• Educating Gender

They Have Us Outnumbered!


Over the past 25 years, there has been much talk that schools need to transform in order to better mirror what the world looks like today. The argument is what I call a school-as-training model. Ironically, it is what got us into our current state of affairs with educational institutions in the first place. The idea is that the primary purpose of school is to prepare (train) students to become part of the economic machine and the way to do this is to 1) not fill their heads with lots of ideas (critical thinking) 2) do not expect what should not be expected (education as a caste system) and 3) teach them something useful.

The problem is that schools, as they are currently constructed, are bizarro world. When you think about the ways schools look and function as an experience for children, they do not look like anything we find in the real world. 

The current hysteria over expanding STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education at all levels in schools is a perfect example. There are many terrific and thoughtful reasons to have STEM programs such as robotics in schools. They promote collaborative learning and team work. Students learn by doing, failing often in order to learn more. And, problem solving and creativity play a much more prominent role in truly thoughtful STEM programs. But, if we’re honest about why STEM education became all the rage it was because we were facing an engineering crisis: there just weren’t enough young people in the United States going into math and science related fields. In other words, we had a societal panic around jobs, economics and, yes, training. 

So, what was the solution? Quick! Change education! This movement has had much less to do with transforming and improving education than it has with keeping our capitalist economic machine at full tilt. 

The problem is that schools, as they are currently constructed, are bizarro world. When you think about the ways schools look and function as an experience for children, they do not look like anything we find in the real world. 

Most children in their neighborhoods and communal institutions find themselves often engaged with children of multiple ages. Whether playing in the streets or backyards or attending church retreats and youth centers, age range is a norm and children both learn to mentor and be mentored, teach and be taught, feel protected and protect. Community relations are much more closely related, in many ways, to family structures than they are to schools. Children outside of school also find themselves in a much more proportional relationship to adults. Whether in homes or inside of their community relationships, there are just more adults around where children are expected to engage.

Whether playing in the streets or backyards or attending church retreats and youth centers, age range is a norm and children both learn to mentor and be mentored, teach and be taught, feel protected and protect.

Then what happens in schools? We take large numbers of children, group them more or less within a specific age range for most of the day and then, the proportional relationship to adults is completely out of whack. If a school has a ten-to-one student/adult ratio it is considered an educational paradise. Typically, a small number of adults are expected to monitor, evaluate, instruct, guide, and discipline a massive number of children. Raising children in a single family is tough. We recognize and acknowledge the immense challenges of raising children in a single parent home. Now exponentialize that endeavor for most of the waking day. 

With kids making a number of crowd driven decisions alongside implicit and explicit social construction, students can find themselves grouping and organising their activities and friendships, ways of being, and relationships pretty quickly around gender. Studies done in several different states across school districts have shown that children primarily organize themselves by gender when they are in the same age groups as opposed to when they are in mixed age groups. The narrowing of experience and homogeneity in schools appears to lead to greater narrowing and homogeneity.

From my own experiences in the workplace, I need to interact with a number of different people, from diverse backgrounds, of several different generations, and with several different gender identifications. This is the rule and the reality of the world I need to engage with on a daily basis. 

The narrowing of experience and homogeneity in schools appears to lead to greater narrowing and homogeneity.

So, perhaps the real approach to creating an educational system that reflects the real world is not just computers and engineering programs but by creating as much diversity as possible. What would it look if schools were organized where students interacted with each other regardless of age and therefore found themselves developing respectful, meaningful relationships that would positively inform their adult lives? Well, it would look like we were preparing them for the real world.

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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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