition Leader, the Victorian Premier, and many others – swear black and blue that ‘Safe Schools’ is ‘Safe’.
But is it really? What if Bale’s character ‘looked under the hood’ of the Safe Schools program – what would he find?
A Safe and evidence-based program? Or something else?
As it turns out, someone recently did take look ‘under the hood’ of the Safe Schools Program. No, it wasn’t an A-grade Hollywood actor, but an A-grade academic: Professor Patrick Parkinson, OAM, from Sydney University.
Like Bale’s character, Professor Parkinson found things that weren’t exactly ‘Safe’.
And so if you’re a parent, a politician, an educator – anyone with an interest in the Safe Schools program – you should read his report, ‘The Safe Schools Controversy’.
But in the interest of wider dissemination, I’ve summarised his (32 page) report in the rest of this blogpost.
Before We Begin:
All children must be protected from bullying, no matter how they identify.
With a topic as heavily politicised as ‘Safe Schools’, any criticism – no matter how measured and accurate – is seen by some as hating on kids who identify as LGBTI. That’s not Parkinson’s intention. He writes:
[C]hildren and young people should be protected from bullying, whatever the reason that they might be bullied, and that all children and young people should be free from discrimination, whatever the ground of that discrimination. (p3)
[C]hildren and young people who are troubled by issues about sexual orientation or gender identity should receive appropriate support. This is especially important because some of these children and young people will not have supportive home environments. School may therefore be an important context in which they can find information and acceptance.’ (p3)
He writes with the intention of protecting and supporting children, no matter who they might be.
With that important preamble in mind, here are a number of his key criticisms of the Safe Schools Program:
1) The Safe Schools Program Uses ‘Sub Prime’ Unscientific Data
1.1) Is 10% of the Population Same Sex Attracted, as Safe Schools asserts? Not according to the evidence.
Safe Schools made the claim that 10% of the entire population is same-sex attracted (not just adolescents). This is simply not the case. Large-scale surveys in recent years (when homosexual orientation has become normalised and therefore much less likely to be a matter which people fail to disclose) put the figures on same-sex orientation in the adult population as between 1% and 3%. (p8)
One of the largest studies ever conducted was a survey of 238,206 respondents in Britain in 2009–10. It found that 0.9% of the population identified as lesbian or gay, and a further 0.5% as bisexual. In another recent study in Australia of 17,476 persons aged 15 years or older, 1.4% identified as gay or lesbian, and another 1.4% as bisexual.’ (p8)
After referencing other wide-ranging studies, he concludes:
A reasonably accurate figure for those who as adults, report an exclusively or predominantly same-sex orientation in the general population would be about 2% – that is, about one-fifth of the number that the Safe Schools Coalition claims.‘ (p9-10)
(Parkinson notes that for an anti-bullying program, it’s strange for Safe Schools to make a big deal out of such a statistic. After all, if only ‘one in a million’ people were same-sex attracted, it would still be wrong to bully them.)
1.2) The surprising truth about same-sex attraction in teenagers: it’s not fixed for most teens.
Safe Schools makes this popular claim:
‘[I]t seems as if the entire program is premised on the assumption that same-sex attraction is something fixed, and defines a young adolescent’s identity, rather than being, for many, a transitory phase in psycho-sexual development. Talk of ‘coming out’, being ‘queer’ and so on presupposes that a year 7 or 8 girl’s attraction to another girl is definitive of her sexual orientation as she grows into adulthood.’ (p10)
The evidence suggests that this may be the case for some, but it is unlikely for most.’ (p10)
After referencing the largest and most representative study of adolescent same-sex attraction ever conducted – the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health – he highlights its conclusion:
‘[F]or the great majority of young people who at any stage reported some form of same-sex attraction, their sexual orientation did not remain stable over time. The researchers reported that individuals became significantly more consistent in their same-sex attraction around age 20.’ (p12 – emphasis added)
Parkinson then raises the obvious question about the Safe Schools material:
‘Surely then it is a fundamental problem with the whole Safe Schools program (aimed particularly at years 7 and 8) that it is directed to the support of “LBGTI” youth and assumes that a person’s identification of themselves as one of L, B, G, T, or I in their early adolescent years represents a consistent identity’ (p13)
A ‘fundamental problem’ indeed. Instead of misleading school students with erroneous data:
1.3) Schools need to tell teenagers the whole truth about sexual orientation. It’s their duty of care.
It is therefore, surely, important that in high school classes teaching about sexuality, accurate information is given about teenage same-sex attraction and that young people are assured that it is a very common, and normal, aspect of teenage psycho-sexual development which may or may not say anything about what they will grow up to be as adults. This message can be given at the same time as also affirming those who now identify as gay or lesbian, and may do so in their adult years.’ (p14)
Anything less than the truth is unacceptable.
More controversially perhaps, he writes:
This may well be a message that is likely to prevent depression and suicidal ideation. Conversely, educational materials which are premised on the idea that sexual orientation emerges in early adolescence and remains fixed, so that it is sensible for young adolescents to identify as “gay” or “lesbian” as if this were a stable identity, should now be regarded as unscientific and irresponsible’ (p14)
Schools should be places where all students are supported, whether their same-sex desires are wanted or unwanted.
1.4) According to SSC, 4% of the population is ‘transgender’ or ‘gender diverse’. That is false: it’s closer to 0.14%
Parkinson notes that if 1 in 25 students were transgender, then nearly every teacher and principal in Australia would ‘have been dealing for years with how to care for transgender young people, just as they have to deal with children who have dyslexia or ADHD.‘ (p16-17)
Yet that’s clearly not the case.
So what does the academic research say? Referencing the large US study mentioned earlier, Parkinson concludes:
Some indication of the incidence of young people actually changing their self-identified gender (with or without any hormone treatment or survey) comes from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent and Adult Health in the United States. There were 10,120 participants who were surveyed in all four waves of the study over some 13-15 years. Among them, 14 participants changed their identified sex, which was 0.14 % of the total.‘ (p18)
So according to the research, only 0.14% of the population is considered transgender.
1.5) According to Safe Schools, 1.4% of the population are ‘intersex’. That is false: it’s closer to 0.002%.
The authors of All of Us say that 1.7% of the population are ‘intersex’, but their definition is extraordinarily wide and certainly much wider than [the] legal definition.’ (p18)
By looking at the research data, Parkinson concludes:
‘…one in 50,000 children are born with a combination of both female and male genitalia or otherwise have sexually ambiguous genitalia.’ (p19)
In other words, that’s 0.002%.
Another obvious question that must be asked is why do Year 7 and 8 kids need to be taught about such rare conditions?
‘It is really not clear why it is thought that year 7 or 8 children need to learn anything about such rare conditions. There are many birth abnormalities which might be taught to schoolchildren if it was thought desirable to educate them about different medical conditions.
While intersex conditions are rare, autism spectrum disorders are much more common in mainstream schools and are likely to be a far greater cause of bullying than being intersex (a condition which may be entirely hidden to other children). Perhaps the only justification for teaching years 7 and 8 children about intersex conditions is that the ‘I’ is part of a socio-political movement.’ (p20 – emphasis added)
2) All school material must be age appropriate.
Safe Schools material is not.
This is a common concern. Parkinson writes:
Another problem with the focus in years 7 and 8 on being an ally to “LGBTI” friends is the implicit assumption that in early adolescence, sexual and romantic interests are even on young people’s agenda. Young people vary considerably in terms of the age at which they begin to become seriously interested in any form of romantic attachment…’
A program which presupposes that at the age of 13 young people should identify as heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual prematurely treats them as if they had adult sexual feelings and concerns.‘ (p15 – emphasis added)
Parkinson next ‘lifts the hood’ on the Gender Ideology of the Safe Schools program, and again, finds some very concerning teaching:
3) The Safe Schools Program is Based on ‘Subprime’ Ideological Beliefs
3.1) Gender Fluidity is not accepted scientific fact. It is (controversial) ideology.
Why the use of such questionable – and grossly exaggerated – statistics in the Safe Schools program? Parkinson surmises:
‘A likely explanation for the exaggeration of transgender and intersex conditions is that it is regarded as necessary to support the authors’ belief system to show that gender is “fluid” and can even be chosen…This idea has its origins not in science but in philosophy.’ (p20)
And here is the core ideology of the Safe Schools program:
‘The differentiation made between sex and gender, and the notion that gender is fluid and may be socially constructed, lie at the heart of the Safe Schools program.’ (p20)
But bad ideology can lead to bad health outcomes:
3.2) The Gender Ideology severely compromises duty of care to young people. Parents and medical practitioners are left out of the loop.
This is deeply concerning:
‘Safe Schools Coalition has a document providing guidance to schools on helping young people make this transition. Remarkably, nowhere in this document is there any reference to the need for any advice from a psychologist, doctor or psychiatrist, let alone anyone expert in the field. There is no requirement even to involve parents.’ (p22 – emphasis added)
‘The school surely has a duty of care to ensure that people wholly unqualified to manage gender dysphoria are not involved in assisting the child or young person to make immensely important decisions that may have all kinds of consequences, including alienating them from parents. ‘ (p22)
This is radical gender theory, which removes parents and medical professionals from caring for children.
3.3) Gender Ideology is like Scientology. (Would you want Tom Cruise teaching your children?)
‘This belief system that whether you are male or female is a matter of internal conviction and not external genitalia or the nature of one’s capacity to reproduce is not the more rational because it is a belief that is sincerely held. Sincere people hold all sorts of strange beliefs’ (p23)
‘Should such odd and unscientific beliefs, emanating from philosophy and gender studies departments rather than medical faculties, be taught as fact to primary and secondary school age children? There would be uproar if the beliefs of Scientologists that the personality or essence of oneself is distinct and separate from the physical body or the brain were being taught in state schools through state-funded programs. (p23)
Yet the belief system that what gender you are is a matter for you to determine without reference to your physical and reproductive attributes may not be dissimilar in kind.’ (p23)
It’s bizaare ideology at best. But it can have negative consequences for the most vulnerable:
3.4) Such Gender Ideology could cause harm to vulnerable young people.
‘It is that the normalisation of transgender experience combined with a radical and fringe belief system concerning gender identity could cause unnecessary confusion in young people, especially those who are experiencing mental health difficulties or who do not have a stable and supportive home environment giving them a secure sense of self-identity.’ (p23)
It’s the kids from non-Christian secular homes that I’m most worried about: they’re the ones who are more likely to believe this harmful ideology and be affected by it.
3.5) ‘Gender Dysphoria’ does happen in Childhood. But contrary to Gender Ideology, it usually resolves itself before adolescence.
Gender Dysphoria – the feeling that you’re trapped in the body of someone of the wrong sex – does happen to children. However:
‘Although studies vary on the extent of persistence in childhood gender dysphoria, the evidence is uniform that for a substantial majority of children, gender dysphoria resolves itself before adolescence’ (p24)
‘It may not be at all helpful to many children with gender dysphoria issues to encourage them to embrace an identity of being ‘transgender’ when for so many, it may be a transitory stage on their journey towards a sexually and mentally healthy adulthood.’ (p24)
Contrast this with the message of the Safe Schools approved ‘The Gender Fairy‘ book for young children.
Parkinson next critiques the Safe Schools program’s legal advice:
4) The Safe Schools Program gives ‘Subprime’ Legal Advice.
4.1) In order to access transgender rights, you must be legally declared as being transgender. Safe Schools ignores this in their advice to schools.
Family Law is Parkinson’s home turf, and he raises some important concerns:
What of the teenager who does nothing more than declare a mental state of seeing himself or herself as being of the opposite gender? The Anti-Discrimination Board explains: If you are not a recognised transgender person, you can’t legally force people to treat you as your preferred gender, but they must still treat you fairly. There is no right to be treated as being of the opposite sex if you are not so in a legal sense.’ (p27)
How this works out on the ground:
‘If a boy who has desires to cross-dress is required to wear the school uniform of his gender, he is not thereby being treated differently from any other boy.’ (p27)
‘Does he have the right to be treated as if he were female? Were it so, then boys would be entitled to enrol in girls’ sports, and attend all-girls’ schools. Men who have a mental state of wanting to be female, or considering themselves to be so, would be entitled to join all women’s gyms or to apply for jobs that are for women only. That would be an extreme and unreasonable position’ (27-28)
4.2) The Safe Schools material recommends that which is illegal, namely changing school records of transgender children without parental consent.
Writing about the Safe Schools material, Parkinson says:
‘The same document also recommends changes to school records to record a different gender identification, without parental consent. Under NSW law, gender identity can legally be changed only once a person is an adult and only if certain stringent criteria are met, including having had gender reassignment surgery. The notion, in a government-sponsored document, that a young adolescent can choose to change their name and gender, and for this to be entered into school records without parental consent or some other lawful basis for so doing, is very troubling.’ (p22 – emphasis added. )
5) The Safe Schools Program Does Not Deal Well With Diversity Of Viewpoints
Young people who do not accept the Safe Schools material are increasingly being bullied.
While the evidence is still anecdotal, it is concerning:
‘Anecdotal evidence suggests cause for concern that these children and young people [who don’t accept Safe Schools views] may feel bullied or marginalised if they do not go along with the prevailing view. There is a need for research on how common these experiences are.
One father felt the need to pull his children out of a Victorian state school because of the program. He reported that his 15 year old daughter felt “excluded, disrespected and inferior because she was opposed to gay marriage and gender theory”. At one north-west Sydney school, around parents in around 20 families wrote a letter expressing concern that students who choose not to participate in activities supporting sexuality and gender-diverse people could be marginalised’ (p30)
Conclusion: The Safe School Program needs to be rescued from its makers.
Parkinson concludes with this measured warning:
‘While a program of this kind may offer benefits for some young people, there is reason to be concerned that it may cause harm to other young people who experience same-sex attraction or gender confusion. This is not good enough for an educational resource. The Safe Schools program needs to be rescued from its progenitors’ (p31-32)
While the Safe Schools program won’t cause a GFC-like collapse, it could harm vulnerable youth. And if we citizens care about young people, then we should care about the concerns raised by one of Australia’s leading academics.