Karen Keller of Captain Johnston Blakely Elementary on Bainbridge Island, Washington has a rather controversial approach to eradicating gender inequality in her kindergarten class: she reportedly bars boys from playing with Legos. A local paper below quotes Keller as saying that she wants to combat lower spatial and math skills among girls. While she says that girls want to play with dolls while boys want to play with Legos, she refuses to give boys permission to play with the Legos to try to reverse the trend. For many of us, Keller’s approach is not simply discriminatory but completely irrational and abusive. Yet, she clearly feels comfortable in adopting such discriminatory rules and speaking about them publicly. The issue is not the practices at Captain Johnston Blakely Elementary but the rise in such discriminatory practices — something that I have criticized through the years.
Adults manipulating the toys that children play with is nothing new, unfortunately. The obsession with toy guns is one such example. I have previously written columns on the campaign against toy guns (here and here). I fail to see the alarm over such play and, as noted in the prior columns, the obsession of some parents is often based on inaccurate accounts of academic research. Plenty of women played with dolls in childhood and went on to become powerful leaders from lawyers to politicians to scientists . . . and yes architects.
Keller stated that boys always ask to play with Legos but she treats them as girls only to try to get girls to use them: “I always tell the boys, ‘You’re going to have a turn’ — and I’m like, ‘Yeah, when hell freezes over’ in my head. I tell them, ‘You’ll have a turn’ because I don’t want them to feel bad.”
Putting aside the constant false statements made to the children, Keller insists that she has greater objectives in mind than equality or honesty. She has taught at the school since 2008 and observed self-segregation where boys inevitably went to the building blocks while the girls played with crayons and dolls. She finds that unacceptable and her solution is to prevent boys from playing with the blocks and Legos to address cognitive disparity between men and women. Of course, that means barring the boys from the useful playtime for cognitive development but Keller insists that it is the girls who need the opportunity.
Keller further says that she is just counterbalancing marketing stereotyping in toys by barring boys from playing with these educational toys: “I just feel like we are still so far behind in promoting gender equity.” She said that she decided to bar boys after she tried a positive approach to get girls to play with Legos. She selected pink and purple Legos but it is not help. The girls simply wanted to play with dolls and crayons. She said “it wasn’t enough” and thus required her discriminatory policy.
What is particularly troubling is that the school appears fully aware of this loony and discriminatory practice. Indeed, Keller was able to use Classroom Enrichment Grants to purchase LEGO Education Community Starter Kits for three Blakely classrooms. However, the grant was offered for all students. Keller however had no intention of letting little boys use the new toys. She said “I had to do the ‘girls only Lego club’ to boost it more. Boys get ongoing practice and girls are shut out of those activities, which just kills me. Until girls get it into their system that building is cool, building is ‘what I want to do’ — I want to protect that.”
Not surprising Keller’s view of equality and fairness is a bit twisted. She insisted “fair is getting what you need to succeed or to get better.”
It is not clear who gave Keller the authority to engage in this type of social engineering through gender discrimination. There is no indication that Principal Reese Ande has criticized, let alone moved to stop, this practice. What concerns me is how comfortable Keller is in her use of such a practice. We have seen interesting same-sex classrooms and even schools as educators rediscover principles of “separate but equal.” Here a teacher is actually barring the use of toys (bought under a grant) by boys to try to change the preferences of girls and enhance the development of girls. There is no evidence that such a practice would produce those results while it is clear that does produce a dishonest and unfair treatment of the boys in the classroom. I have both young boys and girls. I would want neither in Keller’s class, but particularly not my daughter. She does not need a teacher creating boy-free areas to develop her cognitive abilities. That is particularly true when the lesson some with an added dose of discriminatory values.
Source: Bainbridge Review