In April 2023, the largest teaching union in the UK voted in favour of inviting drag queens to speak in schools. This, it was claimed, would help to challenge the ‘heteronormative culture and curriculum that dominates education’.
When a drag queen visits a school or library to deliver a Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH), a man dressed up as a woman tells children LGBT-themed stories. He may sing with them. He may dance (with varying degrees of eroticism).
What’s going on?
In 2021, an academic paper was published entitled ‘Drag Pedagogy’. One of the authors is ‘Lil Miss Hot Mess’, a drag queen and author of the sing-along children’s book The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish.
The paper explains that DQSHs encourage children to ‘live queerly’ by contributing to the ‘destigmatisation of shame’. This creates ‘a pathway into the imaginative, messy, and rule-breaking aspects of drag for children’.
‘For any child who has ever asked a parent or teacher “why?” and been unsatisfied with the answer, “because I told you so,” drag may help elucidate the arbitrariness of rules. By encouraging students to explore the boundaries of acceptability, drag offers a model for participating in a learning experience where axioms are meant to be challenged and authority is not a given.’
The point of DQSHs is to raise a generation who are committed to challenging authority and ending the structural injustices (such as ‘heteronormativity’) which supposedly riddle Western society.
The Drag Queen Story Hour movement is best understood as a lethal combination of Critical Pedagogy and Critical Gender Theory (both offshoots of the ideology known as Critical Theory).
Critical Theory was generated by a group of academics based at a study-centre established in Germany in 1923. They denied the existence of any transcendent deity, any absolute morality, or any ultimate truth.
Western society, they claimed, was riddled with inequality and injustice. It was upheld by the powerful classes, who protected their position by manipulating language, knowledge, and truth claims.
Traditional theories, they argued, had only sought to understand truth. But they framed Critical Theory as encouraging action. It’s about finding ways to end all inequalities in outcome. The only sure way to do that is to pull down the institutions of society.
That won’t happen overnight! But what if you unleash the virus of radical doubt? All fixed categories formerly assumed to be ‘common sense’ will dissolve. The foundations of societal stability will crumble.
A key text in academia is Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), by the Brazilian activist Paulo Freire. He insisted that those with traditional formal education (literacy, numeracy, etc.) are the privileged. They use that education to protect their status.
By contrast, ‘critical pedagogy’ focuses on ‘political literacy’ or ‘conscientisation’. Students must be awakened to structural injustice of the oppressed. They must learn how to actively work against oppression.
Critical Gender Theory
Gender Trouble (1990), by American feminist Judith Butler, argued for the abolition of any idea of ‘normal’ regarding sex and gender. There’s no God! We’re not created as male and female! Rather, we construct our own identity.
Those considered ‘normal’ (i.e. straight or ‘cis-gender’) are ‘privileged’. LGBT people are ‘oppressed’. They will only be liberated when all categories of ‘normal’ are dissolved. Our culture needs to be ‘queered’.
Let’s go back to Drag Queen Story Hours. Children are beguiled by a bright, fun, and sparkly performance. But the underlying message is that there’s no normal. Boundaries are blurred. Children are being moulded into future activists who will campaign against the ‘oppression’ of ‘heteronormativity’.
Worse, the normalising of sexualised ‘entertainment’ leaves them vulnerable to predators and abuse. Many insist that DQSHs are just a bit of fun. Really? The authors of Drag Pedagogy conclude darkly: ‘we’re leaving a trail of glitter that won’t ever come out of the carpet’. You have been warned!
For more information about Critical Theory, a new range of free downloadable resources is available at the.ci/criticaltheory.