In academia, there have been growing controversies over language guides and usages, including the use of pronouns that some object to as matters of religion or grammar. Now the largest association of science teachers in the world has issued a guide for “anti-oppression” terminology for science teachers. In the guide, titled “Gender-Inclusive Biology: A framework in action,” the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has called for “gender-inclusive biology,” which includes the abandonment of terms like “parent,” “men,” “women,” “mother,” and “father.”
Under the guide, mothers are now referred to as “persons with ovaries” in reference to reproduction cycles while fathers are now “persons with testes.” Additionally, the association declares the move of various states toward “Sex verification in sports” as an example of oppression.
The use of such a guide by a state school would raise serious First Amendment issues. We have already seen successful litigation challenging mandatory pronoun usage, including the recent litigation involving a teacher in Loudoun County, Virginia. Yet we have also seen new cases, including the charging of three high school students for not using preferred pronouns.
Under the new guidelines, teachers are encouraged to drop terms like “male” in favor of “XY individuals.”
The NSTA suggests that this can be a fun exercise like having students come up with an entirely new name for the word “parents,” such as “gene-givers” or “biological life transmitters.” This is not likely to be viewed as a fun exercise by some teachers or students, including those with opposing deeply religious views.
I happen to believe that teachers can and should address different gender identities in relevant courses. However, this type of sweeping guide, if made mandatory or enforced through “microaggression” policies, could contravene constitutional protections.
It is important to keep this guide in its proper context. The guide does not call for mandatory rules in schools barring the use of these terms. The guide is not calling for Father’s Day cards to be converted into “Happy Person with Testes Day.” However, we have seen such guides cited as the basis for sanctions, including allegations of hostile classroom environment or micro aggressive speech.