Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sexist or Silly?

"A little girl’s school assignment has generated impassioned debate online after her father, blogger Steve Bowler, sparked outrage by posting the third-grader’s worksheet, which dealt with gender stereotypes."
Image: Kozzi Free Images

The child's class was reading a story about gender-bias and the teacher sent home a worksheet requiring the students to place each toy or activity into a column labeled Boys, Girls, or Both. In response, this student forced all items into Both and her teacher wrote, "We talked about how each square needs to be filled" 

Now, don't even get me started on why she referred to the rectangles as squares and why some of the non-proper nouns were capitalized...

Coty - Female Guides - Looking... Digital ID: 1668797. New York Public Library
Image: New York Public Library
The bigger issue is obviously that the teacher required the students to make choices based on gender-bias. 

... and this parent was upset, confused, and left with lots of questions about the meaning of the assignment.

When I was teaching, I always to tried to remember to include a written explanation of the assignment's intent so that if a student couldn't remember, or appropriately articulate the purpose for the worksheet or project, at least the parent could read it for themselves. In this case, there were no directions. However, in all fairness there may have been other pages to this same assignment where directions were included. 

There is no mention of email. The father is on Twitter, so he has Internet access. Does the school? Does the teacher? Could he have emailed the teacher immediately with his question and received a reply immediately as opposed to waiting a few days for a conference?

Please read the entire article. There is some great discussion in the comments, too. 

This article raises many questions for me. I have my own thoughts but I'd really like to hear from you. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section. 
  1. Is everyone overreacting?
  2. Did the father overreact by posting this on Twitter?
  3. How would you handle this situation?
  4. Did the teacher do anything wrong? If so, what?
  5. If you were this teacher's principal, how would you handle this with the parent?
  6. If you were this teacher's principal, how would you handle this with the teacher?
  7. If you were the father or mother, how would you address this with your daughter (the student)?
  8. As the teacher, how important is it to include written context so the parent can understand?
  9. What other questions does this generate for you?


Alfred Thompson said...

It's complicated. We don't know the teacher's intent but it doesn't look good without a lot more information. In general I don't like the idea of categorizing things as either for boys or for girls. In this case I think the girl did a great job of making more rectangles when things just didn't fit her world view. The principal in this case has a lot of work to do. They have to understand the teacher's goals and explain why they went about things in a way that looked so poorly. This is a reachable moment for the principal/teacher. They then have to explain to the parent both the original intent and what they have done to make sure things like this don't happen again.
As for the parent, I would recommend that they try to talk to the teacher and the principal first next time. Going to the Internet should not be a first resort. Give people a chance before you bring the weight of the world on their backs.

Heather M. Ross said...

I was discussing this on Twitter with some others educators and I pointed out that something like this should include some explanation for parents who might see the material out of context. Of course, we don't know if such directions were provided, but not received by the parent (another great reason for class blogs).

I did question whether children this young could really encounter such a worksheet and have a positive learning experience, but again, we should all be careful about judging anything that a teacher (or student or anyone) does out of context.

Wm Chamberlain said...

My problem is we don't have enough information about the assignment. For all I know, the kids made the lists themselves as a whole group activity. I am also not quite sure what the point of the assignment was. What if the follow up lesson was on how not to stereotype?

I think you should have added one more check box labelled 'not enough information to make a judgement even though that is what we do on Twitter all the time.'

Sue Hannan said...

The first step should have been speaking with the teacher. Then if it wasn't resolved to his satisfaction, he could have proceeded with additional steps. Seems as if, he wanted to create a commotion before he spoke directly to the teacher or he would have went directly to the source.

IMC Guy said...

Reaching out to the teacher first would be the best, there's no question about that. However, if you didn't a reasonable answer, then it'd be time to go to the principal. I also don't have a problem with tossing it out on Twitter or online somewhere, but depending on the audience, you better be prepared for the consequences - for everyone involved, including the teacher and the daughter. With all of that being said, you need to have all of the facts before sharing online, because after reading the responses in the article, it seems like he jumped the gun a little bit before knowing the whole story.

Jen said...

To be honest -- I am tired of personal issues being driven to Social Media just because they can.

As many have said -- we don't know the entire story -- and I have to wonder if we really even needed to know the story.

I sincerely feel the biggest item that needs to be discussed here is truly WHAT NEEDS TO BE DISCUSSED....

Don't take that to mean your blog post -- I applaud it -- it is creating conversation --

but in the first place.....did the parent need to call out the teacher & the assignment?

When did personal gripes, concerns, problems earn the right to 100% be shared with everyone.

We used to grumble to ourselves -- and many problems would diminish over time because they were not big issues in the first place.

Now minor situations escalate quickly because Social Media snowballs them.

Yes, was I bothered that a student (it seems) was led to stereotype -- (if that indeed is the case)

But honestly, I was more bothered by the fact that someone felt they had to share this.

And then I gave it the right to irk me for a bit.

Just because we CAN share -- do we have to?? (and yes, before I hit submit, I am contemplating that thought as well.) :)


Anonymous said...

In my opinion, this is a clear example of new media social ineptitude. As new communications and media technology are introduced, users need to consider, develop, and adopt standards of appropriate use. Although the medium and content are different, we saw this with photocopiers, CB radios, and even telephones as well. Some things need to be kept between individuals, and of course some things should remain open for public consumption and comment. The parent, in this case had an issue that bordered both; the topic is one for public consideration and comment, but the specific occurrence is one for discussion between parent and teacher.

Eric Sheninger said...

As a Principal I am a little bit concerned that the father did not first reach out to the teacher to get her perspective on this assignment. There are many issues that I see, like others, with this assignment, but more information is definitely needed. However, taking to the Internet to voice frustation is unprofessional in my opinion. I wonder how the father would feel if the show was on the other foot?

Anonymous said...

I would like to know the age group of the children. I assume since a parent is getting involved, these kids are most likely elementary age. However, I am a firm believer that we all too often think that the topics that frighten us because of our own inadequacies or insecurities,should remain undiscussed in classrooms. A topic like this, IF handled objectively and with guided respectful discussion, could become a moment of enlightenment for those kids. I understand and agree that there are some topics which are too controversial to tackle in the public school arena, but this, in my opinion, is NOT one of them. I would like to have had more information about the assignment and the reason for giving it in the first place though. It is difficult to form an educated opinion about this question with only the given information.

Mr. Currie said...

This whole thing is an over-reaction. No need to put his daughter in a tough spot. Should have modeled appropriate behavior and spoke to the teacher privately.

Kateenie said...

I appreciate the open dialogue that came to be as a result of the posts. For that, I think the father's actions are fine.
I think there are a lot of speculation and assumptions. The father, his audience, and the HuffPost's audience all seem to voice their opinions readily but very few are seeking understanding.
I appreciate that the father asked the teacher about the assignment during PTC. I wish he would have emailed the teacher on the Friday night when he and his wife faced their initial questions, but I think it was acceptable to wait for the scheduled conference so that they could have the opportunity to communicate in person, where the level of understanding could be increased. A phone call or email may not have sufficed anyway.
I don't think the teacher meant any harm by the assignment. Since it sounds like she created the worksheet herself, I imagine she put some thought into it and was trying to accomplish something with that chart. Whether her goal was achieved with the packet, I don't know.
Much talk is that the daughter "failed" the assignment. I don't see a grade on the sheet. The teacher's comment may not have even been in regard to how the items were organized. Again, this is something that needs to be clarified with the teacher.
I don't think anything needs to be "handled" by the principal. The parent and the teacher had a conversation regarding the assignment. Both parties hopefully gained something from that conversation. The parent doesn't need administrative intervention, because he was able to address his concerns with the teacher. I imagine he was heard and possibly the teacher altered the assignment for future classes. I don't think the teacher needs to meet with the principal, because I don't think she meant harm.
As the girl's parent, I would maintain an open conversation. As someone posted in the comments' section of the article, children today live in a different world. They see things differently than we do. They haven't grown up with the same biases. I would allow her to talk with me about how she understands the world and go from there.
I don't think this one assignment would taint a child's perspective. I don't think the teacher was trying to force the children to adhere to stereotypes. I applaud her for using a book that addresses such a topic.
I do think your suggestion of using explanations for the parents is valid and thoughtful. Even with an explanation, however, the parent may have needed more communication to understand what the teacher was trying to achieve.

Kayla Moran said...

I am in Mr. Strange's EDM310 class and this whole post still has me interested. I'm still confused on what the whole point of the worksheet was. I completely understand why the father got so upset because I would have too. I just think maybe the teacher did have good intentions and there was more behind it than we know? Either way though I have to agree that anytime you're dealing with gender stereotypes you're pretty much asking for trouble.

Jennifer Borgioli Binis said...

I'll ditto those calling for caution and for contacting the teacher directly rather than the principal. And I agree the fact the Dad perceived it as "failing" is worrisome but the sheer number of edutweeters who reached judgement about the skills of the teacher was astounding. I would hope one bad worksheet does not a bad teacher make.

Regarding the comment on the worksheet - I work in the field of assessment design and that colors my perspective. If one of my teachers brought this as an example of an activity in a unit she designed, I'd look at it from an assessment perspective. What did the teacher want to document or learn about her students' learning?

I've seen this type of design many times. It's a commonly used modified Venn Diagram to help emerging writers organize their thinking when comparing and contrasting. (The first column are the things that "boys" do, the second column is the things that "girls" do, the last column is what they both do.) Steve's daughter's work didn't get checks for not correctly assigning boy tasks and girl tasks, but for not having equal examples. Having a point/counterpoint in compare/contrast is a critical skill. Venn's make that challenging because of their structure so teachers modify it with a table format. The teacher's feedback "we talked about how each [square] needs to be filled" is a reminder that the student needs equal examples. (I.e. cats have kittens, dogs have puppies. Cats meow, dogs bark.)

From my perspective, this a great example of even the best of intentions when creating assessments can't overcome faulty design.

write my essay said...

This was a superb rationalization. It would be great if you could talk about this a lot more on your description in the opening paragraph

Elizabeth Mims said...


I felt as though the father should have spoken to the teacher first, before he turned to Twitter. In fact, I hate how people turn to the internet more and more to make a statement or get attention. He didn't know the teacher's full intent for the assignment. The teacher in return, should of given more detailed instructions for the worksheet. Also, I don't see how the student should have failed the assignment when, in her opinion, the toys can be for both boys and girls. There are girls who are tomboys, which means they probably don't play with Barbie dolls. While I don't completely agree with this assignment, I don't think it's something to make a big deal about. Also, the whole situation should have been handled better.

Elizabeth Mims