Wednesday, April 10, 2013

in anticipation of the Fairy Tale Writing Unit

Sometimes activism needs to be proactive. I don't expect anything other than the incredibly supportive, empowering environment that my daughter's school has consistently provided for the last year and a half, but even the most alert of us can be caught off guard by the built-in expectations around us. And so, here's my letter.

Dear XXX,

Clare is super excited about the upcoming field trip to see Thumbelina and the Fairy Tale writing unit (and I'm sad to be missing it). I'm grateful as always for the ways you and the other first grade teachers inspire such genuine enthusiasm in my super-curious Clare!

I'm attaching a couple of pdf files, and want to give a brief explanation about what they are, where they're from, and why I'm bugging you with them. :) 

For the last few years I've been a fan and loyal customer of Melissa Atkins Wardy, of Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies. She is a mom-preneur with a line of kid-affirming apparel and her mission is to "redefine girly" and "reclaim boyhood." The pdf files attached are letters drafted for use by the community that's formed around her activism, about the ways that gender stereotypes of both girls and boys are ubiquitous, insidious, and unfortunately, formative at earlier and earlier ages. 

I have not had any concerns about Clare bringing home unfortunate girly stereotypes from school--I just want to be proactive as the class begins the Fairy Tale unit, because fairy tales (especially Disneyfied ones!) are often particularly dreadful about gender stereotypes and feminine passivity/masculine aggression.

You and XXX and XXX are wonderful role models for all the kids of strong, smart, in-charge women, and you all can make a huge difference in the way the parameters of fairy tales are presented--so I am just writing to say how important I feel it is for Clare and her classmates to have the freedom to create their own fairy tales free of the classic, medieval gender role limitations. And don't be surprised if Clare rescues her own princess self! :)

Thanks so much for listening and for EVERYTHING you do, day in and day out!


Clare's mom


JJT said...

sharing, with permission, the response from Clare's teacher:

Dear Jen,

I'm so glad to hear that Clare is looking forward to our upcoming unit! She is such an enthusiastic learner; she really makes my job very easy!

I think you and I are very much on the same page with regards to gender stereotypes and fairy tale characterizations. Although we provide some parameters for each genre that we write, our goal is that these parameters never come at the cost of any child's creativity. In fact, the fairy tale unit is actually my favorite genre because it allows so easily for all the students to really let their imaginations soar! We will explore all kinds of characters, and we encourage the kids to incorporate those characters in their own unique ways. We do read some traditional fairy tales (of course!) but we also read non-traditional ones as well. One of my favorites, The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch, would be a good example of a story we have read in years past (and will likely read this year) that directly opposes those girly fairy tale stereotypes - if you haven't read this story already, I strongly recommend it!

Your input is welcomed and I promise to keep all of this in mind as we proceed through our unit. I have forwarded the pdfs to XXX and XXX so they can read them as well! I am very much looking forward to reading Clare's fairy tales; I know she won't require a prince to rescue any princesses and she'll probably invent a fairy tale character or two! ;-)

Anonymous said...

So great to hear from a teacher who "gets it." The Paperbay Princess is a great story--fi you haven't read it yet.