Re: The Anecdote & the Educator

Linda Purrington (
Wed, 15 Apr 1998 18:34:26 -0700

No, I couldn't afford to go to the conference Tim describes; it was
pretty pricy. But I did go to a Sonoma County Board of Education
"training" for teachers, two years earlier, at which Tim was the
featured speaker, and do remember the incident and its response exactly
as I related it. I am glad Tim has clarified his position.
At that training, I was interested in the work of the young woman
teacher, Carol Henderson, who had given up her noon free period to meet
with girls. As I recall, the school had had a problem with unequal use
of athletic facilities at recess and noon breaks; the sixth-grade boys
usually controlled the basketball games. The girls complained, and the
issue was turned over to the peer council, is that right, Tim? I wrote a
note to the local paper pointing out that student peer advisories should
not be put in charge of adjudicating rights under federal laws such as
Title IX, as they are not matters of opinion, but of law. The educators
involved should have intervened to ensure equitable access to playground
equipment and space. There was a similar incident the same year nearby
in which a boy harassed a girl for having big breasts; he said it was
because he didn't like the fact that she got straight As. The friction
was turned over to a peer counseling group, which decided the boy should
stop harassing the girl and she should stop saying she had gotten As.
Linda Purrington
Title IX Advocates

Tim Flinders wrote:
> 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"
> in
> 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
> "connection."
> It was during a series of kickball games that these conflicting
> 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
> Parents)--
> Returning from my first gender equity conference, (Mills College, Oct
> 1992), and wanting to ensure that my PE periods of fifth and sixth graders
> were
> 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
> girl
> 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
> week's
> 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
> game.
> So I let go. Surprisingly, I didn't feel the least defeated when I had
> to
> 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
> 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
> story,
> 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
> Girls")
> Tim Flinders
> Old Adobe USD, Gifted and Talented Education
> Petaluma, CA

new message to this message