An anecdote: In a day care classroom, two 4-year-olds, a girl and a boy, were
quarreling over some ring toys. The boy was struggling to grab the red ring the
girl was holding, even though there were other rings on the floor in front of
them. I mediated the squabble, trying to understand what was going on.
It finally came to light that the problem was that the untouched rings
were yellow; and yellow, in this classroom and for these children, was only
for girls, while red was acceptable for boys and girls.
I don't think any of the adults in the classroom were aware of this color
assignment-it was part of the children's private culture.
There does seem to a mighty drive in young children to define and delineate
the trappings of gender. To what extent this is innate and to what extent,
culture-driven is a great puzzle.
P.S. This was a messy process, with the children continuing to struggle and
grab and whine as we were talking. (In the end, both children dumped the
rings and moved on to something else.) In such a situation there is a strong
temptation for a teacher to say "That's it, we'll just put these away if you
can't share." But if I had not taken the time to talk with them, despite the
messiness, I never would have found out about the gender-color assignment, and I
would have lost a chance to help the children begin to examine this rule. Where
did it came from? Who decided? Could it be changed?
Incidentally, in the July issue of the NAEYC journal, Young Children, there
is an article entitled "Gender Equity in Early Childhood Education," by Nancy L.
Robeson, Wendy Wagner Marshall, and Nancy Keefe. Worthwhile reading-I recommend
it to all listers. Also in that issue is a great article on time-outs and
toddlers by Mary Ellis Screiber.
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