Wednesday, February 1, 2017

February 2017 Behind the Bubble

Parent Outrage Halts “Hundred Years” Battle In Mt. Lebanon School District
By Jason Margolis

After being made aware of a potentially stereotype-promoting elementary school assignment, planned for Friday, February 3rd, the Mt. Lebanon School District has decided to discontinue this type of activity.

Dr. Timothy Steinhauer, Mt. Lebanon Superintendent, said “I have contacted the principals and this type of activity will not be continuing. It is never our intent to facilitate activities that may be considered to promote stereotypes.”

Several parents who had been deeply disturbed by the “100 days / 100 years old” assignment were relieved.

Initially, when Dr. Rachael Woldoff, Professor of Sociology at West Virginia University and MTL parent, was handed an assignment by her son on the walk home from school, she asked with deep concern, “What is this?”

The assignment asked students at Washington Elementary School to “dress up like they are 100 years old” to celebrate the 100th day of school. Additionally, girls were encouraged to encourage to dress in “pearls” and “purses” and boys in “flannel shirts” and “suspenders.”

“There’s a million things they could do with the number 100. This is the dumbest,” Woldoff commented. “This is an opportunity to do something cool with the number 100 – but who thought of this? Is this educational? What does this have to do with what you are teaching the children?”

Dr. Woldoff, who has authored several books about “aging in place” and the plight of older people trying to keep their homes, said “I feel like I have quite a bit of expertise in the stereotyping of old people … and the challenges they face to be seen as whole people, not as people who can’t make decisions for themselves. They have agency – not just caricatures that we mock.”

The Mt. Lebanon parent also said she was concerned about the “gendered” nature of the assignment. “No one I know dresses like that. My grandmother died looking nothing like that – I have no idea what they are talking about.”

Problematizing stereotypes is particularly important to Dr. Woldoff, who is both Jewish and the parent of an African American child. “As a parent of a black child, you [the school] are undermining everything I am trying to do about not stereotyping,” Woldoff added.

But Dr. Woldoff has experienced some resistance in problematizing issues in Mt. Lebanon in the past, and this has continued in the case of the “100 years” assignment. When bringing up her concerns that the assignment is ageist to other Washington Elementary parents, Woldoff said responses ranged from “I have never thought of that” to “It’s just a fun thing” to “Why do you have to be so yucky and say what you don’t like about the school district?”

However, other Washington Elementary parents agree with Woldoff. Dr. Laura Crothers, Professor of School Psychology at Duquesne University and Washington Elementary parent, said she remembered the same assignment from the previous year as being “offensive.” She added that this was a task asking young people to stereotype “when the diversity of those who live to 100 years old is infinite.”

When asked if she would formally speak out against the assignment, Woldoff said she was hesitant. She added, “I am happy it’s a good school, and I have been made some good friends here [in Mt. Lebanon], but there are problems here and I refuse to be quiet about it. The answer isn’t ‘and you should just move’ which I hear all the time.”

From the School District’s swift response, however, Dr. Woldoff’s concerns as well as those of other parents, were both validated and addressed.

A letter went home with children on Monday, January 30th, saying that students would “not be participating in the previously planned, optional activity to ‘dress as a 100 year old’.” Instead, Washington Elementary had designed “multiple, curriculum-based activities planned for the students which reflect our celebration of the day and the number ‘100’.”


Unknown said...

Oh, ageism in Lebo schools, whatever shall we do! Uptown molehill becomes mountain that actual centenarian falls down, News at 11.

While the "ideas to help you get started..." list tilts towards the mid-century caricature of an older adult, let's also include a dose of reality to the suggestions- an adult diaper, glue-on-wrinkles, a syringe of botox, melanoma, dentures, cataracts, self-care attendant, wheelchair or other assistive device, and/or a big bag of loneliness.

Here's a thought: instead of being personally offended by the program, maybe modify it to bring in older adults who would be entertained by the display of children dressed up in a cartoonish display of old age and include them in the festivities. That might go a long way towards lessening the weight of isolation and loneliness that comes with aging... if only for a day.

God bless the older adults in our community and elsewhere who face the twilight of their years boldly and with grace.

It's all fun and games in the bubble until someone's feelings get hurt.

Ian Smith

Anonymous said...

Wow, talk about triggered. You truly can't do ANYTHING without offending someone for some stupid reason. Kinda pathetic.

Anonymous said...

Really Mr. Smith, embrace the program? It was a poorly thought out idea and there's really no way to modify it to make it acceptable.

You suggest bringing in seniors that might be entertained by cartoonish display of old age.

Should we also have a program for cartoonish stereotypes of housewives, jocks, teachers, druggies, alcoholics, nerds, tranvestites, homosexuals and on and on?

It was a silly idea that contributes nothing to the kids education.

"A stereotype is a preconceived notion, especially about a group of people. Many stereotypes are racist, sexist, or homophobic.
Have you ever heard someone say Irish people are all drunks, or African-American people are always late, or women are bad drivers? Those are stereotypes: commonly held ideas about specific groups. You most often hear about negative stereotypes, but some are positive. For example, there's a stereotype that Asian people do better in school. One of many problems with any stereotype is that even if it's true in some cases, it's certainly not true in all cases."

I thought the whole Unity Rally was to keep the community away from stereotyping?

E. T. Gillen said...

As a reminder, I am not accepting anonymous comments.

E. T. Gillen said...

Jason Margolis gave me permission to publish anonymous comments on BTB column, as long as they talk about the article itself, or the issue explored in the article.

Thank you, Jason. The comments will now appear in order in which they were received.

Anonymous said...

Stereotyping (of any group) however humorous or well-intentioned is a bad lesson for children.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dr. Margolis for tackling this issue. I hope in a future column you can address why the school district needs to specify the race of our school's mascot.

In addition to racial stereotyping, our mascot takes lightly the seriousness of cyanosis, and how many in our community have been impacted by the potentially dangerous condition. Imagine how hurtful it must be to have this affliction and then to see our mascot goofing with the crowd during a sporting event. Do they have no shame?

Keep up the important work!

E. T. Gillen said...

6:55 AM, I know you are mocking Jason, but in reality, this is a hot topic. If you search for "100 days of school dress up ideas," you will get over three million results. It is a cute idea, but Timmy's actions are actually making him look good in academia. Who knew?

Anonymous said...

6:55, pray tell what is the educational value in this?
What lesson does it teach?

I'm serious, please, just what is the importance of 100 days and associating with seniors?

Jason Margolis said...

Stepping outside of my journalist role and back into citizen role for a minute, I think the school district acted correctly in this case.

As the point was made well and succinctly by 5:41pm, kids do not need help in learning how to stereotype... they need help in problematizing stereotypes. That would be the more adult response, as opposed to Mr. Smith's "reality suggestions" for his view of more fitting and harsh 100 year old stereotypes.

Anonymous said...

Agree Jason, the district took the right path.

I wonder how this 100 day thing ever got started in the first place.

I'll bet all those kids grandparents can tell the teachers a thing or two about how they learned to count and conceptulize what 100 is without a silly dress up exercise when they were in school.

To Mr. Smith... where did you ever get the impression that seniors must be isolated and lonely?
I've met quite a few seniors and they don't fit your stereotype.
Elaine's father is one and last time I was around him he was active, alert and quite sociable. He didn't strike me as being lonely at all.

Anonymous said...

Gee, here's an assignment that the teachers should be entertained by.

So, was school really more challenging back then? Would you have been able to graduate eighth grade 100 years ago? Try your hand at the exam, below, and check your answers at the Bullitt County Museum website to see if you passed.

Public Education 100 Years Ago: Could You Have Passed 8th Grade In 1912? | The Huffington Post

E. T. Gillen said...

11:39 AM, the link you have provided didn't work for me. I found this to work.

I never understood this 100th day celebration, but it has been around for quite a long time. I think my kids brought 100 pennies to school. It is a national celebration. I even make "100 days of learning key fobs" even though I still don't get it.

I would be interested in hearing Dr. Woldoff speak about the plight of older people. Perhaps 100 ways to help senior citizens could be beneficial to young and old alike.

Anonymous said...

Or perhaps the MTL Historical Society could do an assembly on what the business district and school were like 100 years ago

Anonymous said...

Gee, how about the teachers do the work and research what teachers dressed and taught like 100 years ago.
The kids could be certainly be entertained by that.

Unknown said...

I hope no one is mocking Jason, as I find his Behind the Bubble column a great idea and, so far, interesting to read (especially the comments). I think people do enjoy poking the bubble from time to time by commenting on the occasional ludicrous event and the often self-absorbed responses. The beauty of a column like this is that it promotes discussion, whether it be sarcastic, snarky or of a more direct tact.

If a parent doesn't like a school event or assignment, they should speak up and let their concerns be known. But, in doing so, I would caution one to not equate a commemorative school activity intended to break up the often mundane educational experience with a larger perceived societal issue that compels one to provide another adult a written definition of a noun in the comments of a blog.

By the way, in point of fact, the diversity of centenarians is not "infinite" as one of the Washington parents noted but considerably less diverse than the overall population.

Elaine's idea about 100 ways to help an older adult or the idea of a snapshot of 100 years ago is, in my opinion, a more appropriate shift of focus for the program than just a knee-jerk shut it down completely reaction.

I am glad to hear Elaine's father is aging well and going strong. I hope to do the same as my years advance, preferably without suspenders!

Thanks, Elaine, for all the effort you put into this blog and the community.


Anonymous said...

Who are you calling old? Let’s ditch ageist stereotypes | Society | The Guardian

Anonymous said...

I find Ian Smith's comments, above, to be baffling. How did your brain process arrive at your idea, Mr. Smith?


Anonymous said...

"Often mundane educational experience?"

That would be an interesting discussion starting with what makes exposing children to the wide universe of knowledge "mundane" and why is it like that.

Anonymous said...

Let's not lose sight of the Big Picture here.

From The "Who are you calling old " article above.

"Age is no longer a predictor of performance. “Old” is not a useful word to determine ability, any more than other stereotyped labels. Individuals will age differently, so employers and society should not make sweeping generalisations or judgments on the basis of chronological age.

It is high time to eradicate discrimination from employment thinking. Whether or not someone is suitable for a particular role should be based on their abilities, personality, skills or past experience, or willingness to learn.

It’s time to shed the labels. Describing someone by their age should be as unacceptable as describing them by their gender, race, religion or skin colour. These characteristics do not necessarily signify fitness for work, recruitment for a particular position, or training for certain skills."

So why would we teach kids a stereotype of any group?

E. T. Gillen said...

Thank you, Ian. That is very kind of you and much appreciated!

Unknown said...

The process starts with tongue firmly in cheek, Sylvia!