Category Archives: Emily Meadows

EMILY MEADOWS, PhD is an alumni of international schools and has worked as a professional educator and counselor across the world, serving children and families in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. She researches inclusive policy and practice for LGBTQ+ students, and holds master’s degrees in the fields of Counseling and Sexual Health. Emily teaches for the George Washington University’s graduate program in LGBT Health Policy & Practice, and is a consultant on gender and sexual diversity and inclusion in international schools: www.emilymeadows.org

You’re So Lucky to Have Summers Off

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No educator I know actually takes a full summer off. Many, justifiably, use part of the break to recover from a demanding school year, but most of us continue to hone our craft from June to August. My husband and I are both educators, and I cannot remember ever using the entire holiday just for fun. The summer we got married, I took six graduate credits and did an out-of-town International Baccalaureate workshop for counselors. The summer after our baby was born, my husband and I completed a cumulative eighteen graduate credits while living, with our infant, in a college dorm. Summers off – ha!

If you’re traveling this summer, catching up on reading is a flexible means of professional development and mental stimulation that fits in your carry-on. Lest we fall into our own summer slump. Here’s what I’ve got in my Amazon Smile[1] cart at the moment, divided into three categories: Professional, Parenting (in my role as a school counselor I often suggest literature to parents), and Pleasure.

{Professional}

Gender and Sexual Diversity in Schools
By Elizabeth J. Meyer
Meyer contributed a solid chapter to Queering Straight Teachers: Discourse and Identity in Education by Nelson Rodrigues and William Pinar (Eds.), so I anticipate that her book will be excellent as well.

LGBTQ Issues in Education: Advancing a Research Agenda
By George Wimberly
I keep waiting for this one to be required for my doctoral work so that I can justify the hefty price tag, but nobody has put it on a syllabus thus far, so I may just need to splurge.

Solution Focused Practice in Asia
By Debbie Hogan, Dave Hogan, Jane Tuomola, & Alan K. L. Yeo (Eds.)
Full disclosure: I contributed a chapter to this book. I am eager to read the other chapters, though, as my counseling practice is heavily influenced by a solution-focused approach.

{Parenting}

The Talk: Helping Your Kids Navigate Sex in the Real World
By Alice Dreger
Who doesn’t need more help with how to do this gracefully? I am a fan of Dreger’s work, and my work as a counsellor has put me in touch with more than a few parents who would like guidance on talking to their kids about sex. The audio version for this book is less than 3 hours long, so it promises be a quick read.

Gender Neutral Parenting: Raising Kids With the Freedom to be Themselves
By Paige Lucas-Stannard
The Kindle version of this mini-book is free!

Teaching Overseas: An Insider’s Perspective
By Kent M. Blakeney
I also contributed excerpts to this book, and ought to get around to reading my copy.

{Pleasure}

En Finir avec Eddy Bellegueulle (The End of Eddy)
By Edouard Louis (Translator: Michael Lucey)
This novel (by a 23-year old author!) earned rave reviews in France, and has already been translated into twenty languages, including English. The story promises to shine a light on gender stereotypes and the experience of growing up gay in a traditional, working-class community.

Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002)
By David Sedaris
I relish pretty much everything this satirist publishes, and look forward to a peek into the diaries he has been keeping, daily, for the past forty years.

The Handmaid’s Tale
By Margaret Atwood
I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never read this classic, but the recent publicity makes it an irresistible addition to my list.

Push
By Tommy Caldwell
Tommy is a local hero in our summer home of Estes Park for being one of the best rock climbers in the world (you may remember his Dawn Wall accomplishment in 2015). Now he is also a New York Times best-selling author.

 

This summer, I will be hiking in the Swiss Alps, and visiting friends and family in Colorado and Michigan. I am also enrolled in two graduate courses, and will attend a residency on LGBT health policy and practice at George Washington University. I hope to get through as many of these books[2] as time allows (and do feel fortunate to have summers “off”).

How do you make the most of your summer as an educator?
What’s on your reading list?  

[1] Amazon Smile is exactly like regular Amazon (and Amazon Prime), except that they donate 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases to the charitable organization of your choice.

[2] Fellow TIE bloggers, David Penberg and Daniel Kerr, have also shared their reading lists.

You Don’t Have to Kiss Auntie Katie: Teaching Consent in International Families

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My son will undoubtedly be thrilled to see my sister this month. Whenever he hears the FaceTime ring, he shrieks her name in anticipation of their chat. However, if it takes him a while to warm up to Auntie Katie since our last visit, that’s understandable. Katie also has children and knows that it is not just about respecting our babies’ personal space; we are teaching them about consent.

It can be tricky when the relative seeking a kiss from your child doesn’t receive it in return. It may feel like a personal affront when a little one denies their offer to snuggle and, as parents, there may be pressure to apologize for the perceived slight, or even coax the wee one into their loving relative’s arms. The message we send when we do this is that physical contact is owed to certain people, by nature of the relationship, regardless of whether it feels good.

These interactions may seem innocuous: What’s the harm in one hug? It’s from someone you love, after all. And they gave you a present! You don’t want to make them feel bad, do you? You hugged them last time you saw them… However, the path to date rape and other forms of sexual harassment can follow chillingly-similar lines of logic. When we prioritize other peoples’ desire to be physically affectionate (however well-intentioned) over bodily autonomy, we are depriving our child the chance to learn how to set boundaries.

The Harvard Graduate School of Education has reinvigorated this conversation with a report published last month showing that an estimated 87% of women aged 18-25 in the U.S. have been sexually harassed[1]. These findings are serious, and all children will benefit from understanding how to set boundaries for themselves, and to respect those of others. Of course I am not equating our loved ones’ affection with assault. Still, it is understandable that children may have difficulty understanding bodily autonomy if they have learned at home that personal boundaries are trivial. Indeed, this Harvard study suggests that most parents and educators aren’t talking with young people about consent at all.

As a school counselor, I have taught hundreds of children about consent; this can be done at any age. We discuss the importance of asking permission before offering a hug. We learn about reading body language and experiencing empathy for others. Even young students appreciate personal space, and should be taught how to say no to unwelcome touch[2]. Hugs can be heartwarming, bond-enhancing acts of kindness, but only if all participants are enjoying it. While parents and educators world-wide teach children to use their manners, it is important that young people also know they have the right to be firm when it comes to unwanted physical contact.

For international families, this is a particularly salient issue. Children abroad may not see extended family and friends for spans of months or years at a time, so close physical contact might not feel appropriate upon reunification. International families sometimes harbour guilt at separating their children from relatives and friends back ‘home’, which can exacerbate the situation. And even if, as in the case with my son and his Auntie Katie, the child adores the person, seeing them face-to-face for the first time in a while may feel overwhelming.

5 ways to support children learning about consent: 

  • If you haven’t already, start talking about consent with your child now. The full report from Harvard includes recommendations and resources for teaching children about healthy relationships, with a focus on preventing misogyny and sexual harassment.
  • Check with the school about lessons your child has received on consent so you can reinforce the message, language, and strategies at home.
  • Have a chat with family and friends before reunions to let them know your child is learning about consent. This way they won’t be caught off-guard.
  • Offer your child the option to give a high five/fist bump/wave instead. These can be friendly alternatives to a hug or kiss.
  • Finally: be prepared! We have all had the experience of being caught, with our child, in an awkward situation. (I will never forget the first time – yes, it happened more than once – that a friend stuck her finger in my baby’s mouth. You’d better believe I had a quick response ready the second time someone tried this.) If you and your child have a plan for how to respond to unwanted touch, they will feel more confident asserting their needs, and you will be prepared to support them.

How and when does your school teach students about consent?
What are your favourite resources for talking to children about consent?

[1] Weissbourd, R., Anderson, T. R., Cashin, A., & McIntyre, C. (2017). The talk: How adults can promote young people’s healthy relationships and prevent misogyny and sexual harassment [Executive Summary]. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Graduate School of Education.

[2] Children should also learn about exceptions, such vaccinations from the doctor, which are not necessarily welcome touch, but required for health and safety. I teach students that these exceptions should never be a secret and, if in doubt, to seek help from a trusted adult.

You Can’t Call Your Child That: International Naming Laws

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I am beginning preparations for our multi-legged journey of summer. Traveling with a toddler is certainly different than traveling as a couple. Forget about watching full-length films, and my liquids and gels zip-lock baggie is crammed with regulation-sized baby food pouches, instead of toiletries for myself. Plus, we plan on spending longer at immigration now, thanks to our baby’s name.

My husband and I decided to give our baby my last name (we both kept our names when we married). After our child was born, we were surprised to learn that we did not get to choose the last name; it is required by law that the father’s name be printed on birth certificates in Hong Kong. (Fortunately, as Americans, we were able to correctly register the birth with U.S. social security, so the passport does bear my family name, Meadows).

With different surnames on these two official documents, whenever we cross the Hong Kong border, there are lots of please-wait-one-moment’s and serious glances between officials. If my husband is present to reassure the concerned men in uniform, it tends to go more smoothly. Once, when traveling without him, I was asked if my husband and I were divorced. When I answered no, they inquired whether we had marital problems. I know better than to make a fuss at immigration, but I was fuming inside.

International naming laws
Naming laws are interesting. When I lived in France in the 90’s, new parents had to choose from a list of traditional, government-approved first names (mostly those of Catholic saints). This law has since been dropped, but French authorities can still reject a name if it is determined to be against the child’s best interest (Nutella, Babar, and Manhattan are apparently unacceptable). When I returned in the early 2000’s, there was a spate of French children named Dawson, from the popular American TV show, unheard of in Napoleon’s day[1].

Understandable regulatory practice?
It turns out that neither Hong Kong nor France have the most authoritarian laws when it comes to naming babies; Sweden is notoriously strict. Though, as an educator who has worked many years in early childhood classrooms, I cannot blame Swedish officials for rejecting Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 (pronounced like Albin, of course). New Zealand parents can’t legally call their child King, 4Real, or Mafia No Fear. Twins in New York, however, were legally named Winner and Loser. Again, as someone whose career revolves around children’s well-being, this dichotomous choice is difficult to understand.

Or perpetuation of hierarchical social structure?
In international education, I have taught children with names that may not be familiar to Anglophones. But, to the family, these names are cherished. At what point, are a family’s wishes less important than the (culturally-biased) judgment of the government?

Around the world, sexism is passed down through our naming structures. One study[2] explains that, in Botswana, girls are commonly given names that refer to appearance, while boys are given names associated with power or intellect. “The proper naming system is an example of the way this society uses language to legitimize gender imbalances”.

Male dominance has been maintained through naming laws. I dated a French man who did not know his father, but carried his last name from birth. My then-beau and his mother petitioned the courts several times to change his family name to that of the woman who raised him; the process took over a decade before it was successfully complete.

Gender norms, too, are perpetuated through names. Poor Blaer’s parents in Iceland were surprised to learn that they had broken the law by giving their daughter a name that was “too masculine”. “Naming customs reflect aspects of the organisation of society.”[3] Naming laws are laden with the values (i.e. religious background, sexist tradition) of those who created them and, as in our case, may not be compatible with the values of new parents.

Even if our upcoming border crossing goes without incident, pulling out my son’s documents is a reminder that he was born into a world where, more often than not, women bear children, but men have the privilege of naming them.

How have local laws impacted the process of naming your baby?

[1] Apparently, Napoleon came up with the French naming law.

[2] Rapoo, C. K. (2002). Naming practices and gender bias in the Setswana language. Women and Language, 25(1), 41.

[3] Bahr, G. & Wetherall, A. (1999). Women and their personal names: Making sense of cultural naming practices. Women’s Studies Journal, 15(1), 43.

Breastfeeding at School


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Shortly after I told my principal that I was pregnant, she let me know that she supports breastfeeding parents, and would make accommodations if I decided to go that route[1]. This was meaningful in two ways: 1) A supportive principal makes life easier and, 2) She didn’t leave it up to me to go digging around for this information. Her gesture mattered[2].

Breastfeeding can be hard; it is a round-the-clock commitment that doesn’t stop when you go to work. I’ve known more than a few mothers who have dealt with the stress of a dwindling ‘stash’ (stored frozen milk) as they transition out of maternity leave. There are several factors, however, that can make breastfeeding more do-able for working educators.

Space
As a school counselor, I had a private office buffered by a team of efficient and discreet administrative assistants. I knew I’d be able to close the door for a moment of privacy to feed my baby or express milk (known by my mama friends as ‘pumping’). Some international educators live on campus, and can pop home for a feed. But most people working in a school are surrounded by children in a room of windows for the majority of their day. What then? I’ve spoken to educators who pumped while hiding in storage closets, tucked between shelving units, and, yes, in the toilet.

“A dedicated nursing room is what’s needed. Period.”
– Breastfeeding educator in Brazil

“If the school met with the teacher before their return and asked what they needed in terms of space and time, and provided them with options, that would help a lot.”
– Breastfeeding educator in Jordan

“Parents with children under age two should be exempt from school-related travel.”
– Breastfeeding educator in Turkey

Time
Let’s say there is a satisfactory nursing room at your school. Now nursing parents must find some time in their schedule. If you are like the educators I know, you might eat lunch at 3:00 pm because that’s when your students leave. You might avoid your water bottle because you aren’t sure when you’ll next get to visit the restroom. This is the reality of working in a school. But pumping and storing breast milk for an infant can easily eat up half an hour or more several times per day. Teachers’ schedules are rigid, and their time without students is typically dedicated to important duties such as lesson planning or meeting with parents.

“If someone had offered to take my recess duty for me so I could pump, I would have broken down in tears of gratitude.
– Breastfeeding educator in Africa

“Give moms paid maternity leave and encourage them to take the full amount of leave.”
– Amanda Olson Vanderstelt, Breastfeeding international educator in Texas

Politics
Beyond finding the time and space for breastfeeding or pumping, educators may see the task is daunting for political reasons. There is a lot of judgment around how we feed our babies. Even well-meaning remarks like, “Good for you!” when I tell people I breastfeed imply that my decision is being assessed. Conversely, some people may see nursing as too personal or private for a work environment. Indeed, many women are nervous about breastfeeding outside the home. Depending on one’s relationship with school leadership and colleagues, it may be uncomfortable to ask for the time and space to pump. Providing the school’s policy upfront can reduce anxiety and create a more welcoming space for breastfeeding parents.

“Meet people where they are. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another.”
– Erin Robinson, Principal & breastfeeding mother, UWC South East Asia

“How about giving men a real paternity leave? Nursing in the first several weeks is like a full-time job. I wish my husband could have been around to help out with the tasks that started to build up at home.”
– Breastfeeding spouse of a teacher in the Middle East

“Contacts in human resources should have a working knowledge of policies related to parenting, and be available to craft a plan for employees returning from maternity and paternity leave.”
–  Breastfeeding administrator in Europe

The Law
Depending on which country you work in, there may be protections for breastfeeding parents, or not. U.S. law guarantees nursing mothers time and space (not a bathroom) for pumping on the job. The World Health Organization, however, has reported that breastfeeding laws in most countries are inadequate. International schools must uphold the laws of the country where they are located, but truly family-friendly schools will ensure that, even when not legally required, nursing parents are provided the necessary resources and support to breastfeed or pump at work.

How does your school support breastfeeding parents?  

[1] There are benefits to breastfeeding, and benefits to formula feeding. The decision of how to nourish a child is extremely personal, and this post is in no way meant to be an endorsement of breastfeeding over formula.

[2] This was Maya Nelson at Hong Kong International School, who has also seen to it that a breastfeeding/pumping/feeding room with changing table, couch, and private bathroom has been built into the school’s new campus.

Dial 911 (or 999 or 112 or 15…): Emergency Services Worldwide

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My Facebook feed right now is a stream of photographic evidence that my friends are enjoying spring break – Petra, Bali, Prague, Kenya. Of late, I have wondered: what happens if you have an emergency in, say, Petra? This dreary thought began recently after I witnessed someone having a seizure in public. I was on the phone to Hong Kong emergency services within seconds, and therein came my second fright: the woman who answered could not understand me in English, and I do not speak Cantonese. Though a police station was across the street, it took twelve minutes for an officer to get to the scene, and longer for the ambulance to arrive.

Thankfully, the man seemed to recover by the time we left his side (there was a group of us looking after him as we waited for the medics), but I was shaken. The U.S. Department of State webpage notes that emergency service response times for police, fire, and ambulances in Hong Kong are good. And medical care here, in my experience, is excellent. So, if it took fifteen minutes to get an ambulance to a well-known public location in a city with developed infrastructure, what can we expect elsewhere?

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I’ve been thinking about this. I grew up traveling. I lived in Moscow, back when it was part of the Cold War Soviet Union and we could barely get groceries much less proper medical care. I’ve been all over the world, often by myself, including to remote mountain locations where the closest shelter was hours away by foot, and hospitals must be reached by helicopter. I thought I was essentially immune to travel scares.

However, when it comes to accessing treatment for a major medical emergency, I am starting to second-guess my carefree approach. (Full disclosure: likely this has to do with becoming a parent, and now being responsible for a life more precious than my own). From language barriers, to cell phone service, to paramedic training and response times, to hospital quality, there is a lot of variation in the ability to access emergency care when you travel. Diversity of experience is a valuable element of living abroad, but how much diversity is worth a compromise in health and safety?

Do medical services play a role in deciding where you live or travel? Where have you had a particularly positive or negative experience with emergency care?

The Hidden Curriculum: Revealing and Resisting Institutionalized Inequality

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Formal Curriculum
How does a school decide what to teach? International schools often have the choice of splitting, at least in part, from the local or national curriculum of their host country, and may select from a variety of alternatives and supplements. Generally, schools will adopt a program from the country they represent (i.e. the Canadian school follows Canadian standards, the French school follows French), but even there they may have options as to which province or regional directives to adopt. In addition, there is the decision whether to offer International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement courses as a supplement. Many schools will select – or be required – to include some element of the host country’s academic priorities as well. The resulting curricular package tends to be somewhat transparent and articulated for stakeholders of the school. This constitutes a school’s formal, explicit curriculum.

The Hidden Curriculum
Every school also imparts an informal, implicit, or “hidden” curriculum. A school’s hidden curriculum is made up of the values and social norms that are taught and learned through the process of schooling. The teaching of a hidden curriculum is generally not intentional, and not even done consciously. Hidden curricula are, “Tacit in so far as their presence is implied and often taken-for-granted rather than directly acknowledged and examined”[1]. Why, then, bother with it?

The hidden hidden curriculum in international schools is worth examining because it can perpetuate social structures that privilege certain groups over others, legitimizing their dominant status. A ‘textbook example’ (sorry) from history class is the disproportionate portrayal of white, heterosexual, cisgender men in positions of leadership. Another example is the lack of representation of LGBTQ+ characters in literature selected for study. These types of subtle assertions about what is worth learning institutionalize social hierarchies. Acknowledging this problem, unpacking why it may be so, and taking steps to change it can be a powerful learning experience for students. It can be argued that it is the ethical responsibility of educators to make hidden curriculum visible and explicit[2].

Capitalizing on Hidden Curriculum
Hidden curriculum, once identified, can be discussed and possibly maintained as part of a formal curriculum. For example, while teaching parenting classes in Hong Kong, my co-facilitator and I realized that our program implicitly emphasized democratic values. We discouraged parents from taking an authoritarian, dictatorial approach; instead we worked on tools to help children become active participants in their family and community structures. This underlying value, while initially unnamed, was something we agreed was desirable, and aligned with the goals of our parenting course and the mission of the school. The participants in our program came from countries with a variety of political systems, so we did preserve our democratic slant, but addressed this for the groups, making it explicit so that parents knew our angle.

Revealing and Resisting Institutionalized Inequality
Norms, customs, and beliefs in international schools are diverse. Each community member contributes their own opinions and assumptions of how the world should operate, which may not necessarily be compatible with one another. No school will be able to satisfy all stakeholders’ demands, but making clear what is being taught (or omitted) and why can at least allow for open discussion, and provides a valuable critical thinking experience if done in the classroom. Understanding our own values, as well as those of the school as a whole, prepares us not only to engage in meaningful conversation with people who may hold differing views from our own, but also to expose and resist perpetuation of systemic inequality.

What values are transmitted through the hidden curriculum at your school? How have you made hidden curriculum explicit and visible in your work as an educator? 

[1] Cornbleth, C. (1984). Beyond hidden curriculum? Journal of Curriculum Studies, 16(1), p. 29-36.

[2] Portelli, J. P. (1993). Exposing the hidden curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 25(3), p. 343-358.

Air Pollution: What Should Schools Be Doing?   

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Photo credit: The New York Times

When I lived in the Middle East, we had ‘rain days’, when it poured enough to render the roads unsafe for students to venture out, and school was cancelled. In Colorado, we had snow days. In Hong Kong, we’ve got typhoon days. We also have days when the air pollution is so high that children must stay indoors.

I recently spent a solid week inside with my toddler because the air was too poor to consider leaving the house[1]. One evening, the app that shows me our current air quality (I check it way more than I look at Facebook or Twitter), said the “air” was 323% more polluted than the World Health Organization’s maximum safe limit. I cranked up the purifiers and drummed up as many indoor baby activities as I could. At one desperate point, I started shopping around for flights to someplace fresher. Developing children are too susceptible to take this risk with.

There isn’t a standard international way to measure air pollution, nor do we agree upon what to measure or how to interpret the results. Schools, if they have a policy in place around air quality, typically rely upon government-published data, the reliability of which varies. It can be easy to assume that, unless a thick fog is visible (and you don’t live in India or China), smog isn’t an issue. However, air pollution – often invisible and odourless – is present in higher levels around the world than you might think. This mesmerizing website, by the World Air Quality Index project, debunked some of my assumptions about where to go for clean air[2]. Indeed, the WHO has concluded that, in 2014, 92% of the global population was living in places where air quality guideline levels were not met[3].

Is it the responsibility of schools to protect students from exposure to air pollution? I’ve heard of some campuses with ‘bubbles’ built over their play spaces so that children have room to run without being outside, exactly. Some schools install air purification systems in classrooms. And some simply hold indoor recess for as long as it takes for the haze to pass. Unlucky is the asthmatic child whose condition has landed them on a list of students who stay inside in all but the best conditions while their peers hit the playground without them. But really, should any of them be running around in questionable air quality?

What precautions does your school take to protect students from the harmful effects of air pollution? 

[1] It’s Hong Kong: when I say ‘house’, I mean a flat that might qualify for those ‘tiny home’ TV shows in the U.S.

[2] As I write this, air pollution readings are triple those in Hong Kong at a station in British Columbia, and at another in Italy.

[3] World Health Organization. (2016). Ambient (outdoor) air quality and health. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs313/en/

The ‘Muslim Ban’ Will Depreciate the Value of American Schools

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Between 1950 and 2009, internationally-mobile students increased from 107,000 to 3.4 million annually[1]. That’s almost 3.5 million students making a decision each year to leave their home to study, and more of them choose the U.S. than any other destination. When I was a college counselor at an American school in the Middle East, only about 1/3 of our students were American, but over 90% of our graduates went on to tertiary studies in the U.S.

The so-called ‘Muslim Ban’, recently signed by U.S. President Trump, which blocks immigrants from six predominantly Muslim countries, will likely impact study abroad applications. As an American, I value the contributions of foreign students to my country. As an international school educator, I wonder about how this ban will effect the appeal of American college prep schools abroad.

Following the election of Donald Trump in 2016, hate crimes against Muslims spiked in the United States. Anti-Muslim groups have also drastically increased. It has been posited that, “The decision to study overseas is driven primarily by cultural values rather than rational choice”[2]. If this is so, perceived messages of intolerance toward Muslim people will influence students’ decisions about where to invest the time and financial resources it takes to complete a degree. I anticipate that we will see a decrease in international Muslim students on U.S. campuses in the coming years.

Image Credit: Southern Poverty Law Center

With fewer foreign students planning on the U.S. for college, I suspect that families will rethink their children’s attendance at international college prep schools. The Executive Director for the Association of International Educators recently gave an interview on National Public Radio, explaining their collaboration with colleges and universities in the U.S. to gain insight on how the immigration ban is playing out in our admissions offices. I fear the worst: numbers of foreign students to the U.S. will drop and, along with that, American college prep schools in Muslim majority countries will see declining enrollment.

We need international students in the United States, and we need American schools abroad. Promoting cross-cultural contact can reduce negative stereotypes about ‘the other’. This is not romantic aspiration; research shows that when white Americans are exposed to positive information about Arab Muslims, their implicit negative bias declines[3]. Having enjoyed four years of gracious hospitality in the Middle East, I am saddened to think that the students I knew may now be feeling unwelcome in my home country.

How has the so-called ‘Muslim Ban’ impacted student’s college plans at your school?

[1] UNESCO Institute for Statistics. (2011). Global Education Digest 2011: Comparing Education Statistics Across the World. Montreal: UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

[2] Shields, R. (2013). Globalization and international student mobility: A network analysis. Comparative Education Review, 57(4), 609-636.

[3] Park, J., Felix, K., & Lee, G. (2007). Implicit Attitudes Toward Arab-Muslims and the Moderating Effects of Social Information. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 29(1), 35-45.

Bathroom Laws and International Schools

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United States President from 2009-2017, Barak Obama, issued a statement last year reminding schools of their responsibility to protect the rights of all students, regardless of gender[1]. Specifically, his guidelines clarified the right of transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room consistent with their gender identity. The directive sparked controversial conversations around the nation, as some contend that people should be forced to use facilities that correspond with their sex assignment from birth. (A reminder that transgender people do not conform to the gender identity and/or expression that is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth). Earlier this week, current President Donald Trump, rescinded Obama’s recommendations[2], renewing debate on the rights of transgender students.

Legal issues
Under Title IX, schools accepting federal funds in the U.S. are legally obligated to comply with this nondiscrimination act, regardless of the political/moral values held by the district. International schools, however, even those following an American curriculum, are generally not bound by this mandate. So, where does that leave transgender students around the world before and after Trump’s actions? Most countries do not protect transgender rights, so policy decisions are left up to individual schools’ leadership teams, many of whom have not been in a position to address these concerns previously, and may not fully understand the issues. Some schools might choose to ignore the issue altogether, which essentially preserves the status quo of leaving their trans kids without protection and equal rights. (Gender Spectrum offers an excellent FAQ[3], as well as sample policies for schools’ reference[4].)

Cultural concerns
Outside of legal obligations, international schools have the unique distinction of managing a dazzling tangle of cultural influences. In many places, gender non-conformity is taboo, even forbidden. There are notable exceptions, such as the Hijra in India and Pakistan, or the Kratoy in Thailand. Still, it is not uncommon for transgender people to face hostility, even violence, for their gender expression. Many trans children do not have the support of their own family members. This can make it difficult for schools to offer appropriate protections, as they find themselves balancing local expectations for gender norms with the well-being of their students. As professional educators, many of us will encourage erring on the side of the child’s best interest, but that does not mean that doing so is without complication. Cultural sensitivity is a valid and important element of working in an international school community.

Transgender risks
Keep in mind that transgender children are among the most vulnerable in our care. From a mental health perspective, trans youth are more likely than their cisgender peers to experience depression, anxiety, and suicidality[5]. Indeed, in one study of transgender youth, nearly half of the participants reported that they have seriously considered taking their lives, and a quarter reported actual suicide attempts[6]. These results are consistent with other studies in the field. The good news is that protective factors and inclusive policies, like the right to choose which bathroom to use, can bear a significant impact on the educational experience of transgender children[7]. As international educators, we are in a powerful position to improve the well-being of trans students around the world.

Does your school offer protection for transgender students’ rights? If so, what was the process like to get to that point? If not yet, what do you think the next steps are? Who advocates for the gender non-conforming children at your school?

[1] Emma, C. (2015, May 12). Obama administration releases directive on transgender rights to school bathrooms. Politico.

[2] Peters, J. W., Becker, J., Davis, J. H. (2017, February 22). Trump Rescinds Rules on Bathroom for Transgender Students. The New York Times.

[3] Transgender students and school bathrooms: Frequently asked questions. (n.d.) Gender Spectrum.

[4] Sample district and statewide policies that provide protection for transgender students. (n.d.) Gender Spectrum.

[5] Institute of Medicine. (2011). The health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender peole: Building a foundation for better understanding. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

[6] Grossman, A.H. & D’Augelli, A.R. (2007). Transgender youth and life-threatening behaviors. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, 37(5), 527-537.

[7] The 2013 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. (2014). The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).