All across the country, many schools participate in annual “spirit weeks” to encourage leadership, teamwork, and fun amongst classes and grade levels. During these events, it is common for each day of “spirit week” to have a theme in which students dress up and win points for class participation. Themes can include anything from “color day” where each class chooses a color to wear, or “throwback day” when students can dress up like rock stars or celebrities of the past. The possibilities are endless, inspiring creativity, competitiveness, and of course, school spirit.
That is of course if you attend Tippecanoe School for the Arts and Humanities in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where parents of students were in an outrage during spirit week when students were encouraged to dress up for “gender bender day.” These parents were so upset over the dress-up day that they quickly forgot that their own sons and daughters were the ones who chose the categories for dressing up, not the school’s administration.
Some parents went as far as to contact school officials and news affiliates about their concerns, which unfortunately reflect upon a culture of very present transphobia and homophobia that exists in many American schools.
One parent has been quoted as saying, “I think it’s just teaching them the wrong lesson about gender. If you’re a boy, stay a boy. You shouldn’t have something like that at school.” Another reportedly insisted, “Having students dress as ‘transvestites’ will distract from the learning process…They might as well call it ‘Transgender Day.’” Other parents thought that the spirit day would encourage the acceptance of homosexuality. These parents’ concerns beg the question: if you shouldn’t ‘have something like that at school’ then what happens to children who identify differently from their peers? Where are their safe spaces in our public and private schools?
A great teaching moment was lost at Tippecanoe School to parents who thought the spirit day would adversely impact their sons and daughters. Instead of taking the time to educate children about different kinds of identities (while encouraging such differences and individuality), gender stereotypes were pushed upon students, shame and wrongness linked with daring to stretch students’ understanding of gender.
The spirit dress theme reportedly remained on the agenda for the week, though it was changed from “Gender Bender Day” to “Switch It Up Day.”