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Great BBQ is not enough: A teacher and his students take on HB2

I like calling North Carolina home….kind of.

This teacher’s view?

This state could be a great place to live with our beautiful mountains, bucolic scenery, fabulous beaches, friendly people, and great BBQ.

But these hallmarks of our state have recently been overshadowed by news coming out of our state capital of Raleigh.

Our legislature is controlled by a conservative majority with a self-proclaimed mission to streamline government operations, cut costs, and return control of the state back to the citizens.

But in effect, they are doing just the opposite – intruding into people’s lives and intent on turning back the clock, keeping North Carolina rooted in the past, in the days of state control of social issues.

So where do these efforts collide with the classrooms of North Carolina?

In addition to making North Carolina less attractive to potential teachers, our legislature doesn’t seem to want to encourage experienced educators to remain in the field. The list of measures toward these ends is long and growing. The most egregious include reduced teacher pay, slashed benefits, curriculum mandates, and a reliance on unrealistic and counterproductive measures to evaluate teachers.

But these measures are by now old hat to the teaching professionals. We’ve adapted and done our best to continue to educate our students. We plan, we differentiate, we engage, we connect, and we work to improve our teaching craft.

But one measure in particular has attracted national attention, and in this case it’s not the kind of attention I desire.

Yes, I’m referring to the by now infamous “Bathroom Bill” or House Bill 2.

We are all now familiar with this story – our legislators passed a law requiring citizens to use a bathroom that corresponds to the gender noted on their birth certificates. “Common Sense,” right? That’s what our Governor and state leaders broadcast in response to growing criticism of this bill.

Across North Carolina, the gloves are off, and our electorate is zeroed in on this issue with a laser-like focus.

But the bathroom issue really isn’t the story. Tucked away inside the inner workings of HB 2 are machinations that limit the rights and abilities of local governments to protect the rights of their citizens (such as protections against unsafe working conditions and unfair wage policies), devices that strip citizens of the right to sue in state courts for discriminatory employment practices, and guarantees that HB 2 will survive any attempt by higher courts to overturn it.

Our leaders have diverted attention away from the real issue by oversimplifying this uncommon biologically and physiologically complex issue and turning it into a bathroom circus.

Honestly, I’m unsure of the numbers of transgendered students in our schools. I think the schools in North Carolina know our students and will arrive at equitable and suitable solutions, if any are required.

And I will say, that in my 28 years of teaching, I’ve yet to have a student report to me that there was a member of the opposite sex acting strangely in the bathroom.

Has the problem been overblown by our legislators? I think so.

This bill is adding a crushing weight to the lack of confidence that our educators AND students are already feeling about our legislature.

HB 2 plays on fear and intolerance for its support – two issues that schools in North Carolina are working to move beyond and that need no further inroads into our classrooms.

I currently teach an elective law class in my high school, and one of my favorite activities is a twice monthly legislative update. We examine the latest happenings and developments in our federal, state, and local governments. It’s always guaranteed to generate student discussion and thought – sometimes impassioned and heated.

It’s a widely varied class with respect to age levels and abilities, so thoughts and opinions vary accordingly.

The most recent version of this activity included a discussion of HB 2. Students were asked to read a recent article of their own choosing about HB 2, and then share takeaways or impressions as seen through the lens of the article. We shared articles, discussed sources, and focused on audience and messaging.

We did a document deep dive and read the text of the law itself, carefully paraphrasing and addressing key vocabulary words.

We examined both sides of the issue and discussed arguments both for and against HB 2.

I then asked students to do a quick write of their views of the bill.

Their responses were eye opening.

As could be expected, the comments of some students, in the reflection piece and class discussions, were crude and revolved around sexual innuendo.

A 9th grade male – “You should use the bathroom for the equipment you got or not like on your your birth certificate.”

Some responses were reminiscent of the fears of sexual predation, rape, and assault expressed by some adults.

10th grade female – “This law increases the chances of perverts/rapists coming into the women’s room.”

12th grade female – “Dangerous ‘cause a guy can dress up as a woman and say I’m transgender and then go in the women’s restroom and take pictures of the girls and women in there.”

Many questioned the implications and motivations behind HB 2.

10th grade male –  “A smoke-screen to hide their sneakiness.”

12th grade male – “Personally, I don’t mind if a person is transgendered. I feel like they should be allowed to use the bathroom that they identify with, but I am really upset that they put in a part two and a part three and then a part four that says they stand on their own. I think that if the separate parts stand on their own, they should have been released on their own. This is a very shady move by the government and I think that it was wrong of them to do.”

11th grade male – “It’s not enforceable. Are we going to have police in the bathrooms?”

12th grade female –  “People shouldn’t be told their sexual identification is wrong.”

9th grade female –  “I believe that this bill should not be passed because it is violating the privacy of all of the public restroom users. I feel that it even makes the public facilities less safe and more prone to dangers.”

9th grade male –  “I think that most laws are necessary, but this law however, is not. I think that this law is very stupid, and not needed what so ever.”

10th grade male – “No one should be discriminated against, and the thought that an entire group of people can be discriminated against just for being themselves is sickening.”

Our students are still forming opinions and views on our leaders, our government, and the adults in their lives.  Are the leaders of North Carolina providing guidance and appropriate role models?

This teacher says “no.”

And by the way….I’m still looking forward to my mountain or beach getaway this summer and eating great BBQ.

Rod Powell

Rod Powell, a National Board Certified Teacher, has been teaching for 28 years. A Center for Teaching Quality Collaboratory member, Rod loves the challenges of teaching in a 1:1 digital classroom environment at Mooresville High School.