Head to head: Florida education bill, the latest political misunderstanding

On March 8, the Florida legislature passed House Bill 1557, commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.  The bill strengthens the control of parents in regards to the services their children receive from the school system and imposes restrictions on sexuality-oriented education for younger students.

Despite the controversy it has caused, this is quite reasonable. 

It prevents teachers and schools from discussing topics relating to sexual orientation or gender identity with students in the third grade or younger (section 1, subsection 3, p4). 

Being that sexual and physical attraction does not yet take full effect until adolescence, these pre-pubescent children do not yet have to deal with these facets of life. Thus it may not be something they can yet fully comprehend.

According to Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, children of seven years and younger are in what is called “the preoperational stage of cognitive development.” 

At this stage of life, humans have two elements which decrease their ability to understand concepts related to gender and sexuality.

The first is centration, which means they struggle with focusing on more than one aspect of a situation, thus the nuance of sexual orientation and gender identity may be lost on them during the introduction of these topics.

The second is egocentrism, which means they are largely unable to understand the perspectives of others or give the same gravity to others’ world view. They may be unable to understand why a person may feel a different form of attraction than they do or have a different perspective on physiology and gender.

All of the aforementioned factors mean that children of the bill’s specified age group are likely ill equiped to deal with topics of sexual orientation and gender identity. They may simply end up confused or have flawed perceptions on these topics.

However, the bill does raise alarming questions regarding parental control in the classroom.

Parents are definitely entitled to want to protect their children from harm, be that harm perceived miseducation. A parent attempting to halt an indoctrinating teacher does not seem unreasonable. 

What if the parent is the indoctrinator? What if said parent is simply attempting to curb education which would only broaden horizons and understanding? This means legislatures must be careful in the line they walk between allowing parent intervention and giving educators the freedom to explore ideas.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are definitely subjects, whether one agrees with the facets thereof or not, that need to be addressed. 

All young people will be confronted with these issues in their lives, be it by knowing someone who differs from the norm or being such a person themselves, but simply not at such a young age.

Editor’s note: This opinion piece is one of two articles in a head-to-head series. Read the other opinion piece here.