Today I saw a photo on Facebook that unsettled me. It was a photo of a bride and groom and their smiling attendants at their church wedding, except all the participants were in year 2 of primary school.
It was a photo not unlike this one from here:
I am genuinely conflicted by this. As a very happily married woman whose wedding day was the best day of my life ever &who would have become a wedding planner if I wasn’t a sex educator, then I think kids playing at weddings is fun after all it is simply children enjoying to learn about something that is a central part to our culture plus it is an example teaching Sex & Relationships Education at primary level (which primary schools don’t have to teach apart from Science NC).
On the other hand it is adults imposing a particular value set onto children. If there are genuine opportunities to learn about marriages and long term relationships (after all marriage is not a mandatory ingredient to long term successful relationships), from lots of different faith or secular perspectives then I think it could be an awesome learning opportunity for children, but likewise I would not want the children to assume that marriage and long term relationships only occur between people of the opposite sex, but how many primary school teachers would be okay about allowing a same sex marriage to occur in their classroom for fear of parental or media backlash? I appreciate that there would be little to add to the learning experience once one “marriage ceremony” has been enacted but at the very least I would expect schools to also read the brilliant and lovely “King and King” as part of their work on marriage (King isn’t keen on any of the princesses the Queen Mother wants him to marry – then he falls for another prince and they all (including Queen Mother) live happily ever after- it’s a cute story with lovely illustrations.)
I’m also uncomfortable with the notion of “a marriage” in the classroom because of popularity/bullying- elevating two children in the class to status of Bride and Groom, is akin to the equally distasteful electing a “prom king and prom queen” which seems to be increasing in the UK. School absolutely should not be a popularity contest- and although I recognize it often is- schools and teachers should not be facilitating that. Likewise adults facilitating such a “marriage” could lead to the children taking such roles far more seriously than they should. I envisage a period after the lesson of the “bride and groom” negotiating their “relationship” in the playground and with their peers once the honeymoon is over. Obviously this would depend on the personalities involved and the teacher drawing names at random out of a hat would mitigate that in some way. Also how far should this role play go? Hen and stag do’s? A drunk best man speech? A honeymoon? A baby? An affair? A divorce? Are they not also common features of many partnership celebrations?
Hosting wedding ceremonies in the classroom is entirely different to children playing at wedding ceremonies in their own playtime- in a non adult directed space you will find the kids want to marry their favourite dinosaur toy or teddy, marry their mummy, marry their best friends, marry about 5 people at once, marry no-one- all an entirely normal and appropriate developmental role play and OBVIOUSLY NOT examples of future bestiality, incest, homosexuality, polyamory or asexuality etc. from these kids!* But when adults take over these role plays we only feel safe if we teach the societal notions of “normal and acceptable”, and I worry about the kids growing up to be gay or trans or who never wants to marry as all this lesson seeks to reinforce is how “not normal” they should feel, even though in according to the laws in this land (Equality Duty 2010 and hopefully soon the equal marriage bill once it finally passes) these kids have the right to be included and accepted throughout their school lives.
One final reason this unsettled me was in a country which has a forced marriage unit and has issued guidance for professionals on dealing with forced marriage including child marriage I am uncomfortable with children roleplaying marrying other children.
*Note here for anyone stupid enough to think my point there was equating being trans or gay to bestiality and incest. Obviously I wasn’t but those are all genuine examples of people/things primary and nursery kids I know have wanted to marry! Bestiality and Incest are ILLEGAL. Being gay, trans, poly or asexual isn’t. *Awaits DM headline about me trying to “promote” somesuch at primary schools. Sigh.*