Disagreements Over Teaching Materials
Q: My daughter's teacher is wonderful, but I'm troubled by some of the handouts she uses. Few women are depicted, and when they are, they're either mommies, nurses, or just beautiful creatures. The men are shown as firefighters, police officers, and other professionals. Is there a way for me to complain without offending her?
First, don't assume the teacher chose the handouts, says Bob Chase, author of The New Public School Parent and former president of the Washington, DC-based National Education Association (NEA): "Sometimes handouts come from books that were approved by the school board or are part of a curriculum prescribed by the district." If that's the case, then raise the matter with the principal, though Chase recommends asking the teacher to join you.
At the same time, keep things in perspective, advises Elaine McEwan, an Oro Valley, AZ-based educational consultant and author of The Parents' Guide to Solving School Problems: "The materials kids bring home are only a small percentage of what a teacher actually uses in a classroom." Make your point, McEwan says, but do it gently. ("I know this isn't a huge deal, but it's something I've noticed.") If she's a good teacher, it's unlikely that these handouts are representative of her class materials. But if you find out that the handouts do reflect a bias and that none of the books she assigns have female protagonists, talk to the teacher about your concerns -- without accusing her. ("I know this doesn't reflect your feelings, but there seems to be a lack of gender equity in the class materials.") Usually, when gender inequity arises in a classroom, it's not because of a conscious bias, Chase says. "The teacher often isn't even aware of it. So if a parent points it out in a caring, nonconfrontational way and wants to help, most teachers welcome and respect the comments."