Wednesday, September 05, 2007

What a difference a year makes

Last night was Back to School night at WonderGirl's school, which I suddenly have a vague memory of chronicling last year... oh yes, here. Last year I remember being almost overwhelmed with the newness of it all; I was itching to be acclimated, or assimilated, or at least told which restroom adults were supposed to use. This year, WonderGirl is in the same classroom with the same teachers as last year and she's moved from being chronologically in the middle of her multi-age class to being the second-oldest by a margin of three days. (She is disappointed by these three days, and I want to remind her that if she'd had the decency to be born even in the same week she was due, she would be the oldest. I don't remind her, because I am Nice.) We're one of four families (out of the 18 in the class) who are returnees from last year. WonderGirl is apparently relishing her leadership position (if leadership equals telling other kids not to pretend to play with guns), and I suppose I thought we'd be able to fill a similar niche with the new families. I wanted to smooth their integration process a little, reassure them that it was okay to come visit the room whenever they wanted, give them a heads-up (or multiple headses-up? heads-ups?) about how field trips work, or classroom volunteering. All the things that I wish I'd had someone telling me last year.

Turns out I'm not like the new parents. It would be fair to say they project confidence. I'll leave it there -- again, because I'm Nice. I don't pretend to play with guns.

Two other things happened, one that depresses me and one that reminds me why we are so grateful to be involved with the school:

First, when I made my nametag, I wrote, "WonderGirl" instead of "Ruth." I didn't even notice until another parent asked if we were supposed to do that. I could understand this as a cheap-and-easy characterization in a bad short story, but as a moment in my life, it doesn't rank highly.

Second, one of the parents asked the teachers how they were going to adjust their styles and curriculum to reflect the fact that 13 of the 18 students are boys, since apparently all classrooms are naturally geared toward girls, girls don't like physical play, boys are typically left out and girls take over. My blood pressure shot up. It was yet another example of people wanting to throw labels at individuals and then act as if the labels are meaningful. (Because you're a parent, you must want XYZ from our church. Because you're a boy, you must need XYZ in a classroom environment.) The teachers responded beautifully, and I couldn't believe how quickly my vital signs returned to stability. They immediately pointed out that boys are on a spectrum and girls are on a spectrum, and they focus on what each individual child needs. To my mind, the most unenlightened classroom is one in which everyone is assumed to learn the same way. To change that classroom to an environment in which boys are assumed to learn one way and girls another might be progress, but only barely. I'm truly baffled as to why this is such a popular view in our otherwise progressive local environment. Why would any parent want anything other than an acceptance that all kids have different preferred learning styles, and you can't figure out what works simply by checking out the kid's genitalia? Why wouldn't we all start with that desire, instead of screaming, "Please stereotype my child!"

One final note: I believe I have used up my quota of times when I can hear other parents describe their children as "bright" or "active" without sticking my fingers in my ears and signing the Smurf theme song.


Suz said...

Oh man, my kids are only 18 months and I've already tapped out on hearing other parents describe their kids as "bright" or "active"

It's wonderful to hear you describe the teachers so positively

laurie said...

are y'all in a montessori school? just curious.

also, i wish you had really written "wonder girl" on your nametag. that would be awesome.

happy back-to-school!

sally said...

Catering to, or suggestions of gender differences in education confuses the heck out of me. Nay, frustrates me to no end.

Why wouldn't we want to provide all opportunities available to our children instead of trying to fit them into some predetermined slot based on gender. If both genders enjoyed freedom from gender stereotyping, then wouldn't they have twice as much opportunity, twice as open a mind, and twice as many skills not to mention increased potential for present and future adaptability?

In real life, when a man & woman become a couple, freedom from gender specific roles makes a life filled with all the variety such thinking allows, and a workload divided by half. But hey, that could just be my own twisted perception.