Anti-Equality Directive

Posted on September 23, 2020


“Observing woman’s agency, devotion and efficiency in pleading the cause of the slave, gratitude for this high service early moved me to give favorable attention to the subject of what is called ‘Woman’s Rights’ and caused me to be denominated a woman’s-rights-man. I am glad to say I have never been ashamed to be thus designated.” —Frederick Douglass

Last week the Adrian Public Schools BOE began reviewing a new policy regarding sexual harassment, and I wrote about the experiences of students and faculty that show that APS not only has a need for a new policy, but also a need to educate adults in the district on issues related to gender and equity. APS has a long history of entrenched misogyny in the school culture, and it has harmed far too many students and employees.

Adrian schools Superintendent, Bob Behnke made his anti-woman stance clear in 2019, when he issued a directive to me, a high school English teacher, to “never again define ‘feminism’ as ‘gender equality.'”

As a teacher of literature, a practice central to literary analysis is to examine the ways in which a writer’s race, class, and gender shape and inform their writing. In fact, at the time this shameful directive was issued, I was in the midst of teaching Miss Julie, a play by August Strindberg, which is a catalog of misogynistic attitudes, because, like Behnke, the playwright was reacting to feminism–with male fragility.

Rather than sacrifice my professional integrity, I retired. I won’t work for a district that supports such an anti-woman stance. There is no way to keep students safe in a district that would issue such a blatantly hateful directive.

APS was never a woman-friendly place, and I have receipts, but banning a concept definition that is not only central to my professional discipline, but also a federal mandate through Title IX, was WAY over the line.

Since 2019, I’ve been thinking about the superintendent’s directive, and I have questions for Superintendent Behnke, Title IX Coordinator, Cathy Westfall, and the Board of Education:

  1. Is the directive to ban the common definition of feminism in alignment with federally-mandated Title IX requirements?
  2. What educational goal(s) do you aim to achieve by banning the common definition of “feminism” from the ELA classroom?
  3. What educational research supports the banning of the common definition of “feminism” from the ELA classroom?
  4. Since APS has banned the common definition of “feminism” from the classroom, what is the new, APS approved definition of “feminism”?
  5. How will APS reconcile this anti-woman stance with the Social Justice Leaders training the district is paying teachers to attend? Will they be allowed to participate fully in discussions of gender equity or should they disregard that portion of the training?
  6. Which other foundational concept definitions, in which courses, has the Superintendent banned, or is he planning to ban?

As an ELA teacher, my professional organization, National Council of Teachers of English, guides my practice. In the NCTE position statement on Gender and Language, ELA teachers are called upon to “Work to establish and maintain classrooms and school communities where students of all gender identities feel visible, heard, valued, and protected.”

By banning the common definition of feminism from the ELA classroom, APS administrators made a conscious decision to make school significantly less safe for everyone except fragile men like Behnke and Burg, who take offense at the idea of EQUALITY.

APS is a public school, and they need to answer to the public for their anti-woman policies, practices, and pedagogy. I encourage you to contact the BOE members and share your experiences and thoughts around gender equity while they consider the new sexual harassment policy.

APS students deserve a school where ALL students feel safe and supported. Join me in speaking up for REAL progress toward gender equity at APS. To contact school officials, find links here: BOE emails; Superintendent Behnke; Title IX Coordinator Westfall.

Not all men! Shout out to the men at APS who are working to make school safe for everyone. You, like feminist Frederick Douglass, are appreciated.

lisa eddy is a writer-for-hire, researcher, educator-for-hire, youth advocate,  musician, and gardener.

On Twitter: @lisa_eddy

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