Monday, October 24, 2016

"So Everyone Thinks They're Just Fine"

For the past several years, our school's enrollment has been about 60-65 percent boys. A new parent recently asked me about that, wondering if that had to do with me being a male teacher. It does not. For the first decade or so of my tenure at Woodland Park, our enrollment was more like 60-65 percent girls. The main difference between then and now: a larger playground. Indeed, parents even told me that it had been the small playground at our old place that made them reluctant to enroll their sons. 

No one said that about their girls. In fact, when we re-imagined that small playground into a sort of mini-adventure playground, the mother of one girl, complaining about the mess and weather, said, "You know, the indoor curriculum was pretty good all by itself."

There's a sad "secret" that those of us who work in "alternative" or progressive schools don't often talk about. While our waiting lists often fill up with boy applicants, there are always spots available for girls. This doesn't happen at our school because we enroll on a first-come-first-serve basis with no attempt to balance for gender, hence the imbalance, but most schools do try and they all struggle with it. You see, many parents of boys tend to see our type of play-based, full-body, outdoor-focused eduction and recognize it as a perfect fit, while parents of girls too often feel it's nice, but their child doesn't "need" it. As the admissions director at a local progressive elementary school once told me: "It's a prejudice. Girls need this sort of education as much as boys, it's just that they're more likely look like they're sitting down and doing the work, so everyone thinks they're just fine wherever they are."

I've heard it myself from parents looking beyond preschool, saying exactly that, opining "She'll be fine," about their girls while saying, "My boy needs more time." I'm here to tell you that all children need more time if the next step is going to be sitting at desks, absorbing direct instruction, filling out worksheets, and taking tests. That's not good for anyone, let alone young children. The evidence is quite clear that the best educational foundation for children under seven, girls and boys, is play.

Perhaps it is true that boys tend to require a bit more opportunity to move their bodies, but the same holds true for many girls as well. All girls still need and deserve the same freedom to play, to explore, and to ask and answer their own questions. It's not good enough to be "fine."

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Gwen said...

You are so right about all of this! I abhor the worksheet, homework testing idea for young children.

Nancy Schimmel said...

This is sad. I was one of those girls who was good at sitting at a desk, but reveled in the jungle gym and the rings at school and trees and steep hillsides elsewhere. I think my parents knew what I needed, but it looks like some still don't. Do we need to do the seventies again?

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. My 3-year-old daughter does not stop moving, jumping, running, sliding and making hurdles for herself out of anything. Our home is set up with room for movement. We have a yard for "mess," mud and, mainly, Yes.

That said, there is a reading corner (at one of our parties, it was an 8-year-old boy who curled up with a good book), and, if kids who loved constant movement were here, there are Quiet Zones.

Quiet spaces for those who need quiet to learn. This is non-gender specific and personality driven. Parents may be commenting from this perspective.

Andy S said...

Insightful but I'd like to add that the situation is getting better. Just for the numbers, the Williamsburg preschool my son goes to, he has more girls in his class. And overall, the teachers are quite active and engaged with all kids and without any bias.