Boy objects to female president. Are schools supposed to fix that?

A student says he doesn’t believe a girl should be president. Are schools to blame for his sexism?
(Photo Reuters.)

In this interesting essay, University of Georgia professor Peter Smagorinsky discusses the expectations placed on public schools. He raises an issue that I see often — people want public schools to right whatever they feel is wrong with America or Americans. Smagorinsky addresses a call for public schools to eradicate sexism.

By Peter Smagorinsky

The following letter appeared very recently in the New York Times:

To the Editor:

Re “Along With Class Photos, Political Views Find a Place in High School Yearbooks” (news article, May 22): An unidentified male student was quoted in the article as saying, “I don’t want a girl president.” These six words speak to so many issues that should have been addressed in this student’s secondary education and are indicative of the failure of that education.

For those of us who have worked for decades and continue to work for women’s rights, this comment is a sad statement. It would appear that misogyny is alive and well in some sectors of the youth of our country.

Perhaps it is our educators who need a reminder that every day in class is an opportunity to reinforce equality in all its forms.

MARY JANE RANGE

First, I agree in general with the Ms. Range’s belief that U.S. society is structured to favor men, going back to the founding documents that stated that “All men are created equal.” Black men were only worth 60 percent of White men, and only men were allowed to hold land and vote, much less run for president. My own mother was born into a world in which women were denied basic voting rights. If discrimination against and limitations upon women are characteristic of misogyny, then it’s hard to dispute Ms. Range’s premise.

But I really must wonder about her belief that if misogyny and other civil rights discrimination remain present in U.S. society, then it is the result of “the failure of that [secondary] education.” If kids don’t want a woman to be president, there is a single cause: failed public education.

I find this reasoning to be questionable on many levels. When Joel Taxel and I conducted a study of U.S. character education programs, one resounding, pervasive assumption behind the school programs was that parents, not schools, provide a child’s primary moral education.

To quote from that study:

One curriculum from the Deep South recognizes “the primary role of the home in character development”; the other reports extensively on a model curriculum in an elementary school in which “Central to character education … is the belief that the family is the primary influence on young children. Parents, therefore, are the most powerful role models.” Furthermore, parents should teach “righteous ideas and ideals.” The document says later that “Parents are a child’s first and most important moral teachers. The school must do everything it can to support parents in this role.” Parents are involved “in setting expectations in terms of behavior” for children to follow.

This belief about the primacy of parental guidance is often found in the comment section of the AJC Get Schooled education blog, with participants asserting that parents and families, not schools, should be a child’s principal teachers of character and its values, often centering on such traits as respect for others. Only when families are dysfunctional or shattered should schools intervene with character, values, ethics, or morality education, according to this perspective.

I’m concerned with Ms. Range’s letter on several levels. First, she appears to have adopted the societal belief that if there’s a problem out there, then the schools are accountable for what has likely originated in society writ large. Attitudes like misogyny are surely available in schools. But blaming schools for what is endemic to society strikes me as scapegoating rather than seeking realistic solutions to entrenched problems found both in schools and in the culture broadly defined.

What, then, are schools for? It depends on whom you ask. To the technicians in charge of policy, they produce test-takers whose scores indicate career and college readiness, a process that some believe should start in kindergarten. To Ms. Range, schools should cultivate enlightened attitudes toward sexuality to the extent that misogyny is eliminated. To some, schools should teach “critical” skills that enable a critique of inequitable power in society. To others, developing students’ “cultural literacy” in the form of a shared body of uniquely American knowledge should be the mission of schools. And to many others, schools should take on the task of reforming society through education, although the meaning of “reform” and “education” vary from critic to critic.

In other words, schools, even with annual budget decreases and declining public support, are expected to add new responsibilities year after year. Now it’s eradicating misogyny, which should be about as successful as the efforts to eliminate racism, a goal of my own 1960s education. And, of course, schools are expected to teach a variety of disciplines, provide daycare for students’ own children, raise test scores, produce a generation of good citizens, engage students in a host of extracurricular activities, teach character, provide nutritious food, integrate new waves of immigrants into existing spaces and curricula, teach U.S. heritage while accommodating other cultures, sponsor sports teams and music programs, teach discipline, reduce students’ stress levels, provide community service, and do all manner of other things.

I’ve been an educator since shortly after graduating from college in 1974. Schools have always served as the hope of future generations, the institution through which their minds are cultivated, their citizenship founded, their skills developed. This value on serving the nation by teaching motivated me, and hosts of others, to enter this noble profession.

But the weight of ever-expanding demands in times of ever-declining resources has crushed many a teacher’s heart and soul. If an anonymous kid in a news article doesn’t want a woman president, blame the schools, not his family or community. Then blame the schools for being politically correct for seeking equity across sexuality. And then blame them for test scores of kids who are so hungry they can barely see the test items in front of them.

What is the purpose of education? The answer will vary depending on the speaker. What schools cannot be is all things to all people, all day, every day. That’s not realistic. Blaming schools for whatever you don’t like is very convenient. It just doesn’t help anything change the problems that originate in families and communities that refuse to accept responsibility for what they themselves have helped to create.

Reader Comments 1

106 comments
time for reformers
time for reformers

Sexism? How about reading between the lines of Ossoff supporters denigrating Sixth Congressional District candidate Karen Handel?

These attempts at social engineering at the expense of teaching basics have been the death of public schools and the force behind school choice.

Liberals would prefer we believe they lost the presidency for some reason other than the extreme unpopularity of their liberal agenda. The ex-FBI Director, the "Russians" or (as here) "sexism" are preferred scapegoats.

So which of those prevented HC from campaigning in Wisconsin? Or telling the truth about her emails? Or facing down her supporters who perpetually blame society for their own poor decisions in life?

Teachers’ union shill Smagorinsky is a regular on these pages reciting union talking points while opposing accountability, parental choice, charter schools, vouchers of any kind or other major public education reform. Under the guise of discussing other issues.

His own kid went to private schools. But failing public schools are quite good enough for yours.

AU_KD
AU_KD

@time for reformers GOP'ers (especially our state legislators) are some of the number one patrons of private schools...Those people don't give a crap about fixing public schools because their kids don't go there. The point is not the school, but the individual disadvantaged students need more support to bring their learning anywhere close to the level of the students coming from more stable homes. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@time for reformers


Hillary Clinton is not everyone’s cup o’ tea, but you have to admire her relentless drive to expose truth, regardless of how others perceive her doing so.


She is publicly broadcasting all of the factors which, in her mind, contributed to her loss as president. This is not a self-effacing act by Clinton. However, if she wants things to change for the better in America’s election process now is the time to expose the truth of all of the factors that contributed to her defeat. I see what what she is doing and why she is doing it, and I applaud her courage.


As for Karen Handel, if she has half of the courage and intellect of Hillary Clinton, she should be able to speak up for herself, without your having to make her into a "victim."

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Alt AJC


AltAJC has reposted this same post, above, over and over again on this thread.  Here is my response to his thoughts, readers:

--------------------

I vote for individual merit in the people for whom I vote, not based on gender, religion, race or sexual orientation, but upon merit to SERVE the people.


Karen Handel impresses me as a lady of limited intellectual capacity because she speaks in political spin, which is always a surface and superficial reality.  The fact that she is able, so willingly, to present a campaign essentially of surface slogans makes me, also, question her authenticity and her commitment to SERVE the people of the 6th District, more than herself.

class80olddog
class80olddog

So what is everyone's opinion about social promotion?  Discipline in schools?  Attendance and attendance reporting?  New subject, anyone?

class80olddog
class80olddog

@MaryElizabethSings  To give parents another option when the school their kids attend is not performing adequately.  I remember Cherokee County 1998 - on probation with SACS, a student had been sucker-punched and killed at a bus stop by another student, built one school (capacity 1200) when school enrollment went up by 1400, about 35% of kids in trailers - my son was not allowed to go to the restroom and ended up peeing in his pants - I found out when I picked him up at the end of the day.  School nor teacher was willing to address the issue.  We pulled him out and my first wife home-schooled him for the rest of the year, then he attended a private school the next two years.  We were lucky that we had the finances available to afford private school.  I wish there had been other options.  What do you do when the school your child goes to is rife with discipline and violence issues and you can't move (mortgage underwater) and you can't afford private school?  AvgGeorgian would say you are just screwed - accept it.  That is why there is such a long waiting list to get into charter schools - parents are not happy with their existing schools, which are not addressing the issues (they are too PC).  Maybe they don't want their child seated in a classroom with another child that is 4 grade levels behind, or is a SPED student, and the teacher's time is relegated to dealing with them and not teaching your child.  If you have school choice, you also have competition, so the public schools suddenly have a reason to improve, or they will cease to exist. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog @MaryElizabethSings


The heart of what you are describing is a social problem more than an educational problem, Class80.


Until people such as yourself see the importance of uplifting every person in this nation, not simply some, then those social problems will continue to haunt this nation, if not in the schools which charter schools can mask, then on the streets themselves, where everyone is interconnected.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@MaryElizabethSings @class80olddog  It is an education problem when the schools insist on lumping all students in the same grade level together, regardless of educational level.  I remember a person once said "all students should be taught on their exact developmental level" (I apologize if I did not get the quote exactly correct).

class80olddog
class80olddog

@MaryElizabethSings  BTW, the perpetrator of the sucker-punch death, Jonathan Miller, was convicted of murder and is still in prison on a life sentence.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

"What is the purpose of education?"

--------------------------------


Ultimately, the purpose of education must be enlightenment.  That means that the intellectual growth of students must become primary.  When students are enlightened intellectually they release themselves of racism, sexism which often includes misogyny, as well as religious intolerance.


We will not survive on this planet unless we each become more enlightened.  That is why the arts, literature, history, psychology must continue to be emphasized as much as mathematics and science even though the world is moving toward greater technological advancement.  Human consciousness must continue to expand and technological advancement, by itself, cannot insure that expansion.  The study and understanding of human nature is essential to growth of human consciousness.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@MaryElizabethSings  Enlightenment?  Not to learn how to speak properly, write properly, do simple math to keep from going bankrupt, and science to know how the world functions? We only need to teach them that all humans, animals, and plants are equal - and we should all know the words to Kumbaya.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog @MaryElizabethSings


The fact that you write such a vapid and inane post as you did, above, tells me that you have not been educated to be enlightened, Class80.


Of course students need the basics, also.  That goes without saying.  We do not have to chose between enlightenment or skills.  That should be obvious.  Enlightenment teaches us not to think in simple dichotomies.

class80olddog
class80olddog

While we are arguing about whether schools should indoctrinate kids to believe that a woman can be President, Texas is getting ready to parole a woman who was convicted of murdering a child and is suspected of killing up to 40 children.  But let's not focus on REAL issues.  This is why we need the death penalty - because when you say 99+60= 35.

redweather
redweather

@class80olddog @redweather The red herring is as much a debate tactic as it is a logical fallacy. It is a fallacy of distraction, and is committed when a listener attempts to divert an arguer from his argument by introducing another topic.

A non sequitur, in formal logic, is an invalid argument. In a non sequitur, the conclusion could be either true or false, but the argument nonetheless asserts the conclusion to be true and is thus fallacious.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Oh good grief, just teach the kids the Three R's and leave the social indoctrination and politics out of it.  I certainly don't want someone of Mary Elizabeth's ilk teaching my children her version of social justice.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

I hope everyone is paying attention.


Now you see what the business mind, who only thinks business, is doing in destroying our great nation for personal profit through observing Donald Trump in action.


This is the reason that Thomas Jefferson held so firm in his beliefs against the economic and business mind of Alexander Hamilton and the elitist leanings of  personal prestige of both George Washington and John Adams.


I say once more, "Thank God that Thomas Jefferson lived when he did and held the mental force and brilliant ideas that continue to make America live up to her highest angels, and not her lowest demons, which money and power will invariably corrupt."


If  one can read inference, then one should be able to see why I do not support a business model for public education and public schools.

Starik
Starik

@MaryElizabethSings So the country now has what the right wingers always wanted - a government run like a business. We're seeing how that goes.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@MaryElizabethSings

"Now you see what the business mind, who only thinks business, is doing in destroying our great nation ..."


A business mind, whatever that is....   You mean someone who thinks strategically, who gauges risk vs reward, who understands that this nation cannot survive by continuing to run up debt to unmanageable levels?  That "business mind"?

After the past twenty-eight years of political hacks, a business mind is a refreshing change of pace.

time for reform
time for reform

@MaryElizabethSings 

Jefferson made excuses for the Paris mob chopping heads off of maids and even seamstresses of political opponents during the French Revolution's infamous Reign of Terror.

Something you lefties today can only dream of doing.

class80olddog
class80olddog

"The Paris Agreement could literally save the planet "  - headline.  See the book "Jurassic Park" for the rebuttal to this argument.  Is this opinion OK for students?  Is it PC?  Or should the student be "fixed" (i.e. re-programmed). 

class80olddog
class80olddog

"Are schools supposed to fix that?" - this statement implies that there is something wrong with this kid for having this opinion.  What about Climate Change - if he has a different opinion on that from the "official" opinion - is that "wrong"?  There seems to be the consensus on here that there are two ways of thinking - my way and the wrong way.  Anyone who doesn't believe the way you are "supposed " to believe is WRONG and needs to be FIXED.  Now I happen to believe there is nothing wrong with a woman President, but this kid may have that opinion after seeing his mother have an emotional breakdown every 28 days. 

Jackson
Jackson

The K to 12 school mission should be to prepare students for marketable job skills and or higher education. School should not be an experiment in how to right all the injustices in society! ........What is the purpose of education? The answer will vary depending on the speaker. What schools cannot be is all things to all people, all day, every day. That’s not realistic. Blaming schools for whatever you don’t like is very convenient. It just doesn’t help anything change the problems that originate in families and communities that refuse to accept responsibility for what they themselves have helped to create..............


class80olddog
class80olddog

@Jackson  I appreciate you putting the "and/or" in there.  You are miles ahead of Common Core.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

A poster below has stated, "Want to see sexism? Read between the lines of commentary denigrating Sixth Congressional District candidate Karen Handel."

That is not a true or valid statement.  It is a politically expedient statement, and I refute its merit.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@time for reform 


I vote for individual merit in the people for whom I vote, not based on gender, religion, race or sexual orientation, but upon merit to SERVE the people.


Karen Handel impresses me as a lady of limited intellectual capacity because she speaks in political spin, which is always a surface and superficial reality.  The fact that she is able, so willingly, to present a campaign essentially of surface slogans makes me, also, question her authenticity and her commitment to SERVE the people of the 6th District, more than herself.

class80olddog
class80olddog

MaryElizabethSings brought up an interesting point about stereotypes.  Of course, most of us agree that they can improperly label someone as something they are not.  But in certain situations, could they not be helpful?  You are out late at night in a dark part of a street alone and you notice someone following you - do you stop and chat or run in the other direction?  You don't know a thing about this person, and learning could be catastrophic.  Does it matter if they are male or female?  White or black?  Well-dressed or in trashy clothes?  Buzz-cut haircut or "businessman's cut"?  There are many stereotypes other than the usual ones:  women make better parents for children, Asians are hard-working, women are more empathetic than men.  Do we do away with ALL stereotypical thinking and in all situations?


MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

We assess people and situations by how they present themselves individually, by actions observed or by thoughts expressed (which are not related to gender, race, or religious orientation of group bias).

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@class80olddog @MaryElizabethSings 

That is why it is wise to always be aware of your surroundings where ever you are, class80.  However, the person who points the gun at you may be white, black, or any other race, religion, or gender.

Stereotyping is based on fear not reason.  Don't place yourself in situations which are more likely to have altercations, such as in bars at 2 a.m. in the morning by yourself (whatever the dominant race or sexual orientation of the people there).


Use wisdom and reason, not group, uneducated stereotyping, to make the best choices for yourself.  Teach this wisdom to your children and grandchildren.

bu22
bu22

@MaryElizabethSings @class80olddog One piece of wisdom is that some stereotypes have meaning.  In broad daylight an 18-25 year old shabbily dressed male is someone you should be much more alert around than a 70 year old well dressed female.

class80olddog
class80olddog

I would like to observe that our sexism and racism is much reduced from the 50's and 60's.  Whether that is because of schools or parents is questionable - I think parents, myself.  In the 60's I believe that a black President was unthinkable - now we have had one.  In the 60's a female President was unthinkable.  We came very close to having one, and I believe if a couple of things had been different, we would be under a female President.  That would not bother me at all.  If I had brought home a black girl I was dating, my mother would have had five heart attacks.  If my sons or daughters brought home a black girl/boyfriend, I would not have batted an eye.  Of course, if one of my daughters had brought home a thug, it would have been different (thug can be either black or white or any other color).

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

You are evolving in consciousness, Class 80. Congratulations. And, so are many others in America.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Alt AJC @class80olddog  Racism and sexism are practiced by all races, religions, and sexes.  I am sure women LOVE the sexism that gives them custody of their children 83% of the time.

time for reform
time for reform

@MaryElizabethSings

Yes, there are those which embarrass themselves on the evening news and those which don't. 

But much the same goes on behind the scenes.