Bathrooms and the End of Public Schools

If you thought this election couldn't get any more bizarre ...

Bathrooms? We’re talking about bathrooms?

I suspect this would be the the reaction of the Founding Fathers, were they to be transported to 2016 and be exposed to the average person’s social media timeline. After getting over the shock that Facebook and Twitter are the driving forces within our democratic process, they would, with a certain level of Allen Iverson-esque incredulity, shake their heads at the idea that the president of the Unites States is issuing decrees about which bathroom schoolchildren should be allowed to use.

They would probably be less shocked to learn that a wealthy East Coast mercantilist celebrity is contending to replace the sitting president who has been handing down said restroom directives.

It probably shouldn’t surprise any of us who have been watching the slow motion car wreck that has been the American political process of the past few years. But I’m still adjusting to the new normal, which apparently includes allowing public school children to use whichever bathroom or locker room they want.

I’m still not sure how this has become an issue, as I’m almost certain that transgender persons have been using bathrooms for many years now, without a directive from the Oval Office, the Justice Department, or the Department of Education. I’ve been using public restrooms my whole life (albeit as infrequently as possible because, well, have you been inside a public men’s restroom?). I can’t recall ever encountering a transgender person in that setting, but I really haven’t been paying that much attention in those settings to anything except the business at hand.

Lest you think I’m ambivalent on this issue, let me make it clear: I think the president is wrong to issue this edict. I think this kind of accommodation for transgender persons is over-the-top, not because I’m some kind of knuckle-dragging bigot. Rather, because I think the way we, as a society, have chosen to respond to transgenderism  borders on lunacy. Read Dr. Paul McHugh’s commentary in the Wall Street Journal. When the former psychiatrist-in-chief for Johns Hopkins Hospital and its current Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry takes a stand on the issue, I’m going to lean strongly in his direction.

Regardless, I think we’re experiencing a cultural moment that we won’t fully understand for years to come. Many have pointed to Obergefell as the tipping point in modern cultural politics, but I would point to the Memories Pizza dust-up in Indiana last year, that came in the wake of the passage of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It was the reaction to that law, on both sides of the issue, manifested in a small town pizzeria and the beliefs of the owners, that have made several things clear.

First, America is a nation deeply divided across cultural lines. I know this sounds like apocalyptic culture warrior rhetoric, but it’s true. You want proof? See Donald Trump. There’s a large segment of America that has seen their way of life — economically, socially, politically — slowly erode in front of their eyes. Meanwhile, they look around and see the economic and cultural capital of others growing at enormous rate. Their reaction — vote Trump. Why? Because he’s willing to fight. For what or for whom exactly, we’re not yet sure. But he appears as fed up with everything as they are.

Second, communication across the cultural divide is nearly impossible. We’ve lost the grammar and syntax to carry on civil discourse between opposing sides. Blame it on cable television, or blame it on social media. (Just don’t blame it on the radio.) But no matter who or what you blame, there’s no doubt that it’s there. Our attention spans are too short and our tolerance for opposing points of view too weak. When we hear something with which we disagree, our collective gut instinct is to end the discussion. (See also, End of Discussion, Ham & Benson 2015).

Thus, we find ourselves fighting about children … using bathrooms … in public schools.

The takeaways seem pretty clear. The president’s actions are only adding fuel to the Trump fire. It’s almost as if Obama is TRYING to get Trump elected, thereby denying Hillary, yet again … Nah, he’d never do that.

The bigger takeaway is that the end of public schools is nigh. Parents will tolerate a lot, but this seems to be a tipping point. If you can’t even be sure that, when you send your daughter to school, she won’t be showering next to someone with male genitalia, then all bets are off. This will accelerate the rush to home schooling (up almost 62 percent in 10 years, don’t cha know?), and private schooling. That rush will be aided by the expansion of school choice programs, like Nevada’s Educational Savings Account program:

The Education Savings Account Program (ESA) provides a means for Nevada Parents with children enrolled in a public/charter school to choose a different option to meet their educational needs. A parent who wishes to choose an alternative to a public school simply can apply for an Education Savings Account and a percentage of what the state funds for their child’s public education will be deposited into an account for that child. The funds can then be used for education related expenses at approved participating entities.

Part of the exodus is fueled by the transgender bathroom issue, in particular, but that issue is simply a manifestation of the seemingly endless governmental tinkering with social norms. At some point, parents will decide that they are tired of bureaucrats in Washington deciding how to run local schools. They will take back the power by taking their kids out of those schools, and presumably, directing them to use the bathroom that corresponds with their anatomy.

Welcome to 2016. It can’t get any weirder, can it?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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