Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Puppy Dog Tails


What are little boys made of?
Snakes and snails, and puppy dog tails.
That's what little boys are made of.

What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice, and everything nice.
That's what little girls are made of.

The above rhyme puts forth the simple notion that boys and girls are different. It also seems to be making a judgement call while doing so, but the point is clear.  So why in our elementary schools do we continually view boys and girls through the same educational lens? 

Many curriculums require children to write 'small moment' stories. The 'small moment' can be any event or happening in the life of the child that is then focused and expanded upon.  Instead of writing list stories (I went to the store.  I went to the park.  I went home.) they are asked to give a detailed account of one thing that happened at the store.  When they write something like "I went to the Acme with my mom and sister to buy pretzels.  My mom had a coupon for Snyder's pretzels so we got that kind.  I smiled." teachers applaud.  

Girls are generally good at writing these kinds of stories.

Boys on the other hand are more motivated to write when they can write stories involving superheroes or violence.  Teachers try to sway them away from these topics.  

Here is a sampling I took from my class today.

That was written by a little girl about her hair and her mischievous brother.

And the drawing below was done by a little boy. It is a picture of Stewie from The Family Guy holding a knife while reenacting the shower scene from Psycho. He saw this on TV.  It stuck with him.

Books by researchers like Ralph Fletcher who wrote Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices and Thomas Newirk who wrote Misreading Masculinity: Boys, Literacy, and Popular Culture challenge us to rethink our expectations.  Why isn't it okay for boys to write like boys? Why do we, as a culture, value only one type of writing and dismiss the other?  Reading these books makes me realize how ingrained this way of thinking is and I continue to struggle to alter my perception.  

It's an ongoing thing.

By the way, care to venture a guess as to whether a boy or a girl drew the top picture with the butterflies and the flowers?

16 comments:

findingmywingsinlife said...

I'm going to guess that the butterfly pic was drawn by a boy. It seems to have a sharper tone to it, not quite as soft as you typically see in girls. If I'm wrong, well, won't be the first time :)

Gary said...

Oh, it was a girl (the same one who wrote the story about her hair). If it was a boy the butterflies would probably be stuck to a windsheild ;)

LadrĂ³n de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

A great post, and I like the concept of small moment stories. Sort of like blogging, I guess. As a child and today, I can write both boy and girl type stories. I always hated that puppy dog tails poem as a kid and the whole concept of someone else defining who I was/am. There is some truth in it, but it's also too general. I was way too analytical even in first grade. I'm not sure if that's a girl or boy trait, probably just nerdy which is gender neutral.

findingmywingsinlife said...

I know a lot of children (both male and female) that like butterflies, bugs, and flowers-which is why it was so difficult for me to figure it out. Otherwise, you're probably right it should have been obvious.

Gary said...

Gregg - I always hated that puppy dog tail rhyme too. As a child I never really understood it because I took the meaning too literally. What? I am with you on the nerd front as well.

Wings - Of couse the drawing could have been created by either a girl or a boy. As a boy who probably made pictures of butterflies and flowers I prove the point that nothing is really black and white. I am painting in very broad strokes here - just food for thought and all that.

Arielle Lee Bair said...

You know what it makes ME wonder while reading this?

If perhaps, the reason teachers and the like praise girls for writing what they write and steer boys away from writing what they write is because back when they were children writers their teachers did the same to them...so they simply grew up thinking it was the right way to do things. Male teachers probably think it's inappropriate and uncouth for boys to write about superheroes and violence because that's what was instilled in THEM when they were young. Female teachers probably remember being praised for their work as little girls and thus praise all the sugar and spice out there. Thus, it is a vicious cycle that must be brought to the attention of the academic world (as you're doing)!

Thing is, if you really think about it...isn't it more interesting to read about superheroes and other quirks than it is to read about your typical butterflies and run of the mill flowers and bows?

I think it's actually all in the way girls and boys are (typically) brought up. Girls are raised to play with dolls and frilly things. Boys are raised to play with trucks and dirt. When you are young and impressionable, this molds you. Thankfully, a lot of parents are realizing that children don't have to fit such strict gender molds and are loosening up.

Okay...babbling...
Interesting post, Gary!

Barbara said...

I was going to guess GIRL because of the detail in the flowers. Most boys would not put that much effort into repeating a pattern.

Our read-aloud tonight on SNOW, thanks to your suggestion, was a big success!

Gary said...

Arielle - You make some fantastic points about so much of education; that it is based on the past. I've heard discussions where it was stated that we could use an overhaul of the whole system - from redefining grade levels to what and how we teach. It is so difficult to think outside of our experience but I am glad that these questions keep coming up and challenge our thinking.

Barbara - I am so happy that your reading went well tonight and that the kids enjoyed themselves. You chose a good day to read about Snow (at least it snowed in NYC today). I was actually thinking about your next topic which could be things associated with night. Lots to choose from there from dreams to routines to fears to comforts.

Barbara said...

Gary -- I like the idea of a NIGHT theme. There are some very troubled children in the group, who probably have difficulty sleeping at night. It's a shelter for victims of domestic violence. One little girl hopped up on my lap last night and then quickly said, "Don't touch my legs!" I don't even want to imagine what demons she battles.

So please, my favorite teacher, give me a lesson plan and if you have them, some book suggestions. Maybe we can make night seem like fun!

Kum Chini said...

Hi! This is Sanjukta.

This is sheer bliss. I believe you are more close to God/ something spiritual than most of us. Keep the good work going!

lettuce said...

oh, i guessed a girl - but more because of the careful detail than anything.

but surely not all children fit these gender patterns do they? which is what makes me think an overall approach might be better. tho only if it doesn't have the kind of gender-bias you're talking about. If it can really allow for freedom and individuality

I think about this sort of stuff quite a lot, not least (but not only) because I teach about gender. I'll follow up the books you mention. Are you familiar with Barrie Thorne's study? its interesting as it suggests that the children studied did adopt and conform to gender stereotypes/roles, but also that they seemed to very consciously subvert them and play around with them.


(I've just marked a (mostly) truly awful set of essays on gender :-[ )

mouse (aka kimy) said...

another great post with much to think about.

like junk, I too always despised that sugar and spice puppy dog tail tale! as a kid I was considered a tomboy by the labelers (probably still would be, but I at 50+ folks don't use that label) - it didn't bother me, but what did bother me was being required to wear dresses (when I hated them) and it took me decades to overcome my hatred of pink - ironically, now I'm quite fond of pink and wear it proudly and defiantly.


very cool lettuce mentioned the work done by the sociologist barrie thorne - as her work (among with many others - including I expect lettuce herself) is wonderful in showing us how gender is influenced by social and cultural forces....

WAT said...

I tells ya what. It's almost innate that boys are naturally aggressive, but our culture teaches them these things too. From a very early age we reinforce how a boy is supposed to act and what is appropriate for a girl to do as well. All part of gender conditioning.

presious said...

Unfortunately, there is a tendency for boys to have a more violent perspective. This truly saddens me. As a daycare provider, I see this all too often. I don't think caregivers realize how they are molding their child's thinking and behavior with such influences. I have a very violent 5 year old in my daycare who plays violent video games with his teenage brothers. Father thought it harmless until the child started using the term "kill" and "stab" in his everyday play with legos. THis is also a child that hits his mom in the face with a fist and kicks her because he doesn't want to take a bath. Very sad.

Tanya Zafino said...

Male teachers probably think it's inappropriate and uncouth for boys to write about superheroes and violence because that's what was instilled in THEM when they were young. Female teachers probably remember being praised for their work as little girls and thus praise all the sugar and spice out there. Thus, it is a vicious cycle that must be brought to the attention of the academic world (as you're doing)!

Stephanie Monroe said...

I am once again reminded to make sure that I am thinking about my girls and boys when I plan my lessons and activities for the school year. The children are more engaged and willing to learn when they are learning about things that interest them. Since boys and girls do not learn the same way or enjoy writing the same way, we must provide various opportunities that interest them.

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