This place matters

This place matters

Monday, October 20, 2014

Purple Penguin Eaters

A week or so back Fox News reported on a case of political correctness gone wild - a school in Nebraska has banned teachers from referring to students as "boys and girls"; teachers are ordered to use "Purple Penguins" instead. 
Shockingly, Fox blew the story just a touch out of proportion. Long story short, some teachers got a handout of suggestions on how they might be more gender inclusive, and none of those suggestions involved calling all children purple penguins.
But the story got me to thinking about the methods the handout suggested, and whether they're pointless political correctness or little things that could make a big difference.
For example, instead of having kids line up in a boys' line and a girls' line, the handout suggested using some other arbitrary factor. Seems trivial, but consider this:
Teachers are statistically more likely to reprimand boys than girls for similar behavior. That means one line is likely to get more attention in the form of more reprimands. Boys who are behaving are being scolded by association. And while a little extra yelling might not seem like a big deal, but research shows that boys who feel teachers are biased against them perform more poorly and are less invested in their schoolwork
And while the teacher is busy yelling at John, she's ignoring Mary, who may be committing the same infraction as John - depriving Mary of a lesson in accountability.
If teachers aren't splitting kids up by gender, it could go a long way toward rectifying their biases, which are most often unconscious. Kids internalize these biases and act on them - boys are expected to act up, so they do. Science and math teachers don't push their female students as hard as they do their male students, so girls under-perform in those subjects. 
Girls are perceived as more obedient, and rewarded for passivity; teachers often move disruptive boys to sit near well-behaved girls, on the idea girls are a civilizing influence (which happens to reinforce a notion that girls are responsible for their own behavior as well as boys who aren't capable of being responsible for their own). But really, aren't these things inevitable? If teachers have been lining kids up by gender this long, is it really so bad for them to keep doing so?
Well, here are some facts that suggest maybe the status quo isn't good enough, and anything we can do, especially if it's as simple and unobtrusive as changing the way kids line up, is worth trying.

In short, girls aren't being challenged and boys aren't being judged fairly. Can making a few changes make teachers more gender-blind actually make a difference? I don't see how it
can hurt.
Also, random fact, if you Google "boys are," the first result is "stupid."

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