I absolutely love Tolerance.org. I think it is wonderful that they supply teachers with materials for free — and good materials, too. If you haven’t checked them out, you should.
Because I’ve order materials in the past, I’ve been subscribed to their bi-annual magazine, Teaching Tolerance. I have found some good lesson plans in the past. The current issue had an interesting opinion piece entitled “Good Morning Boys and Girls” The subtitle? “Simple greetings can promote discrimination in young children.” I was intrigued so I read on.
The contention of author Rebecca S. Bigler is that we highlight differences between boys and girls more by using gender as a means of organiziation (alternate boy/girl seating) and in lessons (alternating boys and girls in turn-taking). She notes, for example, that we would never use race or ethnicity as a label in this way: “Good morning, whites and blacks,” or “Latinos, get your backpacks now.”
Does she have a point? Well, there are David and Goliath’s tee-shirts for girls. As a girl child, I probably would have considered them funny. As a mother of a son (as well as two daughters)… not so much.
While I think some of her arguments are valid, I wondered if this isn’t a mountain created from a molehill. I grew up in an era which was marked by less gender equality than my students seem to feel. I remember feeling pressured to pretend I wasn’t smart. That isn’t to say I succumbed to that pressure, but then, I was also considered a nerd, too. There were plenty of smart girls who played dumb. I also remember going through a period in elementary school during which boys were extremely yucky, and my peers and I spent plenty of time highlighting our differences. I grew out of it, and it seemed most of our peers did, too.
The more I think about it, however, the more unsure I feel. What exactly are we saying to children in our classrooms? What sorts of messages are they receiving? Does all this matter?