My eight-year-old son smiled as we drove to school on the first day in August 2014. “I’m so excited, Mama. I have butterflies and frogs in my tummy.” By the end of the first week, he was lamenting third grade. “I hate school,” he’d moan on the morning commute. Before the end of the first quarter, I overheard him telling a playmate, “Yeah, I’m probably going to fail this year.” After his friend left, I checked in with my son. “Why do you think you’re going to fail?” He shrugged, “That’s what my teacher told me.” The mama bear rose up in me. “You are not going to fail! We are in this together. Mama will do whatever it takes to help you make it through this school year,” I committed.
Each day I would ask my son about his experience at school. Being the astute observer, he reported the differences that he saw. “My teacher is harder on the boys than on the girls.” As a mom of two boys and one girl who has worked in formal and informal education settings for over twenty years, I understand the differences between boys and girls. The traditional school model favors girls…sitting in one place for hours on end, discussing a topic, and writing a response to a reading. Boys need the freedom to move; they like to put their thoughts into action. I could see how a teacher in a traditional setting who is pressed to meet certain academic standards in order to meet testing requirements might feel more comfortable working with girls. Females comply, and the teacher can get her job done. I’m not saying this is right…I’m just saying I understand her experience.
“Mama, my teacher is also harder on the brown kids than on the white kids, “ he shared. This comment sent me through the roof! Although I am a white single woman, I am parenting three adopted bi-racial children. Our lives model diversity. We lived in a racially and economically diverse neighborhood in an urban district. Our drive time and dinnertime conversations centered around race and identity. We have friends from every background. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of our family heroes. His dream that “one day children will be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” is our creed. I have taught my children what matters most is the heart. So…to hear my little boy tell me that he experienced racial bias in his elementary school angered me.