Smashing Stereotypes

As we’ve ventured into our first ‘proper’ year of home education with Isaac this week, I’ve been thinking about stereotypes, specifically about boys and their attitudes towards learning. I had read a lot about boys being slower to learn than girls, about them struggling with sitting still and concentrating more than girls, about them needing a later start to academics. And although that might be true for a lot of boys, I think there is a danger if we assume that that is true for all boys. Just as there is a danger if we turn certain assumptions into absolute certainties for any group of people, regardless of age or gender. Isaac has surprised me this week by asking to do some work at the table when Sophia has been and by really engaging with phonics and maths. In fact, I tried to encourage him to only do a little (thinking he’d get bored) and two days in a row he protested that he wanted to continue and spent an hour engaged in what I term ‘sit down’ learning. 

Whilst, broadly speaking, there are some stereotypes that ring true I’d argue that a lot of them have little basis in reality and, at times, can be more damaging than they are helpful. Without throwing too many sentimental cliches into the ring, we really are all incredibly unique. We can talk broadly about tendencies, about learning styles, about attitudes. But to state that someone will behave in a certain manner without having spent any time with them just isn’t helpful. Sophia is at times a bit of a girly girl (although that hasn’t always been the case) and her favourite books are the Magic Rainbow Fairy series. However, simultaneously, her favourite TV show is Pokemon, she’s desperate to learn free running and has requested a wood carving knife for her birthday. Likewise, Isaac loves superheroes, dinosaurs, Darth Vader and lego but absolutely loves drawing, craft activities and baking and is incredibly sensitive to how people around him are feeling, dispensing cuddles to those he senses need a lift. Putting either of them into a box based on one aspect of their personality will only serve to limit their future possibilities and discourage certain activities which they might really excel at. 

Obviously, stereotypes extend massively beyond the girl/boy divide in children and can be much more damaging than these early throwaway comments that we make but nonetheless, it’s an issue that needs addressing. It’s hard to get out of a mindset that is constantly perpetuated by our culture. I often find myself complimenting my friends girls on their clothes yet rarely do it to their boys. I’m much more likely to dismiss Isaac’s raucous behaviour where I’d pull Sophia up on it. Neither of these are acceptable and when I realise I’m doing it, I make a conscious effort to stop and either find something more meaningful to talk to my friends children about or to have the same expectations when it comes to my children’s behaviour. Being someone that massively suffers from foot-in-mouth syndrome, I’m constantly reminding myself to think before I judge, assess and speak. Stereotypes need to be smashed and the only way to do that is to start small, one interaction at a time. Not all girls like dolls, not all boys play football, not all children are in school (!), not all British people drink tea! 

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