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Monday, August 04, 2008

Alphabatizing, gender, and horseback riders.

Today I went into my classroom for the fourth time. It's finally starting to feel a little bit like it's "mine" (and maybe soon I'll stop adding a tally to my counter each time I go in). I haven't really created any bulletin boards or personalized the room yet. I'm still sorting through all the materials available for me to use.

I spent a lot of time today alphabetizing materials or putting them in numerical order. At first I thought that this was a stupid waste of time (though this thought wasn't stopping me from doing the sorting) but then I realized that meticulously going through and examining things like I am is helping me really see and understand the materials in my room.

I got really excited when I found two sets of picture cards. One was just basic vocabulary and the other was social studies themed. Looking through the first box, I thought about how they would be a really great tool. When I was student teaching I constantly printed out pictures to help illustrate and describe what I was talking about. With such a great assortment of photo picture cards, I won't have to do so much printing.

However, when I started looking through the social studies cards I got really disappointed. Under the category of "Occupations" there were 30 occupations listed. Of those 30, women appeared in only 7 occupations. Want to guess what those 7 occupations were? Nurse, teacher, chef, hairdresser, mail carrier, food server and florist.

When I first looking through the cards, I thought I noticed a trend in that direction, but I didn't realize how bad it was until I went through a second time and counted. I looked at the publication date on the cards, and it was 2002, which wasn't exactly the dark ages. What happened to the mid 80s when everything was overly politically correct? When school posters showed almost comic amounts of gender and racial diversity? Eight out of thirty - that's 26.7% female. I wouldn't usually say that chef and mail carrier feel entirely stereotypically female, but when you compare them to some of the other professions illustrated with males it certainly feels like a slap in the face. Some of the "male" professions were doctor, plumber, construction worker, carpenter, electrician, barber, firefighter, and police officer. There were no stereotypically female jobs represented in the photo cards by males. This shouldn't really upset me as much as it does. After all, I don't have to use these cards. I just found them on the shelf and thought they might be useful. But really Lakeshore? Really?!

The first unit I ever wrote in my first methods class, was about "community members." In the first lesson in that unit, I would name off various roles that community members hold - doctor, teacher, garbage collector, nurse, firefighter, etc. As I named off each community member, I had the students draw a quick sketch of someone in that role. I assumed that students would predominantly draw some roles as female, some roles as male, and some roles without any gender preference. We would then go on to question why we had these assumptions, and look for people we knew who didn't fit into the stereotypes presented in the students' drawings. Because this was my first methods class, I never actually taught this lesson to anyone (it was aimed at 3rd graders or so.) Of all the units and lessons I have created over the past 3.5 years or so, this is probably the lesson I would most like to teach. I really am very curious about what the students would come up with and what type of discussion would ensue.

Maybe that's why I feel so personally offended by the box of photo cards. Third graders - okay, they haven't seen a lot yet so might put people into certain roles based on gender. But a large educational product producer should know better. They should know much better.

Aside from that, today I saw a man wearing a cowboy (cow...person?) hat riding a horse down the side of the road. This actually isn't really out of the ordinary. I live in a weird little town just outside of the big city that is the most confusing mixture of large city/suburbia/rural cattle farms that I've ever seen. What made this horse-rider noticeable was that he was also chatting on his cell phone. While riding the horse past a brand new gated subdivision. The juxtaposition of it all made me laugh.

All in all, I think I'm getting acclimated to my new life quite well.


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