In June 2020, the New Jersey State Board of Education adopted new Student Learning Standards, including those covering Comprehensive Health and Physical Education, which were revised to have more inclusive language on sexual orientation and gender identity. On March 1, 2021, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D) signed bill A4454 into law, mandating sexual orientation and gender identity instruction for K–12 schoolchildren. Instruction on these topics was set to begin in the classrooms by 2023. Earlier this month, State Senator Holly Schepisi (R) publicly released examples of proposed lesson plans—some of which have already been adopted in some districts.
Parents, who had not been aware of specific lesson plans or who had been previously unable to access them, were now able to preview the materials prepared and designed by Advocates for Youth, an international advocacy organization “with a sole focus on adolescent reproductive and sexual health.” Its website advertises its “K–12 comprehensive sex education curriculum” and notes that it is “LGBTQ-inclusive.”
Unsurprisingly, the result was instant and widespread parental outrage. We at CanaVox, an organization that works to give the natural-law view of marriage and sexuality a voice, are based in New Jersey, with many of our participants and their children in schools here. Several New Jersey families have asked for our opinion of the materials. After a careful review, we offer our assessment here.
We began our review with a conciliatory attitude—hoping to see the good with the bad and offer a balanced assessment. While some of it seems well-intended, we nonetheless concluded that the material was overwhelmingly perverse and that our efforts would be best spent cautioning parents against it. Below are highlights of the most alarming elements we found in the K–5 curriculum. We have organized this essay according to talking points for ease of use so that parents can speak with other parents, principals, superintendents, and school boards across our state and nation.
No child should be exposed to this material, and no stone should be left unturned to ensure it’s nowhere near our schools.
As expected, gender theory is taught and promoted throughout the curriculum. But theories about gender identity are given a surprising amount of attention and frequently contradict well-established biological facts.
The lesson on Sexual and Reproductive Anatomy for ten-year-olds instructs teachers to make a distinction between the sexual and the reproductive systems. “Sexual systems are used for having a sexual relationship with another person when you’re older, if you choose to do that. Reproductive systems are used in making and having babies when you’re older—again, if you choose to do that.” To say that these are two separate systems is akin to saying that the “eating system” is distinct from the digestive system. Only an ideology that seeks to separate sex from baby-making would present human anatomy in this way.
What’s more, students are not taught that the reproductive system is divided into male and female, but into “Reproductive System One” and “Reproductive System Two.” Never mind that longstanding, authoritative textbooks of the medical community identify them as “the male and female reproductive systems.” By teaching human biology in this bizarre way, Advocates for Youth ignores longstanding human history and scientific reasoning.
After the boys and girls are subjected to a “game” in which they must identify the penis, urethra, testicles, scrotum, bladder, vulva, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, urethral opening, and vaginal opening, the teacher is told: “Finally, advance to reveal the word ‘anus . . .’” (emphasis ours). Despite an admission from the teacher that the anus “doesn’t have anything to do with reproduction,” it is covered in the lesson plan on sexual and reproductive anatomy anyway. It’s clear that this isn’t about teaching biology, but ideology.
Unlinks Gender from Biology
The elementary school curriculum instructs children to have an emotion-based, subjective notion of identity rather than a biology-based, objective understanding of the self. See, for example, this lesson for first grade:
Gender Identity is that feeling of knowing your gender. You might feel like you are a boy, you might feel like you are a girl. You might feel like you’re a boy even if you have body parts that some people might tell you are “girl” parts. You might feel like you’re a girl even if you have body parts that some people might tell you are “boy” parts. And you might not feel like you’re a boy or a girl, but you’re a little bit of both. No matter how you feel, you’re perfectly normal! (emphasis ours)
Notice the scare quotes placed around “girl” parts and “boy” parts, to problematize and blur distinctions. By contrast, psychologists and physicians tell parents that at this age, children need clear, simple distinctions and boundaries to give them a sense of order and security. Children typically divide their social world into simple categories. Deliberately dismantling boy–girl distinctions leads to insecurity in children and causes them to doubt their ability to move about confidently and interact with their social world. We understand and agree with the desire to be rid of rigid gender stereotypes of the past that led to gender discrimination. However, this curriculum is not about that. It overcompensates, asserting a radical new theory of childhood education premised on teaching gender fluidity from a very young age. There are no longitudinal studies on whether this new educational approach does harm or good to children. Therefore, such lesson plans are essentially an experiment on our children and could very well be unethical.
While studying puberty in fifth grade, students learn about the typical changes that they can expect to experience (such as acne, body hair, smelly sweat, breasts, voice changes, and menstruation). But in addition to this, they are invited to question, be skeptical, and even be angry about this natural stage of human development.
Teachers are instructed to “explain the difference between being cisgender and transgender using the definitions.” (Note that, before the late twentieth century, never in human history had “male” or “female” been qualified with a prefix like “cis-.” The language itself problematizes the body.) Then teachers are asked to say:
If someone is transgender, that means they may have a vulva and ovaries and start going through puberty—but it doesn’t make sense to them, because they know that they’re not female, they’re male or non-binary or another gender. How do you think it might make someone who is not cisgender feel when their body does this? (emphasis ours)
Next, the teacher is to “Probe for responses such as sad, confused, angry, out of control, etc.” (emphasis ours). This line of questioning will only destabilize children. It will provoke and cultivate a state of rebellion against their bodies. Contrast this with what parents typically say to our kids in these moments: “I know puberty is hard. When I was dealing with _____ at your age it made me feel _____too. But here are____ ways we can make it more manageable. With time, you will see that the human body is amazing and beautiful because it’s designed to give the gift of life.”
Instead of peace-giving messages like these, the teacher steps into the role of a medical doctor and promotes puberty blockers as a possible solution:
Explain that for young people who are not cisgender, there are medications they can take that basically stop their body from going through puberty. Go to slide #5 and explain that these medications are called “puberty blockers.” These medications stop the testicles or ovaries from making testosterone or estrogen and then the young person can take the hormone for the gender they know themselves to be. For example, someone assigned female at birth but who knows inside that he’s a boy could take puberty blockers to stop their body from making estrogen, and then begin to take testosterone so their body will develop physically as a boy.
Nowhere does the curriculum identify the possible side effects or even the irreversible damage of testosterone injections or estrogen implants. In fact, the Transgender Youth video assigned for homework makes the opposite, highly controversial claim, that the effects of puberty blockers are “only temporary.” Despite a brief concession to “speak with a parent, guardian, or healthcare provider,” the overall message is that if students are feeling conflicted about going through puberty, they can identify as transgender and seek out hormones.
We support parents and public servants who want to teach our children to be kind to all people, regardless of sexual feelings, race, lifestyle choices, special needs, etc. But this curriculum is not about encouraging kindness toward kids who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria by licensed medical professionals. Rather, it is about cultivating the next generation of transgender kids through social contagion and rapid onset transgenderism. It plants the seeds of sexual confusion at precisely the moment in a child’s life when they are most susceptible.
Graphic and Inappropriate Approach to Sexual Abuse
While the curriculum on sexual abuse for first graders seems well-intended, many of the techniques it employs are disturbing and will certainly cause distress for these children.
Imagine your seven-year-old sitting in the “My Body is MY Body” lesson. The teacher writes “abuse” on the board and explains, “Abuse is when someone treats another person badly. That includes when someone touches you in a way that you know isn’t right. . . . When you’ve told someone you don’t want them to touch you and they keep doing it, that becomes abuse. And when someone touches your private body parts, like your chest or your genitals or buttocks, that’s called ‘sexual abuse.’” Then the teacher adds the word “sexual” to “abuse” on the board.
Later on, the teacher asks the children to pair up and role-play. They are told to take turns telling their partner that they’ve been touched inappropriately and/or sexually abused, and they have a whole two minutes (each) to do so. Your first grader is further instructed that she is not to “just state that this happened” but she needs to “have a conversation” about it. Meanwhile, her seven-year-old peer is supposed to role-play being the “trusted adult,” and “respond in a way they think would make them feel good about coming to them.”
Why would anyone who cares about the welfare of children think it’s wise or good to ask a young child to pretend to be abused? This exercise asks children to imagine brutal things happening to them. Most children will either be terrified, shocked, or laugh nervously as a defense mechanism. One of the greatest natural protections young children have against abuse is their internal alarm, the gut feeling that “this is wrong” even if they don’t know exactly why. This role play will likely set off children’s internal alarm bells—which they will be expected to suppress!—the exact opposite of what we should be teaching children to do in such situations.
What if there is a child in this classroom who has been abused and is going through counseling? How is that child supposed to handle this exercise? How is their seven-year-old peer to handle such disturbing information? Asking seven-year-olds to act like first responders or counselors should alarm everyone. It’s the role of adults to protect children from harm and to care for children who have been harmed, and we should never burden children with the responsibility of acting like adults.
Inappropriate Material for Second Grade
The Understanding Our Bodies lesson for seven/eight-year-olds includes a game in which children are taught to label six body parts (the clitoris, urethra, vulva, vagina, anus, and nipples). The lesson plan includes a glossary of terms for the teachers defining each part. The glossary explains that the clitoris is “an area very sensitive to indirect and direct touch.” This teacher’s resource notes that “[i]t is up to each teacher to determine the amount and detail of information to share with their students in ways that are age-appropriate.”
We cannot think of a single scenario in which a teacher needs to tell a seven-year-old that the “clitoris is sensitive to touch.” We imagine other parents cannot think of one either that doesn’t involve a call to Child Protective Services. Countless organizations that work with children across our nation have set up Child Protection Policies in order to enforce careful limits on what kinds of conversations (and contact) adults may have with children. Yet Advocates for Youth is able to slip this into public school curricula?
Blurring Distinctions between Good and Bad Touch
Under the guise of protecting children from sexual abuse, the If You Don’t Have Consent, You Don’t Have Consent! third grade lesson teaches “bodily autonomy” and “consent” to eight-year-olds. Here are the key messages:
-That everyone’s body is their body
-That you get to decide who touches your body and who doesn’t
-That you get to decide what kind of touch you’re okay with and what kind you’re not okay with
-That other people get to decide who touches their body and who doesn’t—and that means we all have to respect other people when they say they don’t want to be touched. (emphasis ours throughout)
The teacher is also asked to define consent as “another word for permission” and then say:
If you do not have someone’s consent you need to ask for it before you hug them or touch them in any way. If someone tries to touch you when you have not given them permission to, you have the right to tell them to stop—and they have a responsibility to stop. If they don’t, it’s important to go tell someone right away.
Poring over this lesson, we can find no clear standards of right and wrong kinds of touch. The message is that any touch is OK so long as there is “consent.” An unwanted hug is put in the same category as any other kind of unwanted touch. However, children of this age need parents and caring adults to give them clear messages about “good touch” and “bad touch.” Kids need to know without a glimmer of a doubt that some touch is always bad, regardless of how good they feel about it or whether they have given their “consent.”
This is why pediatricians across our nation rightly tell children that, “No one is allowed to touch you in your private areas ever, ever.” They even ask us parents to teach our children how to clean themselves while bathing to limit parental touch of their genitals to the bare minimum. Doctors only touch when a medical exam is necessary with the permission of both the parent and the child, and with a nurse or parent present in the room. Advocates for Youth is either unaware of seven/eight-year-olds’ intellectual stage of development or is intentionally trying to blur boundaries to normalize sexual experimentation and prepare them for “sexual consent” lessons in the upper grade lesson plans.
Two years later in the fifth grade lesson, “Your Body Your Rights,” students finally hear the message that others touching their genitals is wrong. Unfortunately, it’s clouded in contradiction. Here’s the script for the teacher:
Say, “When you were younger, you might have heard an adult talk with you about a ‘good’ touch vs. a ‘bad’ touch. Does anyone remember the difference between the two?” Probe for: good touch is a touch that feels “right”–that makes you feel safe and loved and bad touch as being a touch that makes you feel uncomfortable, bad, scared or that physically hurts. In this case, a bad touch would include someone touching your body, especially your genitals, for any reason other than for a health issue. Say, “At your age, even if the way someone touches your genitals feels good, no one should touch your genitals—nor should they ask you to touch theirs” (emphasis ours).
This script sends the message that “good touch is a touch that feels right.” Then it sends the opposite message that “even if the way someone touches your genitals feels good,” it is a “bad touch.” First of all, why even mention that someone touching their genitals can feel good? Second, how are children to know a good from a bad kind of touch? If it all feels good and they consent to it, it’s fine, right?. . . no? yes? maybe?
This is the same confused message that makes survivors of rape feel guilty. If their bodies responded to the physical arousal, were they “asking for it?” Did they “enjoy it?” Thus, how could it be wrong? Such appeals to subjective feelings for arbitration—rather than to objective standards of right and wrong—are deeply damaging to the human conscience at any age.
Gaslighting Troubled Children
In the “Different Kinds of Families” lesson, kindergarteners are read The Family Book, which introduces children to “family diversity.” What kind of diversity is there in families? There are big families, small families, same-color families, different-color families, step-parented families, single-parented, two-parented, same-sex parented, adoptive-parented, and foster-parented families. There are neat families, messy families, noisy families, quiet families, families that eat the same things, and families that eat different things. The moral is: “There are lots of different ways to be a family. Your family is special no matter what kind it is.”
We have no objection to parents reading this book to, and fielding questions from, their own children. The issue is that this book wades into the territory of family values, morals, and needs that should be reserved for parent–child conversations or with a trained therapist. School teachers need only say: “Be kind to your peers, no matter what their family background or whatever differences you may have.” Instead, this lesson offers the message that every family arrangement is equally good and should be respected as special. But from the child’s perspective, that often isn’t true.
If, in response to the recommended question “Who would like to tell us about their family?” a child shares that her father is in jail, or that she lives with her single mother and an abusive boyfriend, or that her parents are in the midst of a tumultuous divorce, is this child to believe that the deep pain they’re experiencing is as inconsequential as whether or not their home is noisy or quiet?
Moreover, many children come from families who still believe (the well-supported claim) that being raised by one’s married mother and father is the greatest predictor of child well-being. Many families know children who are being raised without a mother or father or both, and have a front-row seat to their pain. Curricula promoting the message that “your family is special no matter what kind it is” gaslights children experiencing parental loss. A child being raised by her own mom and dad versus a child who has lost her father because she is being raised by “two moms” cannot be equated with a family that prefers Chinese takeout over pizza. The two-mom girl doesn’t have an existential crisis over pizza toppings, but she is likely to mourn her missing father.
Imposing a Queer Religion
Parents often ask us if they are right to be concerned that lessons like these impose a questionable ideology on their children. We want to validate their concerns and go further. To us, it looks like this curriculum helps impose a Queer religion.
A Unified Moral System and Language
In the same way that different religions have unique terminology to serve in catechesis, so too the LGBTQ community has its own, which Advocates for Youth incorporates into lesson plans and directs teachers and children to adopt. The religious vocabulary is expressed with terms like: “cis-gender,” “transgender,” “sex assigned at birth,” “heteronormative,” “gender identity,” “person with a uterus,” “person with a penis,” “gender-non-binary,” and so forth.
Across the curriculum we see a specific moral system in play: a hedonistic moral philosophy that decouples biology from gender and grounds the sense of self in subjective feelings alienated from the body. We have already highlighted the places in the curricula, where feeling good is deemed the highest value. In Grade 3, the teacher is asked to declare that: “Everyone has a right to feel good about themselves.”
If anyone challenges such language or questions the moral worldview, they will be shunned and silenced. That LGBTQ ideology must be accepted on faith, and not have to submit to rational justification, is another indicator of its sacred status.
Religious Symbolism and Liturgy
Another religious quality of the curriculum is its symbolism, including, first and foremost, reverence for the Pride Flag. In the “Respect for All” third grade lesson, the teacher is instructed to:
Discuss that the rainbow flag represents pride of gay and lesbian people. Hold one up or show a picture of one for students to see. Ask if students can think of other symbols that people use to show their pride in their heritage or culture or some other trait about them? Examples are parades, books or movies and religious symbols. (emphasis ours)
Despite this open admission that the Pride flag is akin to a religious symbol, it is privileged over and above other religious symbols. The lesson goes on to suggest that the teacher assign the creation of “pride flags” for homework. Imagine if this lesson had suggested that students create a crucifix for homework instead. Proponents of the separation of church and state would be outraged, but the rainbow flag is presented without pause, pressuring children and families to endorse its symbolic meaning.
Put these lessons into the broader context of typical LGBTQ observances at schools like the Day of Silence, National Coming Out Day, Harvey Milk Day, Bisexuality Awareness Week, Pride Month, and the like, and you begin to see LGBTQ holy days of obligation, revered saints, and feast days. Parents are right to suspect that activists are pushing an ideology on our kids. This is proselytizing a Queer Church.
Enforcing the Moral Code
The curriculum reflects religious zeal in another way: it directs teachers to serve as ethics officers and moral authorities. They are supposed to police speech with messages like this in “Sexual and Reproductive Anatomy for Grade Five”:
It is likely that students will see the body parts and refer to this as the “male” system, and the second system as the “female” system. Ideally, you should point out that you don’t gender each system because they are made up of body parts that can belong to someone no matter what their gender is. If that feels too complex, or you are in a socially conservative school or community, you can choose not to correct it, but continue yourself to use the more inclusive language of “reproductive system one” and “reproductive system two.”
The fourth grade lesson on “What Is Love Anyway?” directs teachers to instruct students in sexual orientation theory, including labeling people as “gay,” “lesbian,” or “bisexual.” One homework assignment asks students to watch a video about sexual orientation with “an adult you know well and trust who you could share this definition with.” The student must then complete a form reporting the adult’s response:
1. Sexual orientation is (what I say)___________
What the adult I asked says_______________
2. Did you learn about sexual orientation when you were growing up? If so, what did you learn? (what the adult I asked said) ____________________________________________________________________
Name of the adult: ______________________
Relationship to you_______________________
What is this if not some kind of ideological inquiry? Why is the teacher supposed to probe for the parent’s (or other trusted adult’s) beliefs surrounding this topic? Is the aim to breed mistrust between the child and his favored adult authority, therefore increasing the child’s trust in non-family authorities?
Far from being a secular, neutral worldview, the LGBTQ system has all the markers of a religious crusade. But unlike the five major religions of the world, it’s a worldview disconnected from biological reality and at war with the body. Parents are rightly upset by what amounts to religious indoctrination of their children.
Parents: Don’t Be Sidelined. Take Action
New Jersey’s LGBTQ curriculum law has passed, and nothing short of voting in future policymakers who value truth and childhood innocence is going to change that. However, schools still have discretion about how they will implement the gender and sexual orientation learning standards. Every school has the right and duty to decide if they will write their own curriculum, pay for a curriculum, or use what is free.
School boards have the most influence over this decision. Therefore, New Jersey parents still have the power to influence what happens in the classroom. However, various school board members, themselves concerned about the new standards, tell us they are not hearing from parents. So parents: this is your chance, now, to make your voice heard. Contact your local school board, in person or via email. Use the arguments from this article to firmly express why you do not want radical curricula like this in your child’s school. Further, consider running for school board. Very real change is possible when parents get fed up.
There are some claiming that parents can “opt their kids out” of this curriculum. Don’t fall for it. New Jersey standards state that instruction on diversity and inclusion is to happen in the “appropriate place in the curriculum.” This means there is a great deal of leeway in how this curriculum is implemented. These lessons can be covered in any classroom setting, not just health class. Activists themselves admit they weave sex and gender theory into “literature classes, math classes, social studies classes, P.E. classes, and art.” It’s impossible for parents to know when and in which class this ideology will be taught, making opting out unrealistic by design.
Parents outside of New Jersey must also be on their guard, constantly monitoring what schools are teaching. Parents: you have the right to see the curriculum. Speak with your children’s teachers and ask the school administrators to provide copies of the materials they will be using. If needed, you can submit a FOIA request to the relevant local government entity and demand transparency. CanaVox has reviewed proposed or available curricula for other U.S. states and has discovered, unsurprisingly, that New Jersey’s recommended materials are far from rare.
Parents have been hearing for years that they are regressive and bigoted for being wary of these types of teachings. Now is the time to shed our fears and stand up for kids, even if ours aren’t in the public school system. This affects all of us. Now is the time to contend for the most vulnerable no matter the personal cost. Our children’s mental and sexual well-being is at stake, and protecting them is our job.