As I was singing “The Farmer in the Dell” to my daughter today, it struck me how heteronormative the song is. The farmer takes a wife? The wife takes a child? Not only is it a married, heterosexual, procreative union, but it even appears to be structured hierarchically and the farmer is identified by his occupation while the wife is only defined by her marital role.
I began to ponder the pervasiveness of traditional sexual attitudes in the songs and stories we tell our children. And it occurred to me that schools could never really be neutral on the issue of homosexuality. If neutrality demands that schools neither endorse nor condemn any particular type of family structure, then they would have to be completely silent about families–since, after all, to exclude one kind of family but not others is to marginalize and hence tacitly condemn it, but to portray it as normal is to normalize and hence endorse it.
But we all know that such total silence is impossible. Since all people originate in families and they are the most universal of human experiences, no form of imaginative culture–literature, movies, songs–can ignore them. This is why children’s stories are replete with families and marriages. And, since heterosexuality was the norm for families until about ten years ago, most existing children’s stories portray heterosexual families.
Keeping these traditional songs and stories therefore isn’t “neutral.” If schools are to stop promoting heterosexuality, they must cast out the old canon and create a new one in which the farmer takes a husband, Jill and Jill go up the hill, and Bert and Ernie use a gestational surrogate and egg donor to give birth to a new puppet.
Of course, in some schools this is already happening. Children read books about gay kings, teachers tell kids that their parents are wrong for believing in distinct sex roles, and anyone uncomfortable with a biological male using the girls’ bathroom is dismissed as a bigot. These are not aberrations, but are rather the logical outcome of nondiscrimination policies. True neutrality is impossible; family choices must either be marginalized or promoted, and we know the former isn’t acceptable anymore.