Thursday, January 9, 2014

Educating for Disrespect

We had a fun nature day that included a wonderful chance to learn about local birds from an Audubon Society volunteer who helped us build nesting boxes for birds. We appreciate her time and expertise and enjoyed much about the day.

However, both parents and kids were left wondering, "why do they do that?" The "they" is so many educator adults who spend a lot of time with kids and yet speak to them disrespectfully and condescendingly. It is ineffective, inappropriate, and - in my humble opinion - a commonly held bad habit of many educators that acts as a barrier to raising the next generation to treat others with solicitude and respect. After all, you learn from your experiences.

What happened? The presentation was perfect - no baby talk, lots of good facts about local birds. But when we sat down to begin building, a different person emerged in the body of the facilitator. Bossy. Inappropriate. Condescending. Overly directive without cause or even minimal assessment of existing experience or knowledge. I felt myself shut down, unable to appropriately articulate the sudden outrage I felt. Would she talk with adults this way? Then why use a different approach with kids?

Doing so just doesn't work with ours. K refused to build. One young friend burst into tears. Another usually independent nine-year-old was suddenly curled in her mom's lap. The nesting houses got built, the facilitator tolerated, but I wonder if in the end the lesson about how to treat others will be remembered more than the building itself will be. I am puzzled with the number of educational professionals who regularly treat children with such disdain, seemingly appropriating such differential treatment as a normal approach to working with children.

She was sexist too, telling us about how confident dads are with power tools and how apologetically unconfident moms are. Ironically, she didn't recognize that in this group of five moms, there is no fear of tools despite various levels of experience. In the facilitator's story, the "unconfident, inexperienced" moms always ended up with superior products. She didn't seem to catch the irony of her own mixed-up presumptions, nor did she question their accuracy.

We said goodbye with many mixed emotions. Appreciation for her time and shared expertise. Sadness at her sexism and disrespect. Ultimately, we learned more than she intended and I'm being careful about how we appropriate that lesson with the girls.

(Photos are of fabulous moments in the day.  Facilitator not pictured.)

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