No, Betsy DeVos’s Trip to a Catholic Elementary School Is Not a Scandal

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks with students at the Smithsonian museum in March 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
The education secretary took part in a roundtable discussion at an ordinary Catholic school. The media labeled it an extraordinary scandal.

Rod Dreher’s “Law of Merited Impossibility” condenses the rhetorical game played by cultural progressives to first secure, and then enforce, changes in public morality: “It will never happen, but when it does, you bigots will deserve it.” Traditionalists, in Dreher’s telling, are lulled into a truce with social revolutionaries, who mock the dystopian nightmares of social conservatives as things that “will never happen.” But when the “it” happens, the revolutionaries insist that the bigots . . . deserve it.

Betsy DeVos had the unfortunate privilege of watching the process behind the law of merited impossibility begin to play out last week, as that which we were told would “never happen” — the trans-rights movement would never call for schools of all stripes to endorse its precepts — has happened. And the “bigots,” if the media are to be believed, indeed deserve it.

The education secretary took part in a round-table discussion at Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School, which CNN called a “school that subscribes to an anti-trans student policy.” Other large outlets ran headlines parroting that same insinuation, such as NBC News (“Betsy DeVos visits school with explicit anti-transgender policy”) and even the typically understated CBS News (“Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visits school with anti-transgender policy”).

But DeVos, in fact, spoke at a Catholic elementary school in Pennsylvania, one that adheres to the Church’s bimillennial teaching on the gender binary: for male and female He created them, indeed.

The elementary school’s policy comes directly from the diocese and is binding on all schools subject to the diocese’s authority. It reads:

This policy addresses the circumstances where there is a clear biological determination of a person’s sex and subsequent efforts to chemically and/or surgically alter the given biology. This is understood in Catholic moral terms as self-mutilation and therefore immoral. To attempt to make accommodations for such persons would be to cooperate in the immoral action and impose an unacceptable burden on others in the school community.

“Accommodating” elementary-school students who have undergone a “sex change procedure” — which necessarily presumes that the child has, in some meaningful way, changed sexes — cedes the premise that sex is fungible, giving it an institutional sanction that inevitably confuses Catholic schoolchildren on the Church’s position, to say nothing of the harm done to the elementary schoolchildren given to the premise that such mutilation is a normal or healthy means of dealing with feelings that, research indicates, between 65 and 94 percent of them will grow out of by adulthood.

In any case, the roundtable DeVos attended had nothing to do with “gender.” It covered issues such as tuition assistance for low-income students, a recently vetoed attempt to double the state’s education tax credit, and a proposed federal scholarship program. None of those subjects draw the interest of activists nearly as much as the fact that the host school’s handbook might somewhere contain a passing reference to the Church’s traditional teaching on gender.

Which raises the question of why CNN et al. brought this up in the first place. Certainly, it’s an opportunity to disparage Catholic sexual ethics as “anti-trans,” which is always good fun for a certain type of disillusioned journalist and a way to propagate the canard that the administration is “anti-LGBT.” But even that discussion would not be complete without an acknowledgment that we are speaking here of elementary-school students: small, prepubescent children who are not — heaven forbid — sexual beings, who have nothing approaching a mature sexual consciousness, or indeed, any sexual consciousness at all — because they’re in elementary school.

Which then raises this uncomfortable question: If a Catholic school’s disapproval of sex-change surgeries for elementary-school students is “anti-trans,” what is the alternative that CNN, CBS News, and NBC News have in mind?


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