At a school in Cologne, sixth graders were given worksheets on gender reassignment. Allegedly, they did not inform about risks and played down the intervention. Experts provide information about the right time and how to deal with the topic of transsexuality and gender reassignment.

There is currently a lot of excitement at a school in Cologne. The reason: As part of their biology class, sixth graders were given worksheets on the subject of gender reassignment, which allegedly downplayed this operation. As “Bild” reports, this complicated topic was treated like “a natural and uncomplicated operation”.

The sheets with the heading “Social gender” said: “Zeynep feels born in the wrong body. She*He would like to have an operation as soon as possible in order to finally be able to live as a man,” the newspaper continues. The newspaper criticizes that it was not pointed out what a serious decision that was, what risks and consequences such an operation would have.

A mother of the affected children, who are eleven to twelve years old, also expressed concern in the “Bild”: “These worksheets, on which non-scientific scene terms are used, solidify roles and stereotypes. The child who does not feel comfortable with this sexualization is taught that their body is wrong and needs to be surgically adjusted.”

The President of the German Teachers’ Association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, is also not convinced of the school’s approach: “I take a very critical view of the age group. They are all in puberty and unsure, or are still looking for their role. Confronting them with the issue of gender reassignment at this stage is insensitive, unpedagogical and does more harm than good.”

But is the excitement about the worksheets really justified? When is the right time to properly educate children about this topic. The school concerned announced that the topic and the content of the lessons conformed to the curriculum of the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

“The framework curricula vary from state to state, but it is fundamentally important to talk about the subject in good time,” says Tom Scheel from the society for sex education (gsp), a nationwide professional association, to FOCUS online. And always when children have questions about it.

So Scheel doesn’t see it as too early in the sixth grade. “Fourth graders have often heard of transsexuality or know trans people in their environment.” Since the subject of gender is already dealt with in elementary school, it makes sense to present the subject of transgender people in this context, explains the expert. You don’t have to go into depth just yet, but in Scheel’s experience the smaller children are not interested in the details anyway.

However, Scheel does not think it makes sense that the topic is only dealt with in the form of a worksheet without being discussed. “I can’t imagine that the teachers didn’t talk about it, but of course you have to treat the topic differently,” says Scheel. “Gender reassignment is not a simple process that someone decides to do on the fly,” he says.

“First and foremost, you have to point out that this is a step that only a few people actually take,” explains Scheel. Only a small percentage of transgender people actually undergo gender reassignment treatment and surgery. “Some say I’m in the wrong body, but I leave it as it is – or I see how I deal with it,” Scheel explains further.

Scheel does not share Meidinger’s or the affected mother’s concerns that treating the subject in class could lead to children feeling wrong about their bodies and then believing that their bodies would have to be surgically adjusted. “That’s not the intention behind this enlightenment,” emphasizes Scheel. It is important to educate about diversity in our society. “If children take it the way their mother fears, it’s more because they’re being discussed critically in their parents’ home,” says Scheel.

Katja Wollmer from the Federal Association of pro familia also emphasizes how important it is to introduce children to diversity at an early age. “Feelings, body diversity, gender roles and different family forms can already be discussed at daycare age,” she said when asked by FOCUS online. Children experimented early on with gender roles and accepting or rejecting the expectations of those around them – be it the boy with long hair or the girl without a single dress in the closet.

“The children bring up the subject all by themselves and, for example, want help explaining terms that they have picked up from listening to adults or from consuming media,” explains Wollmer. This should be done with science-based, developmentally appropriate, value-free formulations. “It is important that children and young people get to know the terms and concepts so that they can try themselves out in shelters in this networked, big world and then find their way around.” A study from 2015 showed that children as young as ten years old, knew about their transgender identity.

Wollmer also points out that, according to a decision by the Federal Constitutional Court in 1971, sex education and sex education are not only the right of the parents, but also a task of the school to the same extent. For example, the guideline for sex education in North Rhine-Westphalia states (page 13): “Sex education serves to train and promote mutual acceptance among all people, regardless of their sexual orientation and identity and the relationships and lifestyles associated with it. It is thus making its contribution to reducing homophobia and eliminating discrimination against homosexual, bisexual and transsexual people.”