So there I was, minding my own business, when I overheard a conversation between an eighth-grade boy and his mother’s friend about what high schools the boy was considering.
Maybe Malvern, St. Joe’s Prep, and Devon, he answered. But he hedged, stating that he also liked co-ed schools. So he rattled off Episcopal and the archdiocesan schools.
Lending a helping hand, I suggested Agnes Irwin, an elite private co-ed school on the Main Line.
The boy and his mother turned and just stared. Was a large chunk of food wedged in my teeth — again?
Not this time.
After a minute, they informed me that I had it completely wrong: Agnes Irwin was, and always had been, an all-girls school.
Au contraire, I shot back! I am often wrong, but not on this. Accordingly, I proceeded to enlighten them to the fact that Agnes Irwin had indeed become co-ed last year when it allowed a female student to "switch" genders and "identify" as male. With that decision, Irwin afforded "him" a host of special benefits that come with being male in an otherwise all-female school, including changing her name to a "his" name; donning a different uniform; using a separate bathroom; wearing a tux in a sea of gowns at the prom (and upcoming graduation); and being the beneficiary of politically correct nomenclature, so that the student is now officially referred to as "he" and "his" in school, and in school publications, such as the yearbook, directory and playbill.
The choice to allow a transgender student to remain — thus upending everything the school had stood for — continues, as Irwin now has a bona fide, albeit irrational, policy on transgender students.
It’s one thing to be "progressive," but this is beyond the boundaries of common sense — and good business. Not only has Agnes Irwin’s decision made it a laughingstock to many, but it constitutes a betrayal to those who chose the school because it was single-sex. In fact, numerous families have already parted ways as a result.
Bottom line: Since humans are referred to as either "he" or "she," and the school stamped its official imprimatur on allowing a "he" student, then, by definition, this year’s graduates will be part of the first co-ed class in the school’s 148-year history. There is no way to suggest otherwise.
Here’s a look at why such politically correct polices have a detrimental effect on everyone: School, parents, and most of all, students.
1) To be very clear, in no way is this column critical of the student, or the student’s family. "Freindly Fire" has always espoused a "live and let live" philosophy, so long as people’s behavior and decisions do not adversely affect others. If the student in question feels more like a male than female, fine. Hopefully, "he" finds happiness in that decision.
2) The issue has nothing to do with being transgender, and everything to do with Agnes Irwin breaking its own protocols, yet coyly trying to play both sides.
You cannot emphatically state that you were, and remain, an all-girls school, while allowing "male" students to be a part of that environment. It doesn’t work.
The solution should have been simple: Explain to the student and his/her family that, as an all-girls institution, it cannot allow "males" — either biologically or those identifying as such — to be a part of the student body. Period. No exceptions. So the student would either comply with the rules — the same rules to which the student and family originally consented — or would have to find another school.
That choice would have been the right move from both administrative and P.R. perspectives, and would have been widely lauded. Doing so would have reflected Irwin’s commitment to its mission and history, and demonstrated that it respects the "rule of law," while acting compassionately. What better lesson for young girls?
But instead of passing the test, Agnes Irwin failed miserably.
3) One wonders how adept the school’s board of directors is at reading the tea leaves. Sure, a few unplacatable loudmouths may have complained if the school had exited the student, but that dissent would have mustered little credibility and been short-lived.
But instead, it chose a politically correct path that surely looks to be more damaging. With tuition starting at $22,700 for Pre-K, and rising to $36,550 per year for high schoolers, any family leaving because of the situation results in a significant revenue loss. Do the math: If the family of a fourth-grader pulled out, and (just for laughs) let’s say tuition stayed the same for the next eight years, then a whopping $278,000 would have walked out the door, not including thousands more in donations and fundraisers. Factor in multiple families (and prospects who’ve now nixed Irwin), combined with donors and alums who refuse to contribute out of disgust, and Agnes Irwin could easily lose millions. And naturally, parents of current students will continually wonder if future tuition increases are the tool to make up that lost revenue.
And all because it tried to be all things to all people, while forgetting what it was.
4) Some parents feel that the school falsely advertised. An all-girls environment is a huge reason why parents and students pick such a school. Girls can "let their hair down" rather than "looking good," and, more important, don’t have to dumb themselves down so as to not intimidate the boys. Girls are taught differently; are prepared for careers beyond those stereotypically associated with women; often test higher than co-ed counterparts; and frequently emerge with vastly boosted self-confidence.
But by allowing a male student, the single-sex structure goes by the wayside, slapping parents in the face who shelled out big bucks on the promise of an all- girls school. And let’s be honest: Once that door opens, it rarely closes.
Case in point: What if one male turns into five, or ten? And what if a boy (biological, and identifying as such) decides to apply to Irwin? Will he be rejected, even if he meets the requirements? And if so, on what basis? That’s he’s "male?" Now you’ve potentially incurred liability where it never before existed. Such situations may well be the beginning of the end for single-sex schools as we know them.
5) Adopting these policies opens Pandora’s Box. Is it fair to allow males identifying as females to compete on female sports teams? Can these folks walk into the bathroom of their choice with no ramifications? Would it be legal to apply as a "female" (even though one is biologically male) to a university that gives preference to women, since doing so would take a slot away from a biological female?
To show how ridiculous this can get, could people apply as a Native American or other ethnicity, solely on the basis that they "identify" as such? What’s the difference between doing that and claiming a different gender? And make no mistake — the stakes are extremely high, as millions in scholarship and grant money could be allocated to those people, to the detriment of students applying in the traditional way.
And, just out of curiosity, what gender will be marked on passports, drivers’ licenses and birth certificates? Where does it end?
The ultimate result is that these policies breed resentment and cause the gulf between Americans to widen. Agnes Irwin, as a private institution, can certainly choose to continue its policies, but the cost will be high: Imbuing students with the sense of entitlement that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want; teaching that there are two sets of rules — one for those who invoke the magic words "diversity" and "I’m offended," and another for everyone else; and learning that the uniquely American concept of "equal rights for all, special treatment for none" is nothing more than an ancient platitude now relegated to the dust heap of history.
Hopefully, Agnes Irwin will remember that the most valuable lesson in life is being courageous enough to admit a mistake, and fixing it.
Otherwise, school’s out for our kids’ future.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected].