Last week, the U.S. Department of Education, under pressure from the Obama administration, issued a directive to school districts across the country mandating them to allow students to use restrooms and locker rooms “consistent with their gender identity.” The guidelines have since caused quite a stir among local education officials, with some superintendents openly defying the directive.
From one vantage point, this is mere politics. No school has to comply with this edict until its constitutionality is settled in the courts. President Obama is simply trying to fire-up the Democratic base for Hillary Clinton in 2016 by picking a culture war fight. Transgenderism is consistently portrayed by the political left as a civil rights issue, and so the measure and the debate it ensues serves to galvanize the civil rights coalition for electoral victory.
But because this is a directive aimed at K-12 schools, there is another and far more ominous angle from which to view this measure. What we need to understand is that education is always a form of enculturation. Education seeks to impart to students a particular kind of culture, a particular way of being human. The ancient Greeks had a word for this instructional enculturation: paideia. Flourishing in the fourth-century BC, the goal of paideia was the formation of a particular kind of human that embodied distinctively Greek culture in the shared lifeworld of the polis or city-state. In fact, the term was so identified with the project of enculturation that it eventually became synonymous with the term Latin term, cultura.
Viewing the transgender bathroom mandate from the vantage point of paideia, we must ask: into what kind of culture are students being initiated? The answer is a culture comprised of what scholars call lifestyle values, wherein each individual practices whatever belief system deemed most plausible by him or her. These belief systems include everything from religious identity to gender identity.
Lifestyle values are increasingly viewed as the new norm among modernity scholars. It is argued that globalization inevitably detraditionalizes societies, moving them away from their historical social structures and arrangements which promote fixed conceptions of gender, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation. Instead, globalized societies see this fixedness as restrictive, and redefine social justice as the project of overcoming and correcting these traditional impositions.
This, I believe, is the more ominous entailment with this directive, for it in effect initiates students into a culture that appropriates government as a coercive emancipator of sovereign individuals from the arbitrary constraints of traditions, customs, and religions. As such, the non-discrimination measure turns out to be highly discriminatory towards traditional modes of life.
Moreover, the transgender bathroom and locker room policy can be seen as the latest extension of what Enlightenment philosophers conceived of as a fact/value dichotomy that has so pervaded secular society. While traditional societies assumed the world to be filled with divine meaning and purpose, modern science has supposedly uncovered the fact that the world is not governed by the gods or any kind of divine meaning, but rather by physical, chemical, and biological causal laws. ‘Objective’ values are merely culturally specific meaning systems contrived by humans and imposed upon an otherwise meaningless world operated by cause and effect processes. Why is it that a public school student can believe whatever she wants when it comes to religion, God or the gods, and the purpose of life, but when it comes to math and science, the so-called STEM subjects, the course content is absolutely unquestionable? Because math and science involve facts, whereas religion and meaning involve faith.
But why would we expect that such a dichotomy stops with science vs. religion? Why not the body vs. gender, or anatomy vs. sexuality? As the ex-NAACP leader, Rachel Dolezal, demonstrated, what does our biological race have to do with the race we identify with? And indeed, if biology doesn’t matter, then why are we studying it?
The tragedy with the Department of Education mandate is that it promotes and perpetuates an unsustainable secularized culture that simply has no means of shaping the moral lives of students initiated into it. How can we teach our students that truth is relative and expect our politicians to be honest? How can we claim that morality has been replaced by situational ethics and expect Wall Street executives to ground their business decisions in anything other than profit, greed, and expediency? How can we think beauty is solely in the eye of the beholder and then feign shock when we find a urinal as part of an art exhibit?
In short, if students are initiated into a culture that can’t tell the difference between male and female, how will those students learn the difference between good and evil, right and wrong?
The good news is that this lifestyle culture has no future. Not only are lifestyle-based societies failing to reproduce at the 2.1 population replacement level, but endogamous marriages and birth rates overwhelmingly favor Christian conservatives and traditionalists in the West. Throughout the world and here at home, globalization is in fact being challenged more and more by a resurgent nationalism, traditionalism, secessionism, balkanization, and social fission. And as the current election cycle demonstrates, political correctness and liberal sensibilities are being replaced increasingly by nationalist and populist sentiments.
Short of its demise, we can only lament that so many children will have been adversely affected by the amoral culture of lifestyle politics. In the meantime, the church is seeing an extraordinary revival of classical Christian education throughout our nation. Let us hope that this latest extension of the fact/value dichotomy will initiate a mass exodus from the public schools along with a springtide of new classical students, ones who will discover a true paideia, a true culture, wherein their faith and humanity can flourish.
For a fuller understanding of the issues surrounding the rise of LGBT lifestyles and the demise of Christian morality, see my A Match Made in Heaven: A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Win the Battle Over Marriage, which you can download for free here.
See also my article, “Bathroom Bills & CEOs: Why Corporations Are Siding with Transgenders.”
You will also benefit from these two interviews:
Why CEOs Are Siding with Transgenders: Dr. Steve Turley on “Janet Mefferd Today”
Why on earth do CEOs care so much about transgender bathroom access? Why do corporations siding with such a tiny minority of the human population? Dr. Steve Turley talks about the real reasons behind corporate support for transgender bathrooms.
“Bathroom Bills and CEOs”: Kevin Boling interviews Dr. Steve Turley
“If we as a culture no longer know the difference between male and female, how will we differentiate between good and evil, right and wrong?” Dr. Steve Turley talks about what’s behind corporate support for transgender bathrooms, and what Christians can do in response.