It is the start of indoor recess season and last week I walked into a classroom explosion of signs, sign-ups, and lots of blocks. Students had been busy for sure. As they were all hastily trying to clean up a group had gathered around a particular sign. I heard some saying, “Why hasn’t anyone signed up yet?” and others saying, “What does this even mean?” The sign they were discussing said, “Cool kids Club Sooo Much fun we Do girl and Boy Stuff“. I had my immediate thoughts and it took everything not to insert them.
As one student glanced over and saw me watching they asked, “Can we talk about this?”My students routinely bring things to the group to discuss. It stems from a practice we do each morning where students have time to talk in small groups about things they are thinking about. Sometimes students bring topics to the discussions and sometimes I do.Well, on this day students felt the need to talk about the sign and didn’t want to wait until the next morning.
We gathered and I put the sign under the document camera. I asked the students to discuss what they noticed. Right away students pulled out the words, “cool”, and “girl and boy stuff”. As they began to question one another and share their thoughts it didn’t take long for the conversation to move to books as a way to make sense of what they were thinking.
Students said things like, “Remember when we read about Oliver and he didn’t do things boys were “supposed” to do? and “What about Jessie and how he liked things that sparkled?” One student even said, “Where do you think they would sign-up on this sign? Would Jessie have to be under the girl stuff because girls are supposed to like things that sparkle?”
As I stood back and listened I noticed that their evidence to help them support their assertions were based off a few books we had read together that helped us think about gender. Most these books were from a “boy” perspective and experience. These stories helped us think through previous comments and experiences that have been made about “girl things and boy things”. I have to admit, it was so encouraging that they were referencing these stories, characters, and the authors who created these stories but even more obvious to me is that their repertoire of evidence was small. Their evidence was confined to a short list of books.
No one cited real life experiences, commercials, friends, family members or other books outside of our shared experiences that helped them come to their conclusion that the sign didn’t feel right. Students were quick to say that they wished the makers of the sign would have not used “girl and boy”. But the reality for the sign makers and the rest of them is that all around them it is girl and boy. We only have a short list of books that say otherwise and everything else that we read, see, watch, and experience leads us to feel the need to make sure everyone feels included by saying “boy and girl” versus come and create whatever you like to create.
The makers of the sign said that they just wanted everyone to know that it would be cool no matter if you are a boy or girl because they wanted anyone to join. They even said they felt like they needed to say boy stuff because they were girls and they were worried boys would not be interested. There is so much to unpack here and the work never ends. We just need more stories and life experiences to help us think. The conversation ended that day with the class thinking of ideas to recreate the sign and thinking about how indoor recess club could look and operate.
The conversation still continues and has evolved from the sign. A question we will continue to think through as we read books is, “What does this author want us to think about what children (boys and girls) can do and should do?” Most books we read whisper messages to us through characters actions…the question remains what messages are we aware of and not aware of?