A snippet of today’s class: A glimpse inside the all-male classroom

Bad news: I am sick with a head cold. I hate being sick.

Good news: I do NOT have to actually write a paper for the Vancouver conference. This is good because the paper was due yesterday, and I did not submit anything. It is a long story better delivered at another time.

Better news: I started gathering data today. Now, technically, I should propose my study, get it approved, and have all the proper documentation in order before I gather data. However, I have some leeway in that teachers gather data from their classrooms all the time, and I can still use it as “archival data.” Or, just for the Vancouver conference.

Today was a data-rich day, for sure. Here is a brief look (student names are removed and only identified by the letters of their first names):

I was wondering how to cap off Huck Finn and segue well into our next unit, in which they will read Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed” and Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” The cover of this week’s Time magazine had a story on women, money and power and discusses the changing economics and gender roles in families. This article seemed like the answer to my prayers.

Today, as we were wrapping up the book, someone said, “Why did we have to read Huck Finn anyway?” I have often wondered that myself. I “get” that it is an American classic, that Hemingway (one of my least favorite Dead White Guys) said all American works stem from it, and that the book may be important to their cultural literacy. But why? I told them these reasons, but I also shared that I much prefer “The Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” to “Huck Finn.” I gave them a synopsis of what that is about. We got off topic. We often do.

I brought it back to the idea of reading works by male authors with male characters. T said that “We really don’t read anyway, so we need to read stuff we’re interested in.” He then asked me, “What would you want to read about, football or…” He pauses….”a girl running a marathon?” I smile.

I am aware of my stance in the room. I tend to gravitate toward the left of the room, closer to where my desk is. Yet the right of the room is quieter and more thoughtful, in many ways, in their responses. Why do I gravitate to the students who are often off-topic and like to bring the class down diversions? And why do I let them? These boys are also more inclined to flirt with me. The other day, when I pointed out to S that his shirt was unbuttoned at least 5 deep, revealing his white t-shirt, he said, “I am so hot right now, I’m thinking about taking it all off.” It was kind of funny. We all giggled a little. It was one of those moments where I think, “Only at a boys’ school…” But  this is also the kid who seems particularly aware of me as a female teacher in the room. When writing the date on his paper, for instance, he writes, “Date: She has a husband,” and when I asked what this meant, he said, “You can’t have a date because you have a husband.” Okay. I let it go.

I give the metaphor as curriculum as a mirror – where we can see ourselves in the work – and curriculum as a window – where we look beyond our own experience. Both are necessary. But when we only give mirrors and no windows, it is unhealthy. This is the curriculum they’ve been given.

Today, when I said that when left to my own devices, I really don’t read women authors, M said in a not-so-joking tone, “Of course – men are more interesting.” I asked him to repeat it, but with a smile on my face, somewhat incredulous that he just said that. He then added, “I’d rather read about a man than a pregnant girl.”

Shocked, I somewhat jokingly told him I was considering taking off my shoe and beating him with it. He smiles. I asked the rest of the class if they heard what he said. They have been having side conversations. One boy says, “What did he say?” I repeat the comment. Z says, “Oh, then you don’t want to hear what I just said.” Someone else chimes in that the book M was talking about what “Plainsong,” which they read last year.

I have not read the work, but I am familiar with it because a boy last year – one who is going to major in nursing in college – wrote a paper on how it was one of his favorite books. He talked about how the experiences of the characters – one of whom was a pregnant girl – were so out of his realm, but he really learned from them.

Other members of the class are talking about how boring it is to read about women – who would want to read a book about women cooking and cleaning and taking care of kids? How boring! I am somewhat floored. This is such a stereotypical conversation that I am somewhat shocked that it’s actually happening. M, who is sitting closest to me, says, “I could tell you so many jokes about women. I have like, 10, off the top of my head.”

Z goads me further by saying, “Yeah, no one wants to read about the perspective of women because all they can talk about is the kitchen.” He smiles. He then adds, “We really can’t be offended because there are no stereotypes for guys.”

I said, “No? Are you kidding me?”

JA turns and looks at him: “Are you serious? There are lots of stereotypes for us.”

S asks me to name one. I tell him that my husband gets particularly offended at all the “dad is a bumbling idiot who doesn’t know how to take care of his children” commercials. Z says, “Yeah, but that doesn’t apply to us.”

I say, “Oh, well this is the perfect time to give you this,” as I hand out the Time magazine article.

I read aloud for the first few paragraphs and ask for a volunteer to continue. J and F raise their hands, and I call on J since he raised his hand first. He continues until we reach the end of a paragraph and the bell is about to ring. I say we will stop there for now and they are to continue reading it for homework.

There is a lot of work to be done.

2 thoughts on “A snippet of today’s class: A glimpse inside the all-male classroom

  1. scottbooth says:

    I wish I could say that those views aren’t the norm, but I think it’s typical for that age. It reminds me of one of my favorite jokes: When I left for college, I already knew so much more than my father. After I graduated I was amazed at how much he learned in those 4 years.

    I think guys have a process where the reality of being on your own is profoundly humbling, whether at college or otherwise. I cringe at this story because I was easily one of these kids, though mostly for shock/comic value.

  2. phdpes says:

    Yes, Brendan thought for the most part the students said what they said for comic/shock value. I have been in the classroom long enough to be aware of this possibility. I am reminded, too, of Kurt Vonnegut’s fabulous quote (from Mother Night), “Be careful who you pretend to be because in the end, we are who we pretend to be.” Making ridiculous statements to try to get some reaction from your teacher is also something for analysis…”what” that something is, I am not yet sure.

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