“Freshly Pressed” and Thoughts on Education

I don’t often pay attention to my WordPress dashboard, but this post caught my eye a couple of weeks ago.  The post was quite funny and it piqued my curiosity about the standards for posts on Freshly Pressed.  I hadn’t realized that people actively tried to get onto Freshly Pressed, and I found this post, which outlines some of the standards for blog posts that make it to Freshly Pressed.  Unsurprisingly, the WordPress staff consciously avoid making hard-and-fast statements about what will or won’t make it onto the dashboard, but it is not hard to read between the lines.

I don’t much care about making it onto Freshly Pressed – the subjects about which I write are not necessarily eye-catching to the majority of the population – but I am automatically excluded, I would imagine, by the “no bad stuff” rule which struck up some amount of debate in the post’s comments (the other rule that caused debate was the “include images or visuals” clause, but that is a separate issue).  Thinking about the Freshly Pressed “bad stuff” issue got me thinking about free speech, LGBT education in public schools, etc.

WordPress has the right to set standards for what it features on its front page.  The Powers That Be could decide they only want to feature cooking blogs, for example, and that is their prerogative.  They host our blogs for free on their site so we don’t have much stock in how they run their enterprise.  But here’s the wording for the rule about content:

1. Write unique content that’s free of bad stuff.

Each post that makes it to Freshly Pressed contains original content created by the WordPress user. Bad stuff includes (but isn’t limited to) plagiarism, hate speech, fear-mongering, adult/mature content, improperly used images that belong to someone else, spam or content that is primarily advertorial.”

Most of that is pretty innocuous: who doesn’t want bloggers to avoid plagiarism and hate speech?  But lumping “adult/mature content” into “bad stuff” indiscriminately is a slippery slope.  How do we define “adult” or “mature” (or how should we define them)?  Is there a line to be drawn between WordPress exercising its right to moderate its own content and de facto discrimination?

In employment law, there exists a distinction between “disparate impact” and “disparate treatment.”  So, a company publishing an ad asking for job applications that states: “Transgender people need not apply” is overtly discriminatory and considered disparate treatment.  But, having a rule, for example, that “all men must dress in X way and all women must dress in Y way,” or stating that “we will not hire people who need hormone therapy covered by company health insurance,” though not overtly aimed at trans people, may have an (un)intended, disparate impact on trans employees.*

So where do the Freshly Pressed standards fall on that spectrum?  On the one hand, free speech yada yada, “I have the right to put my thoughts about everything out on the internet.”  On the other hand, WordPress has the right to organize their content how they choose.  But free speech aside, the other underlying issue, which came up a few times when people mentioned “bad stuff” in the comments on the post, is “What is appropriate for minors to read?”

I am not a psychologist or an educator, so I cannot speak to the science or the theory behind when and where to expose kids to particular ideas.  But those ideas are often there even if adults have not spoken to the kids about them.  I certainly had some inclinations of the trans issues when I was a little kid, but I didn’t have the language to speak or think about them.  I dearly wish someone had sat me down and explained the word “transgender” to me as a seven year old.  I think my childhood would have been a lot smoother.

When school boards get caught up in the debate about discussing homosexuality in sex-ed courses or when you see pundits flipping out about kids becoming trans by watching Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars (*cough* Keith Ablow *cough*), it makes you think about what concepts kids can truly handle.  I am of the belief that they can handle most anything if presented carefully.  Parents choose to talk with their children about sex in general at a wide variety of ages, and it doesn’t seem to be the age that you first had a talk with your parents about sex that affects your relationship with sex (except in cases where people are actually harmed by not being able to talk about it).  I’ve also read some great articles and anecdotes about kids who seem to get LGBT issues much better than most adults (e.g. “My daughter said that she had always been sure she was a girl on the inside and on the outside. Then she furrowed her brow in concern for my friend. ‘It would be hard to be one thing inside and one thing outside and not get to be the one you say you are.’”).

I’m not saying I think a seven year old kid could sit down and read my blog and not need to have a conversation with an adult about it.  I’m not even saying that I’m sure a seven year old kid should read my blog.  But some kids are dealing with the same issues and could use a chance to see they are not alone.  And others will never deal with those issues and need to realize that trans people are people too.  Are we really doing ourselves or our children a favor by “shielding” them from particular ideas?

* These concepts as understood by a future lawyer, not yet an actual lawyer, so please take my legal analysis with a grain of salt.

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3 Responses to “Freshly Pressed” and Thoughts on Education

  1. Tracy says:

    I think we’re doing a huge disservice to kids by NOT introducing them to certain ideas. Regardless of one’s personal opinions about a slew of controversial topics, from gay marriage to abortion to immigration, I think parents still have a responsibility to introduce such topics to their children when appropriate (when that is, of course, is another issue). But kids can easily get a sense of what’s going on even when adults refuse to mention it. A simple example, my partner’s brother-in-law was recently in a bad car crash and was in the ICU for days, and my partner’s sister did not want to tell her son (who’s 5) what happened other than “Daddy has a boo-boo.” Like most kids though, he had an innate feeling that something was really wrong and finally asked his mom where his dad was, and was he dead since he wasn’t allowed to visit him at the hospital? Now obviously that’s not quite what you’re talking about in your post, but it does go to show you that kids really aren’t as unaware as we think or would like to think.

    Regarding some of the LGBT stuff, I think kids understand way more than we give them credit for and many seem to be better equipped to understand than some bigoted adults! Case in point: My partner’s sister told her son (same son as above) that his Auntie was going to become his Uncle soon. Her son replied, “but I thought Auntie was a ‘she’?” His mom said, “Yep, but sometimes girls can become boys and boys can become girls,” to which he replied, “So I can become a girl if I want to? Cool, okay.” Obviously that’s a very kid-friendly version of explaining what trans is and the understanding is through the eyes of a kid, but I think many bigots, religious zealots, etc. would argue that this child should never had been told of his aunt’s transition and now is “poisoned” or will turn gay/trans. Rather, my partner and his mom took this opportunity to educate him about life and culture, and who knows how this could positively affect him and others he comes into contact with in the future.

    • sirgarreth says:

      I agree with you 100%. I guess where my head starts to explode is when and how to have these conversations, only because I have a war in my head between “parents have the right to parent how they choose” and “man, these kids can handle it.” I just don’t know how you go about getting parents to have these conversations without stepping on toes. I guess that’s why school-sponsored conversations and inclusion of LGBT topics in courses is such a good idea (and maybe why the parents find it so frightening?).

      And kids definitely seem to often have a better handle on these things. I had one awkward moment with a little girl before I came out where she was making me one of those Wii avatars and trying to find my haircut in the girls’ section (another issue in and of itself) of the hairstyles. I suggested that there were short haircuts in the boys’ section, and she responded, “We can’t get your hairstyle out of the boys’ section.” I think how upset I was by that should have been a clue.

      But other than that, I’ve found kids very understanding. One of my cousin’s kids plain asked me if I was a boy or a girl when she was drawing a picture of me. And my nephew, who was about 3 at the time I came out, had known me as my former name. He was asked by a confused friend if, “[Gareth] was a boy or a girl,” responded simply, “He’s a boy,” and moved on with playing.

      I just wonder how we get through to parents that their kids can handle this information. The “oh god my kid will turn gay” fears are almost harder to debunk because they are so illogical, but how do we teach the teachers that these concepts are not as tough as we make them out to be?

  2. Polka Dot says:

    Agreed Tracy and Garreth! Children can handle, understand, and negotiate a lot of information, even at a very early age. When I look around me, I realize that it’s adults who cannot handle them and they project their ignorance/intolerance, often fear onto children and adolescents. As in, we cannot have this book or this discussion in a classroom because it is age-inappropriate. We must protect our children or some such thing. As far as I’m concerned, an issue is age-inappropriate when the adult does not know how to handle a discussion of it. I recently started reading about book banning around the country. School boards and parents are really into challenging books not only in the classroom, but even on library shelves, because they want “to protect the innocent children.” Unsurprisingly given the ignorance if not outright hostility against LGBT issues, many of these books have to do with LGBT. So let’s say you’re a kid and have questions you cannot discuss with your parents. You go to the library to become informed and have at least some of your questions answered because you found a couple of books on-line that seem like they have the info you need. But no, your local school board wants to protect you and has removed books from the shelves. Book bans have nothing to do with kids, but everything to do with adult biases and bigotry. Drives me nuts!

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