Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Philosophy and the Role of Teacher Reflections on Constructing Gender

Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Philosophy and the Role of Teacher Reflections on Constructing Gender

Article excerpt

Karen: You didn't vote for a boy!

Peter: I've changed my mind!

Karen: Too late, it's already a girl.

Jason: Some boys have long hair.

Karen: We're not making a rock boy. You can forget it!

Peter: Then let's make a girl and a boy.

Karen: There's no room!

(Laura's Classroom)

Verbal and non-verbal communication interactions have a strong influence on the social construction of gender. Therefore understanding the classroom interaction structures we establish and the subsequent socio-cultural context those create is a vital commitment for any teacher. Furthermore, since gender is constructed in the day-to-day interactions of children's lives, our concerns for promoting equality in the lived experiences of women and men must recognize the importance of early, daily communication structures in which patterns are first observed, tested, and legitimized by authority figures such as parents and teachers.

Prior to formal schooling, the family and community are the primary places where children construct gender identity. In addition to the gendered messages they receive from parents, children observe gender at work in television, movies, books and illustrations. Studies show that young children spend nearly 30 hours per week viewing television (as cited in Witt, 2000). As a result, they are exposed to a range of programming from cartoons, commercials, sitcoms, and TV dramas that convey messages about gender. These messages range from traditional depictions of men and women in gendered professional occupations (women as nurses and men as doctors) and family roles to messages that equate femininity with thinness and submissiveness and men with brawn and violence (Witt, 2000). Popular children's literature and programming such as The Berenstain Bears, The Boxcar Children, and Sesame Street also perpetuate traditional gender roles. Finally, through make-believe play with toys such as Barbie dolls and X-men action figures, young children rehearse the theories they are exposed to. In the rehearsal process, children will internalize their observations and subsequently accommodate these into their gender scheme (Piaget, 1954).

The research on play acknowledges the powerful impact play has on gender development. From eighteen months to age three, young children engage in parallel play in which activities are engaged in side by side (Fromberg, 1992; Garvey, 1990; Johnson & Wardle, 2005). But these interactions do not show full social awareness; their conversational goals are egocentric. After age three, children become more social and begin to interact and play with other children. These play interactions also shape children's communication skills. Since these are the very skills that determine the kinds of interactions in which children engage in, their sound development is a crucial foundation to their lives as fully engaged individuals.

Commensurate with this social development is the formation of a gendered self. As the child grows, cultural codes of femininity and masculinity are reinforced and contested by the child as s/he interacts with his/her social environment (Goncu, 1993). Since identity development is embedded in the interaction structures that organize the child's social relationships, different interaction structures will impact the kind of gendered self the child constructs. When placed in structures that expect stereotypical role performances, children are coached into definitions of the self that incorporate traditional limits and inequities. By contrast, children who are provided with roles that balance opportunities and power relationships can construct the full potential of gender.

Further, once children begin formal schooling, teachers, peers, curricula and school culture work in concert with the home environment to shape gender through many types of interactions including written, verbal, physical, pictorial activities, and other means of expression. …

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