Shaping Minds in Early Childhood
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle is attributed with this insightful statement: “Give me a child until the age of seven, and I will show you the man!”. While Aristotle's statement predates modern psychology and scientific methods, several psychological and scientific concepts support it. Developmental psychology recognises the existence of critical periods, during which certain experiences and environmental factors have a profound and lasting impact on a person's development.
Early childhood is a crucial time for shaping neural pathways and establishing cognitive, emotional, and social skills. Children’s interactions with family, teachers, and the broader community shape their understanding of social rules, empathy, and emotional regulation. Language development is particularly important because it facilitates learning, communication, and the expression of thoughts and emotions which will have long-term consequences on their behaviour and relationships.
The Power of Parental Rights: Upholding Values and Beliefs
It is for this reason that the law strongly supports the rights of parents to raise their own children according to their beliefs and values. This is an integral part of our constitutional right to religious freedom and is seen as “inalienable”. The State does not grant this right and it cannot take it away - it is yours simply by virtue of the fact that you are a parent. Why would anyone want to interfere with parents’ sacrosanct right to raise their children in accordance with their beliefs and values? However, this is the situation that we are facing and the battleground for the next generation is being fought in the classrooms. Unless parents, in particular, are alert and take a stand to protect and uphold their right to shape the views and values of their own children, they will quickly lose them.
Societal Norms: The Glue that Holds Us Together
All stable and sustainable societies are based upon certain beliefs, norms, values, and traditions which are upheld by the majority of its citizens and are passed on from generation to generation. A society is essentially a reflection of the views its citizens collectively hold and there is a widely held assumption that these result in a common good. They are the glue that holds together the fabric of a society. For example, Christian belief and tradition have shaped certain core democratic rights in so-called Western democracies, based upon the premise that human beings are created in the image of God. This formed the basis for the recognition of human rights and the inherent value of each individual person in the democratic model. Consequentially, the role of the State is primarily to safeguard these individual rights and to create an environment that enables citizens to exercise their freedoms.
Norms are also woven into the fabric of a society. Norms are a bit like the air we breathe – they are an essential element of how we live, with the largely unspoken assumption that they form the context within which life happens. Norms are like the sun, whose gravitational pull holds everything in place. Heteronormativity is a good example of a societal norm, where a man, woman, and child form the family unit. This family unit has long been recognised as the essential building block of any society and the basis of any functional and durable civilization. Although there will always be exceptions that need to be reasonably accommodated and tolerated, this does not alter the essential truth of this proposition. The fact that there are people who do not fit the norm does not invalidate the norm itself.
Tolerance: A Two-Way Street in a Diverse Democracy
Although societies have historically seen the importance of heteronormativity in supporting and protecting the resulting family unit, it is equally important to understand that, in a democratic society, this does not mean that we must all be uniform. Although there is a common basis for what we all share, we accommodate people and ideas that may not fit into the norm because we recognise that this diversity can add to the richness of our society as it develops. This is also why – for example – freedom of speech and expression is a vital component of a healthy democracy. We need to have the freedom to engage in robust debate with very differing viewpoints because this process helps us gain a better understanding and facilitates positive change. This requires tolerance, which is also considered to be a constitutional virtue. (See, for example, See, for example, Prince v President, Cape Law Society, and Others 2002 (2) SA 794 (CC); 2002 (3) BCLR 231 (CC) (“Prince 2”) at paragraph 172 where the Court said: “Faith and public interest overlap and intertwine in the need to protect tolerance as a constitutional virtue and respect for diversity and openness as a constitutional principle.” [Own emphasis.]).
“The test of tolerance as envisaged by the Bill of Rights comes not in accepting what is familiar and easily accommodated, but in giving reasonable space to what is 'unusual, bizarre or even threatening'.”(Prince 2 at paragraph 172.) In other words, it is not tolerance when we allow space in the public realm for people and/or practices where we feel comfortable, but when we accommodate those expressions that are (perhaps even extremely) uncomfortable to us, yet nevertheless allow them to participate in the public realm. (Minister of Home Affairs v Fourie 2006 (3) BCLR 355 (CC) at paragraph 60.)
A good example of this is the protection given in section 9 of our Constitution, which is further given effect to through the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (commonly known as either PEPUDA or the Equality Act). Among other things, this prevents people from being unfairly discriminated against on the basis of their sex, gender and/or sexual orientation. Members of the LGBT community were historically marginalised, persecuted and victimised. Until relatively recent times, same-sex relationships were criminalised and this is still the case in some nations.
The argument for decriminalisation was for tolerance: that what two consenting adults did in the privacy of their own homes was not the business of the State. Most people recognised that that was a reasonable position that Western democratic societies could and should accommodate. The argument for the legalisation of same-sex marriage was similarly based on equality. This constitutional and legal protection ensures that LGBT people can live how they want to live, and love who they want to love, in a spirit of inclusion and diversity. To all intents and purposes, the LGBT community now has all the legal rights and privileges of any other group in our society and no one is arguing that they should lose any of these rights or protections.
However – and to illustrate that tolerance is a two-way street – the Constitutional Court has said that “those persons who for reasons of religious belief disagree with or condemn homosexual conduct, are free to hold and articulate such beliefs”. (National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality and Another v Minister of Justice and Others 1999 (1) SA 6 (CC) at paragraph 137.) This is an example of how everyone is reasonably accommodated in our diverse democracy: In the same way that everyone is allowed to get married and exercise their right to equality publicly, everyone is equally allowed to say what they believe Scripture says about sexual ethics. Both coexist in the same public realm at the same time.
The Law Strongly Supports Parental Rights
That said, it is the right of parents to pass on their own views and values to their own children. This is not a matter of opinion or conjecture, but of law – and the law is firmly on the side of the parents, both within the framework of South African law and also international law. Multiple international treaties are binding on South Africa and these clearly and firmly support parental rights over the upbringing and education of their own children. At the same time, they place a firm obligation upon the State to support and protect parental rights. By way of example:
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states that:
· The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state. (Article 16(3).)
· Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. (Article 26(3).)
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) (“ICCPR”) states that:
· States… undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents… to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions. (Article 18(4).)
African (Banjul) Charter on Human and People’s Rights (1981) states that:
· The State shall have the duty to assist the family which is the custodian of morals and traditional values recognized by the community. (Article 18(2).)
These rights are furthermore confirmed and reinforced in South Africa’s national legislation, including but not limited to, the Children’s Act, 2005. Section 18(2)(a) of this Act states that “The parental responsibilities and rights that a person may have in respect of a child, include the responsibility and the right to care for the child” with the Act defining “care” as including inter alia “safeguarding and promoting the wellbeing of the child; protecting the child from… exploitation and any other physical, emotional or moral harm”. [Own emphasis.]
The Department of Basic Education’s (“DBE”) own policy, Education White Paper 1 (at paragraph 3 under Chapter 4 on page 21), states that:
· Parents or guardians have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, and have the right to be consulted by the state authorities with respect to the form that education should take and to take part in its governance.
· Parents have an inalienable right to choose the form of education which is best for their children, particularly in the early years of schooling, whether provided by the state or not, subject to reasonable safeguards which may be required by law.
· The parents' right to choose includes choice of the … cultural or religious basis of the child's education, with due regard for the rights of others and the rights of choice of the growing child.
Public Education is a Partnership Between Parents and the State
Parents are therefore the ones who have the right to guide and direct their child's education and upbringing, including their child’s religious and cultural education. We no longer live under a totalitarian Apartheid State – which included a state school system. The State’s rule encompassed all of society and prescribed societal norms and values in line with its own ideological position.
These laws make it crystal clear that – post 1994 – it is parents, not the State, who have the right to ensure that the content of the education taught in public schools is a reflection of their views and values. Our current education system is a partnership between parents and the State, with each having their own areas of authority and responsibility. For example, the State has the responsibility to provide and maintain the school property and to pay teachers’ salaries. It also has the power to define the educational outcomes that should be achieved by learners at each age and stage in terms of the CAPS Curriculum. (See Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS).)
However, this is balanced by School Governing Bodies – or SGBs – who represent parental authority, school community interests, and the values of the learner population of each local school. SGBs have the right and responsibility to make the policies that govern the life of the school, to select the teachers, and to choose the content that will be taught to learners (i.e. books) to achieve the required outcomes in terms of the CAPS Curriculum. There is a clear legal division of power and authority within the education system between parents and the State.
Schools as Battlegrounds: Influencing the Minds of the Next Generation
One of the greatest current battlegrounds between parents and the State is the global trend to use the education system to cram down a particular ideological viewpoint on sex and sexuality onto children. Unlike mathematics, where 1 + 1 will always = 2, it is impossible to teach sex and sexuality without infusing some value system. In the area of sex and sexuality, the vast majority of parents believe that only men and women exist and that they are separate and distinct from one another. They see this male/female binary in all mammalian species and as the basis of all reproduction in mammals. It is this foundation of heteronormativity – i.e. that sex and gender are inseparable and exist as a binary of only male and female – that societies have built themselves upon.
The Global Agenda: Ideological Influence in Education
By contrast, there is a concerted, global agenda to challenge these “norms” and to promote progressive views about sexuality, gender identity, gender expression etc. Despite all the international treaties and binding declarations protecting the rights of parents to guide the development of the views and values of their own children, international organisations at the highest level have become involved in the sexuality agenda and in promoting the transgender ideology through the education systems of nations. The World Health Organisation (“WHO”) has developed a guidance for schools saying children aged four and under should “ask questions about sexuality” and “explore gender identities”. WHO officials describe the guide as a “framework for policy makers, educational and health authorities and specialists”. The guidance suggests that children between four and six years old should be encouraged to “talk about sexual matters”. It further recommends that children as young as four and under are taught about masturbation.
In 2019, South Africans were made aware of a R 500 million Rand grant given to the DBE by USAID to push specific Comprehensive Sexuality Education (“CSE”) materials into public schools – without proper consultation. The DBE pushed strongly for this content to be adopted and taught in public schools and only confirmed that parents through the SGBs had the right to refuse and select alternative content after a major public pushback. Nevertheless, in October 2022, South Africa ratified an agreement to give the United Nations the authority to overhaul and roll out its very liberal, secular CSE content (which includes very explicit sexuality education.) into our public schools.
There is clear evidence of an increasing level of international interference in pushing a liberal sexual agenda and ideology into the education systems of nations, and that is often completely opposite to the faith and values that are held by the vast majority of the citizens of those nations. While it is difficult (if not impossible) to change the views and values of the adult population, the views and values of children and learners are far easier to influence if you can use the education system to promote an alternative ideology. The only way to make a fundamental change to society is to use the education system to inculcate the next generation with views and values that are contrary to those of previous generations and, in particular, of their parents.
If you allow one generation of parents to raise their children in line with their beliefs and values, then it is impossible to bring about change because there will be a built-in resistance to the alternatives that are being pushed forward or promoted. Children learn their views and values primarily from their parents, whose role in this is critical – particularly in the early stages of their development. Children are not at a stage of mental and cognitive development where they can join an open debate in the marketplace of ideas and use their discernment to come to their own conclusions. The potential consequence of effectively cutting off children from learning and adopting the beliefs and values of their parents is a tectonic societal shift.
The State has No Right to Push Ideology into Public Schools
One of the greatest concerns raised about pushing any ideology on impressionable young children is that they are highly susceptible to suggestion, especially from authority figures. However, it is simply unlawful for another authority figure – particularly a school teacher – to contradict the views and values that parents are imparting to their children. It is a fundamental abuse of the relationship because parents entrust schools to teach their children facts and (at least!) the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Schools are supposed to be neutral and should never contradict the value system that parents are teaching their children. However, in too many cases, teaching children how to think is being replaced with an activist-led vision designed to teach children what to think.
Schools are therefore the #1 battleground for the minds and hearts of the next generation and the epicentre of this conflict is the debate that rages around a gender ideology (commonly known as transgenderism). It is important to bring clarity to some of the elements that are often blurred in one of the most divisive issues of our day. This debate is critical because the State has no right to undermine parental rights by imposing any ideology on children using the public education system. FOR SA is therefore concerned to learn that there are currently a number of initiatives being developed within the DBE, whose cumulative impact will be to infuse the entire public education system with a profound and ideologically laden value system and view on sex and sexuality. On some of these documents and materials, FOR SA is concerned that there has of yet been little or no meaningful consultation with parents in general.
Transgenderism in the Classroom: Clarifying the Debate
Many parents are concerned that transgenderism (i.e. the belief that gender is a social construct and “fluid”) is being taught in schools because they believe that it is an ideology and not a biological reality. They typically believe that an individual's biological sex assigned at birth (typically based on physical characteristics such as genitalia) determines their gender identity and roles in society. Gender is therefore seen as binary, with only two categories: male and female. However, gender recognises that there are attributes that are generally considered more masculine or more feminine and these perceptions may vary from culture to culture. However, it is simply wrong to suggest that because a man or boy may be effeminate, he is in fact a woman or a girl, or that if a woman or girl is more masculine, she is therefore a man or a boy.
It is important to note that those who promote transgenderism often try to confuse the issue by equating it to someone who is diagnosed with a genetic intersex condition. Intersex is a term used for a rare, genetic anomaly or deformity occurring in 0.05% of humans, where a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the boxes of “female” or “male.” There are also women who suffer from Turner syndrome (where there is the absence or alteration of the second X chromosome) and men who suffer from Klinefelter syndrome, where there is an extra X chromosome (XXY) or other variations in the number of sex chromosomes in male cells. However, it is important to point out that all intersex conditions still occur within the sex binary of male and female. It is not a “third sex” and is totally distinct from transgenderism.
Another area of confusion that needs to be clarified is that transgenderism is different from (but related to) Gender dysphoria. This is a rare, recognised psychological condition where a person genuinely believes that they have been born into a body that does not correspond with their psychological sense of their gender. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition) this accounts for 1 in 30,000 of the population for biological males and 1 in 100,000 for biological females. This condition also typically self-resolves in the majority of all cases when puberty occurs.
Obviously, people suffering from these conditions should be treated with care and compassion. In particular, their constitutional rights should be upheld and they should not be subjected to any form of unfair discrimination or bullying, particularly in the school context. It is also important to note that, according to our Constitution, every adult has the right to choose how they want to live and/or who they want to love and these rights are protected by law.
Transgenderism is an ideology, not a science
The fundamental premise of the ideology of transgenderism is the belief that sex and gender are completely separate and that gender is entirely a social construct and therefore “fluid”. This means that a person can choose to identify as the gender of their choice – or to have no gender at all and identify as something altogether different. It claims that an individual’s perception of their gender supersedes the biological and genetic binary certainty of their sex. A classic example of this is that when a child is born, they are not in fact a boy or a girl. This is simply their “sex assigned at birth”. As they grow and develop, their subjective feelings about their gender trump the biological reality of their sex. Transgenderism is therefore based upon a belief, not the science of biological reality (or fact), hence why it is an ideology.
Transgenderism is founded on the premise that my subjective belief is the ultimate value and that this must not only be accepted – it must be affirmed and even celebrated. If I state that I am a woman, it is irrelevant that every single one of my chromosomes in every cell of my body is male, or that I have all the secondary sexual characteristics of a male – such as male genitalia, a beard, a deep voice, or greater bone and muscle mass. If I believe in my mind that I am a woman, then I must be treated as one in public. I am entitled to all the rights and privileges and opportunities that being a woman entails. Conversely, if you refuse to treat me as a woman in both speech and conduct then you are unfairly discriminating against me and being hateful because you are denigrating my human dignity.
The ECE Toolkit – What Every Parent Should Know
This view is in complete contrast and contradiction to the traditional view of most parents. This is why it is important to ensure that the legal safeguards guaranteed to parents (in particular) are respected and upheld when this is being taught to children in the public education system. A case in point is that teachers in pre-school and pre-primary levels are being trained to use the DBE’s ECE Toolkit to tell children that what they may have been taught about sex and gender by their parents or in their community is wrong and potentially harmful to them. (For the ECE Toolkit and related documents, see Open educational resources to promote gender equality in early childhood development.) This Toolkit is fully funded by a R40 million grant from VVOB – a Belgian organisation – and was developed by the University of Stellenbosch in conjunction with the DBE.
Training in the use of the ECE Toolkit has already been piloted in Kwa-Zulu Natal to 4,000 Grade R Teachers and ECD Practitioners and its final form is currently being rolled out in a phased implementation to all nine South African provinces. According to the Social Cohesion and Equity in Education unit in the DBE, they consulted with the National Consultative Forum of SGB Associations on every element of the work, but no public participation process (i.e. submissions or hearings) was undertaken. The DBE has communicated with FOR SA to state that the Department is not required to do this and no parental consent was required because the focus is on training teachers and ECD practitioners.
But it begs the question: “Who will these teachers be teaching using the training they have received?” Here are some of the direct quotes from the teacher training material (All are Welcome! Promoting Gender Equality in Early Childhood Development: A Practical Guide for Teachers and Practitioners in South Africa) in the ECE Toolkit:
· Most of us have been raised with the idea that there are two sexes (male and female) and that they align with two genders (man and woman). However, both sex and gender exist across a continuum of possibilities. (See page 5.)
· ECD teachers and practitioners play a central role in providing equal opportunities for all young children to engage and learn and help them break free from harmful gender stereotypes that hold them back in life. (See page 9.)
· Many families and communities hold to prevailing harmful gender roles and boundaries and may also impose gender stereotypes and expectations on children. (See page 47.)
· Growing up, many of us were taught that if you were identifying a single person by a pronoun, you had to use "he" or "she." "They" was only for groups of people. Those rules have changed. “They" or "them" is now a non-binary way to address someone. Using “they” and “them” lets children know that we cannot assume someone’s gender identity just by looking at them. (See page 39.)
· Use pictures and stories to talk about gender roles and promote gender diversity. Display examples of gender non-conforming individuals. Use activities to question gender roles and stereotypes to promote gender equality. (See page 13.)
· Trans and non-binary children may not feel comfortable using sex-segregated facilities and should have access to toilet facilities that correspond with their gender identity. (See page 18.)
A child’s personal sense of identity is critical to their emotional and psychological development and most parents would think that it is a dangerous denial of reality to cast doubt on something as fundamentally self-evident as male and female. Since public schools are required to be ideologically neutral places, parents may well ask “How is it even possible that we can have teachers trained to sow an ideology about sexuality and gender in our public schools?” How does this not overstep the mark into a parent’s lawful terrain?
The Potential Dangers of Teaching Transgender Ideology in Schools
Many parents are also concerned that teaching children transgender ideology is potentially life-altering and deeply harmful, with no way of predicting the future consequences for children and even the future of our society. They observe that where this type of indoctrination has been rolled out internationally into the school education system, there is a corresponding and stratospheric rise of young people who identify as LGBT. A recent Gallup poll in the US revealed that only 0.8 percent of those born before 1946 identify as LGBT, versus 20.8% of those born between 1997 and 2003. This is a 2,500% increase, which is the reason why some people believe that there is a strong element of social contagion rather than simply a result of a more open and accepting society.
They also point out that transgenderism has real-life consequences. It particularly impacts girls, e.g. in the so-called “bathroom wars”, where you are entitled to use facilities of the sex with which you identify, robbing girls in particular of their privacy and potentially putting them at risk of violence by opportunists who may use the allowances made for transgender people to access areas where they were not previously admitted.
It also raises issues around equality, fairness and even safety in sport, where in most cases a biological male will clearly have a significant advantage over a woman.
It also has potential life-long health consequences since there is an increasing trend to encourage children who are apparently suffering from gender dysphoria to follow through with so-called “gender affirmation” medical interventions. These include chemical sterilisation through puberty blockers and cross-hormone therapy. It may also include surgeries such as mastectomies, hysterectomies and grafting a fake penis for girls and cutting off the penis and testicles, and creating a fake vagina body cavity for boys.
Some parents may say that the greatest danger is that the underlying rationale behind transgenderism is an assault on truth and that truth matters for its own sake, because when you deny the most basic realities of human existence and propagate this lie through the education system, it is a fundamental assault on reality and it undermines the fabric upon which a society is built. This is a complete departure from what has historically been understood and accepted as a societal norm and it therefore has far-reaching implications. They view the battle for the next generation as essentially a battle for truth.
While there may be people and parents who believe in the transgender ideology and would like to see it accepted as the “new normal”, it is no longer an issue where people can remain neutral. You will either support it or oppose it – but it is FOR SA’s position that it is the parents who have the right to make this choice, not the State.
FOR SA is closely monitoring the situation and we are in regular contact with the DBE to press them to engage more with parents and other key stakeholders. In particular, we (and others) are pressing the DBE to make these materials available and to open them for comment to give parents to have the opportunity to have their say and to make their views clear. We will certainly continue to bring awareness of any key developments and will stand alongside parents to help protect their vital rights in the fight for the faith and freedom of their children.
Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) is dedicated to protecting and preserving the freedoms and rights that the South African Constitution has granted to the faith community. If you have found this helpful, please consider supporting the work of FOR SA to protect our constitutional right to enjoy the freedom of religion by: