Conservatives, Education, Featured Post, Transgender — February 3, 2021 at 2:42 pm

On Trans* Students and Level Playing Fields


Republican Senator Roger Marshall of Kansas spent some time today questioning President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Dr. Miguel Cardonas, and decided to focus on the issue of transgender students playing sports in school. Here’s what Sen. Marshall had to say…

I’m going to take Mr. Marshall at his word, and instead of suggesting that he used his time with the microphone to engage in a cheap publicity stunt designed to roil up the far right fringe of his conservative base, that he truly believes that one of the biggest problems facing students and schools today is that allowing transgender students to play school sports means “there is not a level playing field.”

Given Mr. Marshall’s seeming fascination with matters of student and school equity and unfairness, I’m also going to assume that he shares my concerns about the following issues:

  • how underfunded urban and rural schools are forced to “compete” against wealthy suburban teams in interscholastic athletics, pitting schools and players who practice on expensive playing fields, pools, tracks, and courts; with certified trainers; new equipment; experienced coaches; and many other advantages–while less well resourced schools struggle with (literally) uneven basketball courts, soccer and football fields with holes, rocks, and dead grass; no trainers; old and damaged helmets, shoulder pads, and leaky basketballs; and volunteer coaches
  • moving away from the sports analogy, how the inequities between schools often determine the content and availability of the curriculum offered to students–with suburban children getting to choose from a dizzying array of choices including AP courses, “electives” like music, art, and PE; clean, well-maintained school facilities with functioning bathrooms and air filtration systems, gymnasiums, and libraries stocked with current books and media–while kids in systemically defunded urban schools are provided with a stripped-down, “back to basics” curriculum too often devoid of the subjects and disciplines that intrigue and motivate young learners, and offer the experiences that prepare them for meaningful lives *after* high school
  • how the “competition” model favored by school reformers, with the promotion of charter schools and private school vouchers, only serves to widen the inequities between traditional public schools by diverting much-needed funding from these schools to their for-profit and private competitors–thereby creating the very “un-level playing fields” that Sen. Marshall seems to worry so much about

So, I’m sure that given Sen. Marshall’s interest in making sure that the “playing fields” for all children are “level,” that he will be a strong advocate for public education and adequately funding schools in Kansas. Except when asked about former-President Trump’s threat to cut off funding for schools that did not fully reopen last fall, Mr. Marshall…um…declined to answer.

And since we know that preschool and early childhood education are a couple of the biggest drivers with respect to insuring that young children start school ready to learn, it stands to reason that Mr. Marshall would support the federal government funding universal preschool programs, right? Not so much.

And as a proud graduate of both Kansas State University and the University of Kansas, Marshall is surely committed to the universities in his state, especially his alma maters, being adequately funded, right? And he wouldn’t be in favor of the state cutting funding to Kansas State, right? Uh…

Rachel Hogan, news editor: “Something that’s really important to college students, because we’re here at (Kansas State University), is funding for higher education. Do you think higher education is ever going to be able to come back from the funding cuts that it’s seen in the last few years?”

Marshall: “Gosh, I didn’t know it had any funding cuts. Is that true?”

Hogan: “Mostly, in Kansas, yes.”

So, while Sen. Marshall doesn’t seem to be overly concerned about schools being threatened with budget cuts if they don’t reopen, or a supporter of early childhood education, or even aware of his state’s massive budget cuts to his own alma mater, he does want you to know that he is laser-focused on the existential problem of transgender students playing sports.


We should also probably talk about Sen. Marshall’s discomfort with the “unfairness” that a hypothetical female athlete faces when competing against–now, how does Mr. Marshall describe them again? Ah, yes, a “genotypical male” student. No, sir–you don’t get to intentionally misgender persons just in order to make a highly suspect and deeply offensive point; so let me fix that for you–a transgender female student.

Or as I would refer to that student–another female athlete.

Because here’s the thing, Sen. Marshall–you don’t get to decide the gender of another person. No one gets to decide that except for that person. And President Biden just weighed in on this issue–you may have heard about it?

Let me suggest that the hypothetical “unfairness” felt by that hypothetical female athlete pales in comparison to the real and actual unfairness–and worse–felt by thousands of trans* students on a daily basis in our schools.

Like the alarmingly high rates of attempted suicide by trans* students.

Or the high dropout rate among trans* students.

Or the disproportionately high rates of bullying reported by transgender children in their schooling.

As an elected official, I would hope that Sen. Marshall would show the same concern for all children, including trans* students–not just the supposedly tender feelings of the hypothetical female athletes he decided to focus on in his brief televised appearance at today’s hearing.

Because that would really level some pretty uneven playing fields.