Re: The Anecdote & the Educator

Tim Flinders (
Wed, 15 Apr 1998 11:13:46 -0700

Linda Purrington recently wrote:

". . . NO one remarked that the gender equity educator was still
approving of the boys, and putting the girls down for not knowing how to
play the game--the only game he could see. . . But perhaps it is time to
make the standard of education human behavior, not male behavior? By
the way, this incident actually happened. The audience of 400 teachers
laughed, with the gender equity expert, at the girls."

Sorry for the length of this post, but as the "gender equity educator"
question here, I'd like to clear up a couple of misconceptions about my
increasingly infamous "anecdote" and my intentions in telling it at a
conference on girls ("Power,Promise and Possibility: A Conference About
Girls", Sonoma State University, October 1996). And I'd like to invite a
discussion about the dilemma I intended the story to address and which has
been raised only tangentially here: namely, the conflicting claims upon
teachers of competing "ethics" among the boys and girls in our classrooms
and on our playgrounds. Carol Gilligan first identified these as the "ethos
of abstract justice" (predominatly male) and that of "care and connection"
(predominantly female). I believe she also was the first to observe that, on
the playground, boys play games largely to win, while girls will often
adjust the rules of their competitive games to accomodate their desire for
"connection." For the boys, the "rules" are paramount: for the girls, the

It was during a series of kickball games that these conflicting "ethics"
surfaced in a way that forced them onto my attention, and it was to
illuminate these complexities, and my own fumbling, but earnest, attempts
to deal with them, that formed the point of my "anecdote."

Very briefly, the story goes like this (anyone wanting a more detailed
version can find it in my book, "Growing Girls: A Gender Primer for

Returning from my first gender equity conference, (Mills College, Oct
1992), and wanting to ensure that my PE periods of fifth and sixth graders
absolutely gender fair, I decided to have girl and boy captains choose the
kickball teams, an equity no-brainer it seemed. Problem was, the boy
captain chose the best players first (not all boys, by the way ) while the
girl captain chose her best friends, none of whom turned out to be
athletically talented. When the game became lopsided (11-2, or something,
by the second inning), the girl captain complained to me (fiercely, I
should add) that the teams were unfair. I switched a couple of the better
players to the losing team, (a boy and a girl, despite their vocal
protests) and the game eventually evened out.

Next week at the beginning of PE, I reminded the newly chosen boy and
captains of the previous week's fiasco and suggested that if they wanted an
even game, (I knew I did) they might choose a couple of the better players
first, than choose their friends. Didn't work. The girl captain wouldn't
bypass her non-athletic friends, even momentarily, though it resulted in
markedly uneven teams and another disastrous first inning. She became
increasingly indignant at the lopsidedness until I switched a couple of
the better players ("No way!") to even up the sides. It was at this point
in the story that the audience (mostly women, by the way, and many of them
mothers with daughters) laughed, basically at my untenable predicament.

This went on for several PE sessions. Nothing I could say to each
captains about our (certainly my) desire for an even game made any
difference in the outcome. Finally, watching an 11-year-old struggle
mightily one afternoon, visibly torn between her desire for a decent team
and an almost visceral need to be with her friends, suddenly lit up the
gender landscape for me with new meaning. I "saw" for the first time
really, the force and depth of Gilligan's "care and connection" among my
girl students, and felt its pointed contrast to my own rigid and
self-limiting socialization as a young male to (for the most part, anyway)
"just win, baby." I stood there in the overbright sunlight in the grip of
an epiphany which,in one way or another, has fueled my equity work for the
past five years. Here's how it's described in "Growing Girls:"

"I didn't say a word, dumbstruck by how powerful the drive for
relationship among these girls was, their palpable need for connection.
Certainly it was stronger than any threat (or promise) I could muster, and
I decided not to
meddle with it any longer. I wasn't going to have these girls set aside so
fundamental a drive just to satisfy my own need for a competitive kickball

So I let go. Surprisingly, I didn't feel the least defeated when I had
switch a couple of players later in in the game in order to even out the
sides. They groaned as usual, but it didn't bother me this time. I think I
was still a little awestruck."

Sometime later, I worked out a system that I hoped would honor both
"ethics", and satisfy everyone's desire for relatively even games. One
week two girl
captains would choose teams, the next week two boys. I've alternated like
this for five years now, and while its not a perfect solution, it does
answer some of the complexities. I would welcome others' suggestions.

As to the "Anecdote and the Educator" I cannot imagine what I could have
said that day which could have persuaded Linda that I was approving of the
boys and dispproving of the girls. To have said, "the girls, alas" (as I am
quoted) would have turned my intention in telling the story entirely on its
head. But it was a year and a half ago, and perhaps I was even more nervous
than I felt, and got my lines wrong.

In any event, though I mightily disagree with Linda's version of my
I heartily support her main point, that "it is time to make the standard of
education human behavior, not male behavior." I'd like to think that is
precisely the message I was (and am) trying to convey. As I said, you can
look it up (I'd be more than happy to send ordering info for "Growing

Tim Flinders
Old Adobe USD, Gifted and Talented Education
Petaluma, CA

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