Apex predators have a weird superiority complex. I suppose some of that entitlement stems from not having any natural predators. Top of the food chain: a life with no risk and a risk to all life. Sounds riveting. For example, consider a crocodile. Yesterday, I watched a brief nature documentary of an aggressive crocodile hunting in a swamp, snapping its jaws at what seemed to be a couple of bass fish. Between you and I, the crocodile was agitating a rather infuriated electric eel. What a silly crocodile! Doesn’t it know that there’s no favorable outcome for what’s about to happen? It’s about to, quite literally, bite itself in its ass.
Home to these wild apex-predator-like crocodiles (besides the animal), Florida just passed the “Parental Rights in Education” bill. More notoriously known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, this piece of legislation has incited drastically polarized responses across the nation.
The bill, verbatim, states that “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
After scampering through that swamp of implications, this bill has managed to be simultaneously specific yet astoundingly vague. Governor DeSantis has reported that it will only be focusing on “grades pre-K through 3,” so mainly targeting “five-year-olds, six-year-olds, seven-year-olds.” However, the term “age appropriate” and “developmentally appropriate” have yet to be explicitly defined.
So, what does this bill change in the classroom?
For the small price of emotional suppression and tentative restricted development, you get awkward, painful silences when classmates share their “inappropriate” family trees, ask about gay marriage, or share curiosities about personal pronouns!
Admittedly, I might be dramatizing the consequences of this bill given that lawmakers have assured that curriculum relevant discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity will not be prohibited. Yes, the bill never explicitly stated it would enforce complete censorship of these topics. However, it is the lack of explicit standards that creates room for flexible interpretation and weaponizes this bill.
A student can inquire about gay marriage, and the teacher is expected to respond. With this bill enforced, how many teachers would potentially risk their job to thoroughly explain gay marriage to the student, and how many would provide a succinct answer to avoid further discussion? At what point does “curriculum relevant discussions” become “age inappropriate?” The line between acceptable and unacceptable is so blurred that there is no apparent distinction between the two. If educators are unsure about what lines they can’t cross regarding sexual identity and gender expression, then they’ll ultimately decide to not even try crossing over into that territory. Essentially, these topics will have become stigmatized in the learning environment.
From what I’ve gathered, parents support this bill because they consider topics about sexuality and gender to be too mature for their children. Like how children are neglected the details about sexual reproduction and warfare, I highly doubt that teachers would implement, excruciatingly detailed lesson plans regarding sexuality. If parents aren’t concerned about shielding their child from conversations about sexual identity and simply want the school to be a safe space for their child, then they will be the cause for the phenomenal deterioration of that intention because a safe space cannot possibly exist if children are not allowed to safely express themselves. If the parent’s intention is to shield their child from such “inappropriate” topics, then they are horrendously mistaken if they think this bill can fulfill that purpose. I, as well most of my peers, became aware of sexual identity and gender expression notably through social media, not academia. There’s a greater chance of a crocodile sitting in office (purely hypothetical) than parents successfully censoring the Twitter LGBTQ+ community. Ultimately, no matter how you look at it, there isn’t a favorable outcome for the bill.
Supporters have rebutted that the bill is not meant to silence sexual identity or gender expression and that the media has sensationalized their intentions with despicable slander. But, by smothering this piece of legislation with vague phrasing, the bill essentially discourages educators from even uttering a whisper about the LGBTQ+ topic because there will always be the threat of this guillotine-like hoard of antagonists ready to sharpen their pitchforks and persecute schools for their “age-inappropriate” propaganda. Sure, this bill does not explicitly silence sexual identity or gender expression. But it has opened Pandora’s box, and you would be a fool in a court of jesters to think that people won’t exploit that very fact to promote their own ulterior motives.
I acknowledge that Florida’s education system is flawed; I’m aware of our infamous reputation. But I can assure you that restricting sexual identity and gender expression in schools isn’t going to resolve any of the system’s fundamental shortcomings. “Let children be children!” I completely agree. Let children explore their place in society and experiment with their identity. Let children freely discuss their personal backgrounds and upbringings with no stress or psychological burden. Let children explore various relationships and reckon with their true self in this convoluted ecosystem strangled between ignorance and acknowledgement. Let children be children.
As for the crocodile I mentioned before, it was a real video and not an analogy I conjured up for this article. Surprisingly, the electric eel wasn’t supposed to be in the same habitat as the crocodile; the researchers believed that it was released into the swamp by intruders. Knowing that, perhaps I shouldn’t mock the crocodiles given that they sincerely believed the eel to be nourishment or beneficial. However, if the crocodile continues to attack the eel, fully aware of the repercussions and inevitable consequences, then that’s nothing more but a crocodile in denial.
Linda Cao is a Trinity sophomore. Her column typically runs on alternate Thursdays.
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