School Told to Call Kids ‘Purple Penguins’ Because ‘Boys and Girls’ Is Not Inclusive to Transgender

School Told to Call Kids ‘Purple Penguins’ Because ‘Boys and Girls’ Is Not Inclusive to Transgender October 9, 2014

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  • KM

    I expect this kind of thing in California where we live, not in Nebraska. With Arne Duncan in charge of national education however, this doesn’t surprise me.

    • Michael Foley

      I was thinking the same thing… Nebraska?.?.? What the?.?.? This would be funny – well, actually it IS funny – if it wasn’t so sad… I thought it was a big deal when girls (oops, lavender penguins) replaced Estes Rockets on my top 5 list – I never realized I was slighting all my cross-dressing schoolmates…

    • Andy

      Remember Arne Duncan is not an educator – he is a sociologist – tied to the education privatization world – where all schools are good for is making money and that the only value of schools is having kids pass tests created by various groups with a corporate interest in maintaining “low scores’.

  • Evelyn

    A link to this story on another blog bounced me to this: I thought it was satire, and pretty funny satire. But it’s not. I’m as unique as the next person, and according to some of these gender options, I’m not necessarily binary, but I choose to identify as a woman. I thought not long ago we were busy arguing that women could do anything, and now this thing is telling me that if my “anything” doesn’t fit a 1950s definition of femininity, then I’m sliding into genderqueer territory. What?!

    • Anna

      I’ve thought that many times lately: the more inclusive and tolerant and “you can do anything or play with whatever toys or etc” we supposedly get, the more society subscribes to caricatures of male and female as being the only way to actually be male or female.

      • tt

        On the toy topic, I find that in left wing circles, they are wholly devoted to eradicating anything traditionally considered feminine whether it is for boys or girls and have yet to realize that by considering that which is feminine to be weak and unacceptable, they are just capitulating to patriarchal gender roles.

        • dasrach

          THIS. This this this this a thousand times this. I’m as creeped out by Disney princess mania as anyone, but when people freak out because Goldiblox are pink and flowery, it really comes across as saying that anything feminine is bad.

          • Linebyline

            Personally, by beef with Goldiblox is that someone decided that brightly-colored building toys were somehow boy-specific because they weren’t all pink. And here I thought that saying that anything that isn’t specifically for girls must be just for boys by default was the problem. Silly me.

            Plus there’s the fact that they advertised their girl-oriented (read: pink) alternative with a Super Bowl commercial about a bunch of girls being sick of all their toys being pink and frilly.

            • dasrach

              To be completely fair ,apparently Legos don’t sell nearly as well to girls as to boys, so they’re trying whatever they can to get girls to play with building blocks because it’s so good for brain development. Lego Friends were developed for the same reason. (There’s actually a really fascinating article about the development of Lego Friends and how the designers found all sorts of differences between how boys and girls play, which I can link to when I’ve had enough coffee to do a coherent Google search.)

              • dasrach

                Here we go:

                tl;dr: They tried just slapping girly themes on regular Legos multiple times and it didn’t sell, but with Lego Friends they actually watched girls play with Legos and made the line geared toward how girls play. Interesting stuff, definitely worth the read even though it’s a very long article.

            • Guest

              Here we go:

              tl;dr: They tried just slapping girly themes on regular Legos multiple times and it didn’t sell, but with Lego Friends they actually watched girls play with Legos and made the line geared toward how girls play. Interesting stuff, definitely worth the read even though it’s a very long article.

              • Linebyline

                Awesome article, thanks!

                I have to agree with Lise Eliot’s remark, “There is no reason to think Lego is more intrinsically appealing to boys.” Individual sets, sure, but plastic building blocks in general? I just don’t see it.

                Even so, boys and girls are different, and learning the differences in how they play will be good for the kids and the LEGO Group’s bottom line. Win-win.

      • dasrach

        I had a strange thing a week or so ago where my toddler daughter was playing enthusiastically with her older brother’s toy knights and started riding her rocking horse so she could be a knight, too. It was cute, and I made a post on Facebook on the order of “blah blah blah, this happened, gosh isn’t it cute that she doesn’t just want to be a Disney princess.” Most of my friends just agreed that, yup, sure was cute, but some were . . . overenthusiastic. People started recommending gender-bending deconstructive books and shows and whatnot for “when she’s old enough to read/watch them.” No one tried to do anything as stupid as saying that my daughter was transgender, but I suddenly saw my post about how she wasn’t being pigeonholed as a girly girl turning into a thread of people pigeonholing her as a bold gender nonconformist when she frankly probably just wanted to ride her rocking horse because the toy reminded her of it. The left pigeonholes every bit as much as the right.

        • tt

          That is what is so ridiculous about all of this. Instead of accepting that kids (regardless of gender) can have a wide variety of interests and favorite things, it is like some people are desperately looking for their children (and other people’s children) to be transgendered. So if a little girl wants her hair cut short or a little boy likes pastel colors, instead of accepting that, they are rushing to declare them transgendered. They are, in some ways, more attached to gender stereotypes than those of us who can accept that a 4 year old boy might prefer pink today and green tomorrow and like a tea party on Saturday and want to watch football on Sunday without it having deep meaning about his entire life, sexuality, or gender.

    • I’ve noticed that some (some) genderqueer types are as hung up on sex and gender roles as patriarchal conservative types are. Strange bedfellows and all that.

      • tt

        And radical feminists are hung up on not being remotely feminine. It is a failure if you are. One I am related to was extremely bothered by my purchase of gray Nikes with a dark pink swoosh. Because I chose shoes that “support the patriarchy”. Another relative, with a Ph.D in psychology intervened in the conversation to make this very astute point: “colors do not have gender”.

  • Bro AJK

    Two things

    1) ‘“purple penguins” instead.’ Because dehumanizing is always better.

    2) ‘given to middle-school teachers’ Yeah, because these expressions always go over well with middle-school students.

    • Rebecca Fuentes

      I called mine evil minions when I taught middle school. Very inclusive.

      • Sherry

        I would have printed up t-shirts for them for your class.

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    Teachers don’t laugh and move on because the people dictating this control their contract renewals. If a district doesn’t want to keep a teacher around, they will find a way to make that teacher’s life miserable, and chances are, they will find a reason not to renew. In this case, it’s something so very “Inclusive” and “forward-thinking” that I doubt the teachers’ union will back the teachers if they make a big deal out of it (On the national level, I doubt they will back the teachers objection at all. On the local or state level it depends on who is in charge.)

    • tt

      My mother worked in this exact district for 22 years. Believe me, destroying teachers because they want them out has been elevated to an art form by the administrators they employ. There is also a staffing points system that encourages them to do it. As for the “purple penguins” nonsense, as a classroom teacher, I always said “sophomores” or “seniors” or with great love to my teenage students, “children”. I am now a substitute teacher and always say “third graders” or “art students” or whatever applies. I sub in one district that makes elementary teachers use “friends” which I find absurd. Number one rule of teaching: the students are not your friends.

  • Sherry

    Back when I was a teacher, the administrator advised us (we worked with children hospitalized for depression and other emotional and behavioral issues) to no longer mention their individual emotional/behavior disorders anything like emotionally disturbed, he preferred the term “emotionally complicated.” I was a young obnoxious graduate student so I raise my hand and objected to the idea that any of us in the room were emotionally simple. We live in a world that screams of the virtues of toleration and diversity, but wants everyone to think and believe the same.

    • The original Mr. X

      That’s because modern society isn’t actually more tolerant, just more apathetic. People support gay marriage or whatever because they don’t really care about marriage, not because they disapprove of homosexual relations but have decided to put up with them anyway. On the other hand, try not baking a cake for a same-sex marriage ceremony, and see how “tolerant” most people nowadays actually are when confronted with something they dislike.

      • guest

        That’s not true. I support gay marriage because I care passionately about human rights and think the law should treat everyone equally. Preventing gay couples from having their unions recognised by the law in the same manner as straight couples in bigotry, pure and simple. And when you see the joy in the face of gay people when they can finally legally marry the person they love, it’s incredibly moving: Example

        Guess what, a lot of people don’t actually disapprove of homosexual relations. I’m all in favour of them, as long as it’s between consenting adults.

        • The original Mr. X

          Great, but if you “care passionately” about something and are “all in favour” of it, you don’t “tolerate” it. Which was kind of my point.

        • It seems more like you support gay marriage because it gives you an inflated sense of self-esteem and because you don’t know what certain words mean.
          If you really wanted to see everyone treated equally under the law, you’d show rather more passion for the children who are being denied their right to be raised by their biological parents, to even know who their parents are, and to not be manufactured, bought and sold like designer handbags.
          As for the hamfisted effort to preempt dissent by accusing any who differ of bigotry, guess what? A lot of people who oppose redefining marriage don’t hate homosexuals. Suggesting otherwise just reveals the intellectual poverty of your ideas.

      • ME

        Our society doesn’t even know what tolerance means. To tolerate something, means that you accept the DIFFERENCE, even if you don’t agree with it. Our society thinks that to tolerate something, you must also agree with it, and promote it.

      • Dave G.

        Apathy. The pandemic of our age. Though as we’re seeing, the apathy that was encouraged is now being replaced by a radical intolerance by the very forces that encouraged the apathy in the first place. Well played indeed.

  • The original Mr. X

    “purple penguins”
    I’ll have you know I self-identify as a red lion, you penguonormative bigot.

    • Alma Peregrina

      Aw… you beat me to it… 😛

  • Rosemarie


    “Students” isn’t gender neutral enough? Or “class” (addressed as a collective)?

    My husband should find this one interesting. “Purple penguin” happens to have been our pet name for each other for more than two decades (I’m not kidding!). I’m a bit annoyed that, from now on, it will be associated in people’s minds with political correctness.

  • AquinasMan

    Frantic insanity suffocates the nation.

  • Mike

    This kind of stuff gives me the creeps.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    To quote the Statistician to the Stars (referencing Trans-Uterus, in which men pretending to be women are given uteruses and who then pretend they might get pregnant.):

    “Hey, who am I to judge? But it’s not fine when you insist I pretend too. That’s tyranny.”

  • guest

    1. They are free to, since these are guidelines produced by an independent organisation and not orders issued from the school board.
    2. Good for you, but millions of children are taught in public schools and go on to be successful adults. Even if the teachers were forced to call them purple penguins BY LAW I doubt it would do them any damage. Most boys and girls develop their gender identities without much trouble and grow into happy men and women.

  • Alma Peregrina

    «A Nebraska school district has instructed its teachers to stop referring to students by “gendered expressions” such as “boys and girls,” and use “gender inclusive” ones such as “purple penguins” instead.»


    I want to be an indigo penguin…

    • You beat me to it!

    • The original Mr. X

      And meanwhile us speciesqueer individuals are airbrushed out of the discourse…

    • Mary E.

      I feel that I am more of a greenish-blue penguin, and so I would resent being forced to identify myself as a “purple” penguin.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    The way I read it, seems that the recommendation wasn’t to specifically use “purple penguins” but to come up with a classroom name and use that. So the class may decide to call themselves “purple penguins” or “lucky lemurs” or “rocking robots” or something else entirely. Plenty of teachers come up with classroom names like this already, so its pretty innocuous. (although middle-schoolers would probably find class names cheesy)

    I understand the desire to make trans* students feel included but it seems like there are less convoluted ways to do this. How about using the word “class?” As in “Ok, class, time to hand in your papers.”

    • Benjamin2.0

      That’s classist.

    • ME

      Or we could accept the fact, that there are two sexes, male and female, and therefore the words we have always used to describe them, boys and girls, work just fine.

  • PalaceGuard

    Any of the rest of you guys use the phrase “you guys” colloquially regardless of the gender of the group you’re addressing? I always suspected that the only purpose for Nebraska was to keep South Dakota and Colorado from banging into each other. Seems I was right.

    • Rebecca Fuentes

      It’s so everything blown out of Wyoming has someplace to go.

  • PeterDamien

    And the problem with calling them “children” is?…

    • Neihan

      Some of these Purple Penguins may be trans-ageists. That is, they may self-identify as an age higher than what they appear. Imagine how offensive it would be to be called a “child” if you’re a 90-year-old-man who happens to be trapped in a 9 year-old body. We don’t want to create an ageist space.

      The way you phrased your question makes me think that you may be guilty of DoublePlusUnGood CrimeThink. This will not look good in your Party evaluation. Please report to your local university for reeducation.

      • Joseph

        Well, it’s good to know that if I start walking around town in a Batman suit claiming that I’m Batman, people will accept me for who I think I am. I’ll be able to get a job, have friends, and everything!

        • kenofken

          Your claim would be more plausible than much of what I run into on a given day, and vastly more so than the claims politicians are making for themselves.

  • Artevelde

    Also Mark, could you please refrain from using words such as ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’? Try to avoid creating a ‘politicized’ space. Also, your frequent use of the word ‘Catholic’ is rather non-inclusive and may suggest the desire to create undesirable divisons or – God forbid – a space where a specific faith is openly defended. please, I beg you, let us live a while longer in our neutered and watered down progressive la la land.

  • Dave G.

    Wouldn’t this fall under the category of ‘no big deal except for culture warriors’? After all, it’s just one school in Nebraska.

    • Benjamin2.0

      On the other hand, even Nebraska’s taking this crap seriously.

      Clearly, we’re all going to die screaming and on fire.

      • kenofken

        You all are pretty easily shaken. Every time some gay or liberal clears their throat, you’re fishing the cyanide capsule out of your shirt pocket. Courage, Camille!

  • aj10
  • tt

    At a news conference today, the superintendent clarified that this came from materials being considered by a committee for staff development and has not been adopted as district policy. You can find the story at

    • ME

      At last then there is still hope that sanity could possibly prevail.

  • PalaceGuard

    And, btw, so much for any chance of a remake of “To Sir, With Love”!

  • Julie

    There are plenty of ways to avoid unnecessarily pigeon-holing children into gendered expressions they might not even prefer (plenty of girls aren’t super feminine, plenty of boys aren’t super masculine). It’s weird to obsessively divide our world this way and flanderize people according to one of their many social identities that they may not even identify with that strongly. “Folks” or “you all” are good examples of how people have dealt with referring to groups of people without unnecessary gendering. “Purple penguins” is obviously used here to suggest that a young class might enjoy an imaginative expression, as well. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s welcoming, fun, and designed to allow kids to be whoever they are without obsessively reminding them of who they “should” be.

    • Linebyline

      On the other hand, “boys and girls” is not really an expression that indicates a specific expression of masculinity or femininity. At most, it indicates that the group contains no intersexed individuals.

      • Dbom

        Excellent use of the word “intersexed”(as brain melts).

        I was wondering what the hell was going on and now I know:

        The world is ending…

        • S. Murphy

          Nah – see the link overlappingmagisteria provided below. Biological phenomenon — people who have characteristics of both sexes to some extent or another. Not something they asked for, not something they should be treated as less than human for, and not something we need to stop calling men and women men and women for.
          I mean, let’s put all the gearshifts on the left side because southpaws exist? No; but don’t tell people they’re wrong not to be right-handed (I mean, they are, but you know, manners…* (-; )
          *I’m a right-handed mutant in a family of lefties

        • Linebyline

          My intent was just to use the politically correct term out of politeness, but on reflection, I prefer the term “intersexed” over “hermaphrodite” because the latter just sounds too zoological, like calling a man “a male.” Worms are hermaphrodites.

  • David J. White

    I’m reminded of the old joke about the Army drill sergeant who got tired of the black soldiers and white soldiers constantly bickering, so he told them that from now on they were not black or white — they were all green. Then he said, “I want the dark green ones to line up on the left, and the light green ones to line up on the right.” I wonder what will happen when the “listeners” feel that they are being discriminated against by the “talkers.”

  • Linebyline

    Wait, transgendered? Really? That doesn’t quite make sense to me.

    I thought the point of being transgendered was not that you aren’t a boy or a girl, but that there’s a mismatch between the gender you identify as and your body’s biological sex. Regardless of who’s right about what gender dysphoria actually is (that is, to put it simplistically, whether /s?he/ is a girl in a boy’s body or a boy who thinks he’s supposed to be a girl), either way the person is still one or the other.

    Of course, there are plenty who see gender as a spectrum with male and female at either end, and plot themselves somewhere in between, but I don’t think that’s quite the same thing as being transgendered. Maybe I’m wrong?

    • kenofken

      You’re right in that the vast majority of transgendered folks definitely identify as male or female. There is a subset of people, not a great many, who fall under what is sometimes called “genderqueer”. I’ve also seen “metagender” used. They’re people who just don’t identify their gender within the binary “either or” system of male and female. Some see themselves as equal manifestation of both male and female. Others completely gender neutral. They basically feel the whole binary system just isn’t useful for describing who and what they are where gender is concerned. I get their point, and I’m a huge LGBT rights supporter, but I don’t know that we need to go about on eggshells and abandon gender terms which work very well for most people. This could be solved by simply asking how someone identifies and then respecting that.

      • Linebyline

        Makes sense. Thanks!

  • Jonk

    By mocking the idea that children who don’t identify with their biological gender deserve concern, you’re creating an unsafe space, which does not protect them from the suicide which is so common among gender-confused people. “Purple Penguins” is a pro-life issue.

    • Linebyline

      A fair point: We certainly don’t want to make it seem like effort to make people feel safer is a bad thing, especially in school environments where bullying (for any or no reason, including gender-related reasons) is rampant.

      However, as far as I can tell, what Mark is intending to mock here is not the idea of creating a safe space for the gender-confused, but rather the idea that acknowledging the existence of gender at all necessarily creates a “gendered space,” which in turn is necessarily an unsafe space for the gender-confused.

      Also, let’s face it, “Purple Penguins” sounds kind of silly.

  • Guest

    Nebraska may be misbehaving because they’re desperate for attention.
    They are in the middle of nowhere after all, they’re probably lonesome.
    LOL, somebody go smack Nebraska.

  • Joseph

    Three reasons for leaving the States and moving to Ireland. 1) We didn’t want to pay Harvard tuition to put our youngsters through Catholic school; 2) We didn’t want them to go through the brain damaging, mind numbing, brainwashing of the American secular public school system. 3) We wouldn’t have been able to homeschool.
    This is absolute insanity and I pray to God it doesn’t creep its way over here before my kids are out of school.

    There are already obnoxiously loud and proud evangelical new atheist anti-Catholic parents that like to make it clear to everyone that their children aren’t Catholic and will be raised to be more intelligent than everyone else’s kids and are always causing problems with *religious* instruction (every religion is fine *except* for Catholicism). They are the biggest threat to ushering in this purple penguin nonsense and I hope they don’t get their way. The current Minister for Education is an evangelical new atheist anti-Catholic as well, so he’s sympathetic to the call to remove common sense and anything Catholic from schools at the moment.

  • Ipsitilla

    Mark, I really think you should include a “trigger warning” on future posts like this. Some of your readers have had traumatic experiences involving penguins. I myself am triggered every time I see mention of one, after a incident where the one sitting on top of my television exploded. (Example: viewer discretion advised.)

    More needs to be done to combat this “penguin culture” so prevalent in our society, including its partiarchal structures involving “king penguins” and “emperor penguins”. Simply “purplewashing” the birds in question will not make them appropriate for children.

    • kenofken

      It is just that terror which I am counting on in my plan to defeat ISIS: The Purple Penguin Sardaukar Legion!

  • bob

    Episcopalians in Connecticut may wind up with a name for their clergy something like they school.