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Friday, June 11, 2010

You Go, Boy!


Leslie is the mom of a lovable French Bulldog named Olive, and her 17 kids can be found her in first grade classroom on weekdays. After earning a Master's degree in Psychology, she found happiness in teaching, and it's anyone's guess what comes next. A blissful life of balance is her pursuit; she seeks new adventures, but takes comfort in the familiar. Her castle is a tiny urban condo which is only 400 square feet!

My background in Psychology makes me very sensitive to gender identity issues when dealing with children. It makes me sensitive to every development issue, really. I feel like each word and action those children see and hear from me makes an imprint on who they become in the world, or on who they think they should be. Sometimes, that's too much for me to think about for long, which is why I am undecided about having human children of my own. Canine development seems much more forgiving. Anyway, I do think about these issues often, and I am very deliberate about the words I choose as I talk to my students. All day. Every day. In addition to being positive, supportive, caring, and upifting, I always try to be gender-neutral in my classroom. I address my students as "Scholars" instead of "boys and girls." If they see something and say, "Eewww, no, that's for girls!" or, "That must be a boy. He has short hair!" I say, "No. This is for anyone who likes it. It doesn't have to be for girls or boys!" and "Girls can have short hair. And boys can have long hair!..." And then we have a big discussion about it all.

So often, even though I am so deliberate about these things, many girls are still drawn to stereotypically "girly" things, like pretending their coats are babies in their arms, and many boys seem to be drawn to traditionally "masculine" activities, like making guns out of building blocks, and running around flying toy planes.

Yesterday I was relieved to find evidence that my gender neutrality is a message my students are receiving loud and clear.

I recently bought a bunch of new goodies for my treasure box, and started a new reward policy about how to earn those treasures. (You have to do that this time of year.) It was a big ceremony with lots of pomp and circumstance (I think. Maybe just pomp, though, I don't know. I'm not really sure what pomp is. Or circumstance, in this context, for that matter.). Anyway, I was very dramatic about revealing all the treasures they could choose when they earned a reward. I had foam bookmarks, cool star-shaped sunglasses, dinosaurs, erasers, sparkly pencils, sparkly rings with pretty gemstones, and dice. (Don't worry. They use dice for math games, not craps. At least I hope not craps. Mental note: check to see what those kids do at recess tomorrow over there by the fence.)

Ok. Several of my students won the reward of choosing from the prize bucket on the Friday before Mother's Day. One boy chose a foam bookmark, a girl chose a die, 2 other girls chose rings, and 2 boys chose rings. When one girl chose her ring, she said she was going to give it to her mother for Mother's Day. I said, "Oh, that's so nice! She will love that!" Then the boys who chose rings also said their plan was to give them to their moms.

Today, one of my boys came in wearing the sparkly, fake diamond-like ring on his index finger. I said nothing about it. I heard one or 2 kids say to him that hey thought he was going to give it to his mom. He had no reply, or at least not one I heard.

Hours later, he was still wearing the ring while playing a reading game with the other kids. No one batted an eye. Perfectly normal. As it should be. No contrary opinions, no one made fun of him all day, and he did not seem self-conscious at all wearing the somewhat feminine piece of jewelry. Just at home in his skin. In his happiness, and joyful childhood. It's just what I want for him. It's what I want for all my kids.

I hope someday they don't have to be in a classroom to have that freedom and equality to do what they love, wear what the love, and choose who they love. Without fear. Without isolation. Without marginalization. Without anything at all except what they were meant to have: peace.


YogaSavy said...

I enjoyed reading your post and the creative way you presented it. Working with children is fun and stimulating and refreshing! One can see how much you enjoy your time with them

Anonymous said...

this was such a wonderful post. i have two small children and quickly realized that every little thing you say or do can have quite an impact on them.

diane rene said...

I absolutely loved your post!

this is something I try hard to instill in my kids ... my youngest asked for tonka trucks when she was little and had quite a collection of them (her littlest pet shop pets ride them). and when my middle child can't find a jacket she really likes (she hates that the girl skulls always have bows), she checks out the boys section before she calls it quits.

I love that they see there are options out there - cool is what you make it :)

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Yes, we just need to keep offering and pointing out choices, and not limiting them. If we do that, they will take it from there!

Joy said...

Great post! Food for thought for every teacher and parent. I love the response 'it's for anyone who likes it', and I think I'll add that to my toolbox.

Mandy said...

Thank you so very much for this post. I too, have a strong opinion on this. My son, who is in first grade, has no gender "norms". He loves blue and pink, has wore beautiful jewelry to school, thinks purses are great to carry LOTS of stuff in, and does all other sorts of "boy" stuff too.
I have long since wrestled with this facet of his personality. I also believe that so many of the gender differences are just imposed social norms. I want my children to be who they really are and express it freely.

But, I also know the social implications of it.

Thank you for giving me some great language to use and restoring my faith that some social norms can be challenged.

Becky said...

Great post.... I love the way you write. Its refreshing and enjoyable.

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