A kindergarten teacher in Bainbridge Island, Wash., actively denies her male students the opportunity to play with Lego blocks in order to encourage her female students to play with them.
Karen Keller bars the boys in her class from playing with the colorful blocks, even going so far as to lie to them about their opportunity to play.
"I always tell the boys, 'You're going to have a turn' — and I'm like, 'Yeah, when hell freezes over' in my head," Keller told the Bainbridge Island Review. "I tell them, 'You'll have a turn' because I don't want them to feel bad."
Keller does this because she saw the boys in her class gravitating toward the blocks during their "free choice" play time while the girls flocked to dolls and crayons. Keller's solution was to deny the blocks to the boys, who wanted to play with them, in order to encourage the girls to play with them. The Review article offers no indications about how Keller gets the girls to play with something of which they have no interest.
Keller had originally tried to entice the girls by providing pink and purple Legos, "But it wasn't enough." So she requested a grant from her school to purchase Lego Education Community Starter Kits for three classrooms at the Captain Johnston Blakely Elementary school, where she has taught for seven years. She requested the grant without telling the school she would be denying boys access to the toys.
"I had to do the 'girls only Lego club' to boost it more," Keller said. "Boys get ongoing practice and girls are shut out of those activities, which just kills me. Until girls get it into their system that building is cool, building is 'what I want to do' — I want to protect that."
Keller had found research finding that Lego play accelerates development and helps with spatial and math skills. And since Keller believes that gender stereotypes are ingrained into girls at a young age, well, something had to be done.
"I just feel like we are still so far behind in promoting gender equity," Keller said.
Now, if Keller had done some additional research, she might have learned that in the past decade, girls have been catching up to boys in math and science skills and have surpassed boys in many other skills. In fact, a study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a French think-tank, found that teenage boys are 50 percent more likely than girls to fail at achieving basic proficiency in math, reading and science. Boys are also behind girls in literacy skills.
Overall, boys are ahead of girls in math (by an equivalent of about three months of schooling), about even with girls in science and a year behind girls in reading.
Part of the reason for this more recent disparity is that boys spend less time doing homework and reading books than girls. Another reason is teachers like Keller, who actively hold boys back in order to promote girls.
The OECD also found that teacher assessments favor girls, while anonymous tests allowed boys to do much better.
"The gap with girls in reading was a third smaller, and the gap in maths — where boys were already ahead — opened up further," The Economist wrote. "In another finding that suggests a lack of even-handedness among teachers, boys are more likely than girls to be forced to repeat a year, even when they are of equal ability."
Also, more women than men attend and graduate from college nowadays.
Rather than finding a way to encourage girls to play with the blocks, Keller decided to bring down boys. By Keller's own research assessment, she is actively working to hinder the development of the young boys she is tasked with teaching — all in the name of "gender equity."
As one of my Twitter followers said: "When you have an axe to grind with 5yr old boys, maybe you shouldn't teach kindergarten."
Update: The school district, Keller and the Blakely Elementary principal have each released statements regarding the report.
Keller claimed she only instituted the "girls only" Lego play for the first month of school to get them interested in the toys. She also said her "hell freezing over" remark was "a casual, off-record aside meant to convey my frustration with the marketing to girls in our society." She said that it was "not appropriate" and "taken out of context." She insisted that every student in her class has access to Legos.
The school district called the Review article "inaccurate" and said the school does not discriminate on the basis of sex.
Blakely Elementary Principal Reese Ande said the school does not "promote access or opportunity through any forms of exclusion" and that Keller is "a passionate teacher who cares deeply for each and every one of her students."