Last week, Borchardt Elementary School in Frisco, Texas, made headlines for a proposed counseling curriculum. WFAA reported that many parents expressed concern over the topics their children would learn in their monthly guidance class.
In a newsletter from the school’s guidance counselor, parents learned that 4th and 5th grade students would be divided by gender, and so would the topics. The 4th grade boys would be looking at college and career exploration, while the girls would be having a “GIRL TALK” session focused on self confidence, specifically: “How do we get it? Can we have too much?” The 5th grade curriculum fell along similar lines, with 5th grade boys discussing survival in the “real world,” including salaries, careers, and living expenses, while the 5th grade girls also had an opportunity for “GIRL TALK,” this time with an emphasis on forming lasting friendships.
The counselor and school have since assured WFAA and concerned parents that the email with the above curriculum was an incomplete and misleading representation of the counseling plan for these students. They have since sent out an updated email that lists the same career and college – focused counseling topics for students of both genders. Suspiciously absent, however, are the “GIRL TALK” topics that caused concern in the first place.
After acknowledging that the school said the email was sent out in error, Texas Monthly made an important point: This suggested curriculum made it far enough up the chain to be included in a draft of school-wide communication. While the school did, thankfully, decide to abandon this gendered division of curriculum, it was at some point a serious contender – and this is a serious problem.
Slate also covered this story, and questioned the need to segregate the students at all if the counselor’s intention is truly to deliver the same curriculum to girls and boys at the elementary school. The ALCU found that gendered stereotypes about ability and learning filter into sex-segregated classrooms, despite educators’ best intentions.
As the proposed curriculum from Borchardt – whether it was intended for distribution or not – makes clear, gendered stereotypes are present in our students’ education environment from an incredibly young age.
The “GIRL TALK” topics suggested in the first email are certainly important for students of any gender. Self esteem and the ability to create and maintain healthy friendships are especially important topics for students heading into middle school – some of the arguably most awkward and difficult years for students trying to determine who they are and who they want to be.
Notably, these topics are no longer included in the gender-neutral counseling schedule.
Also missing is the emphasis on “GIRL TALK,” quite possibly because topics like careers and salaries aren’t considered among the topics we expect for conversations among girls, unlike issues of relationships and self esteem. When these topics are focused on women, it is almost universally under the assumption that these are things women have to be convinced to care about.
Professional women are urged to lean in, think like men, and push back against their natural tendencies in the office in order to get ahead. And if a gender wage gap still exists – which many Republicans continue to refute – then it is probably because women don’t choose competitive jobs.
And this – all of this – is why parents were so concerned about the GIRL TALK curriculum. True, the school apologized and sent out another version of the counseling schedule, where all gendered language (and mentions of friendship and self esteem) was completely absent. But at some point along the way, this was a serious contender for the counseling sessions for 4th and 5th grade girls. If even our elementary school kids can’t escape sexist expectations, what does that say for women more broadly in our society? Perhaps we can take comfort in the outcry as a sign that these expectations are slightly less socially acceptable than they would have been ten years ago. At least that’s some kind of progress.