• Educating Gender

On Birthdays at Schools and Donuts



With our long Presidents' Day weekend here, I have been thinking about birthdays. As we get older, the importance and relevance of birthdays seems to spread out in ten year waves. But for kids, it feels more like a year-long count down to a rocket launching. That feeling, that anticipation of one's unique entry into the world, is a trait to nurture and admire. Children still see that day of their birth as truly special.

One of the most gratifying experiences in a school is watching, right around middle school, girls planning with military precision, the birthday celebrations of their friends. It never gets old. They organize everything. Baking occurs the night before, balloons are purchased, lockers are decorated, small gifts magically appear, signs are painted and even songs are written. Lunch period becomes a true celebration for the student and interestingly, no parent was present or significantly involved. All of these wonderful traits of leadership, collaboration, high executive functioning skills seem to magically appear in our students when personal meaning gets inserted into the moment. The birthday girl is often found with a big smile on her face and the other girls are also gleaming with pride after having put in the effort and labors in order to give to someone else, in order to make someone else feel honored and celebrated. There is a feeling of validating embrace which impacts all of the students in the school, and even jaded and tired administrators get to feel that they belong to something much greater than the dissection of a frog or the value of n in an equation.

What girls seem to learn and know well and what boys seem to resist but desire is for the ones whom they are closest with to celebrate their presence in the world.

I contrast this with what boys go through on their birthdays. Mom shows up with the ubiquitous box of donuts. Many of the boys do not even realize it’s their friend’s birthday. They wait, often impatiently, for the donuts to be served. They themselves have put no effort into expressing joy for each other. In other words, they take, they receive and give back very little.

I have this dream that, one day, a father will walk through the doors of the school with those donuts, but before the boys can eat, he speaks about his son, celebrates his son and lets everyone know why he feels his son is so wonderful, so deserving and brings him so much pride. Real stories, not just platitudes. The father then asks his son to come forward, he hugs him, plants a big kiss on his cheek and wishes his son a happy birthday.

Creating communities of students and adults inside of schools who care about each other and want the best for each other is not easy. I want to suggest that it can be fostered and nurtured in both profoundly positive ways and can also be allowed, in a vacuum, to form in negative ways as well. What girls seem to learn and know well and what boys seem to resist but desire is for the ones who they are closest with to celebrate their presence in the world. Boys might say that they don't want to be embarrassed or fear the response to public displays of affection, but adults, particularly fathers, must resist these immature voices of protest from boys in order to serve a much higher cause and purpose.

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Jason is flexible and attentive, yet remains committed to his high expectations of my work in tackling tough situations and tasks.  With a sense of humor and compassion for the rigor of a leadership position, he knows how to guide me with just the right amount of productive stress.  I appreciate that.

Daphne Orenshein - Elementary School Principal: Hillel Hebrew Academy

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