Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Problem of Cute

I passed the bulletin boards several times. There were at least four of them along the hallway, possibly the work of the entire grade, First grade, by the look of it. They had titles like "Cruisin' into the 50's", "Rockin' the 50's" and so on.


The assignment was this: If I had 50 ____________, I would ___________.

So far, so good. But each paper was the body of a construction paper boy or girl styled to look like the 1950's. All girls had pink skirts. All boys had blue pants. All skin parts were white paper. As I looked at the display, I felt troubled.


A few children had laboriously scribbled in darker skin tones. It must have made their work take much longer than the others. Why, in 2014, are we handing out white paper to children as the default skin tone? Why is that acceptable? Imagine if my daughter always received brown paper and was told that if it really made a difference to her, she could use an eraser and try to rub it out so that her work looked more like her?


Also, as we learn more about how children have very individual gender identities from early on, I wonder how helpful it is to do across the board projects where all girls wear pink skirts and all boys wear blue pants. Why is it necessary to enforce this concept? Invariably there is a girl who wishes she could be rocking the blue jeans, or a boy who wishes for pink pants, or even a skirt.


The lesson itself is a language arts and math lesson. "If I had 50 ____________, I would ___________." There's nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when teachers are looking for fun activities to reinforce those concepts and they see this one and think, "Oh, that would be cute."

The 1950's are fun. Rock and roll, cruising in your car to the malt shop, poodle skirts and blue jeans. What a great bulletin board idea. Gee, that would be cute.

I am the first to say that teachers take way too much abuse and deserve our support and respect for what they do, day in and day out, for our kids. But I have a hard time with this activity. It truly isn't necessary to enforce racial and gender stereotyping in order to achieve the targeted learning goals. And yet I know in my heart that whoever chose this activity never thought for even one minute about those implications. There is absolutely no ill intent.

It was just a cute idea.

Cute is great for puppies, kittens, babies, and "outfits" (ask my daughter). I would suggest that when it creeps into education, we need to be really careful where that path takes us.

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