7 thoughts on “Teaching about gender

  1. After reading the essay, I’m inclined to think that, despite considerable sympathy for the underlying ideas, some of the things she’s undertaken just aren’t part of the portfolio of a first-grade public schoolteacher.

  2. Actually, Nemo, it’s remarkable how much early years education is about teaching kids to get along with each other, etc. And what she’s doing is a perfect fit with all that.

  3. Be that as it may, Jender, I have grave doubts as to whether it’s the expectation of the taxpayers of Wisconsin that the brief of the first-grade teachers on their payroll includes “challeng[ing] society’s gender norms” or devoting exercises to “not only … expanding the gender boxes that we’ve been put into, but also questioning or eliminating them altogether.” Readers more familiar with Wisconsin than I may have knowledge to the contrary, of course.

  4. Nemo, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if that was the expectation of a good number of Wisconsin tax-payers. Of course, not all. But maybe more importantly, there’s probably a fair number who wouldn’t like it if public school teachers, in attempting to limit bullying and promote cooperation, also had lesson plans promoting, e.g., religious tolerance– but that wouldn’t mean it shouldn’t be part of their portfolio, right?

  5. Besides the question of whether parents and voters want these values taught, this was a pretty clear-cut case of a need that arose directly out of the teaching situation — the need to defuse a kind of social ostracism that interfered directly with one student’s ability to attend to school activities. And while some of the teacher’s interventions were positive (leading discussions on the themes from gender-bending kids’ stories), others simply amounted to *interrupting* her own habits of reinforcing sex-gender boundaries. I’m not sure I feel entitled to having public school teachers teach positive lessons about nonconformity, but there’s no doubt that teachers do positive harm with the combination of occasional sex-based self-grouping directions (even if just for line-formation) and using “girls and boys”/”boys and girls” to address the collective all the time. (And those are just the “innocent” gendered scripts that pretend to be “separate but equal”.)

  6. Kathryn,

    I’ll address this only in the context of first grade (for non-US readers, this is the first year after kindergarten; and incoming pupils are typically about 6 years of age), as I think that other considerations might conceivably apply for other levels of public schoolteaching that we need not address here.

    It’s difficult to respond to your question in the hypothetical, absent a description of an actual first-grade lesson plan promoting religious tolerance in the manner you have in mind. That said, in my view a first-grade public schoolteacher’s mandate for lessons in religious tolerance as such (or any matter directly touching religion) would be rather sharply restricted, to the extent it existed at all. That said, because the prevailing national (and Wisconsin) civic mores include a particular conception of religious tolerance, there is some warrant for including it in a very basic and general way. As long as the first-grade teacher remained within the boundaries of the law and avoided asserting individual political judgments on controversial matters, I see no reason to think a significant number of Wisconsin taxpayers would expect (if not “like”, though you’ve used a different standard there) that a general introduction to the society’s norms of religious tolerance could fall within the job description of a first-grade public schoolteacher. Though even there, I suspect it would be very far down the list of job responsibilities. What I do not think is that the taxpayers would expect for their first-grade public schoolteachers to use the classroom as a pulpit for challenging the prevailing social conception of religious tolerance, to teach a moral or other value assessment of any religious viewpoint (even insofar as would be implied by a judgment of equivalence among viewpoints), or to teach a personal political stance to 6 year olds on any such subject.

    The author, describes herself as a “first-grade teacher and activist”; I think she’s let the latter role intrude upon the former. Whether it in some sense “should” be or not, lessons to 6 year olds in widely controversial political questions is not, I think, part of a public schoolteacher’s job description. And though it may seem harsh, I think Wisconsin taxpayers *regardless of their views on gender* might legitimately question whether, given the fact that within a couple of years or so of leaving the author’s classroom, the 3rd/4th graders in her school (Fratney Elementary) are performing academically in the state’s bottom quintile (http://www.schooldigger.com/go/WI/schoolrank.aspx), time devoted to tendentious lessons on controversial social/political issues might not be time more appropriately spent on conventional curricular matters of the sort described generally in the Wikipedia entry on “First Grade” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_grade).

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