Last week news outlets reported a story about a kindergarten teacher in Washington State who won’t allow boys to play with Legos. The teacher Karen Keller is tackling the issue of gender equality and bars the boys in her class from playing with the colorful blocks, even going so far as to lie to them about their opportunity to play. The Bainbridge Island school district in Washington State denies these reports.
Keller, who has taught at Captain Johnston Blakely Elementary since 2008, said that she only lets girls play with the Legos in her classroom. She added that forbidding the boys from using Legos wasn’t her initial plan, but after she was unable to entice the girls with pink and purple Legos, she felt that the “girls-only Lego club” was her only option.
Keller believes one of the reasons why there is a lack of female STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) role models is because women are socialized to accept gender stereotypes from an early age.
Legos know no gender. Typically girls like the more stereotypical girly things, and boys tend to like boyish things. Children should be allowed to play with whatever toys they choose to play with. If a boy wants to play with a doll and a girl wants to play with Legos or vice versa – so be it!
While it’s wonderful to teach gender equality, Keller is not considering is what exclusion does to children.
By trying to teach gender equality, she is instead setting kids up to feel excluded. This can create peer rejection and cause bad self-esteem in children.
Exclusion in the school environment can take many forms, with children reporting a range of experiences from being deliberately excluded from a peer group to having rumors spread about them, being called names and being purposefully embarrassed. It fundamentally entails a lack of connectedness and participation from a peer group.
The early years are the time to shape a child’s mind and creativity. Excluding kids from any activity could cause a rift between girls and boys opening them up to bullying situations. When a child is told he can’t play with Lego, but his female classmates can, it could leave girls feeling superior and open the door to bullying boys.
Yet this exclusion is being caused by an educator. When exclusion occurs, students can experience physical, emotional and mental health issues.
Promoting equality and inclusion should be part of the work of schools and other educational bodies. If Ms. Keller and all educators want to teach about gender equality, they should be promoting responsibility among students regarding prejudice and inequalities by using positive action and conflict resolution; helping in the development of analytical and critical thinking skills of her students; assisting their students in creating an equitable classroom environment, and helping students to recognize and challenge harassment in the classroom.
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