About a week ago, Lynne Palvino’s first-grader brought home a worksheet. Leaving aside the fact that there’s some debate about the efficacy of worksheets with kids this young, and whether they’re overused or should be used at all, this particular worksheet was a doozy! Check it out:
Hello. 1955 called and would like its worksheet back, please. In what decade (century?) are we living that Mom returning to work causes wailing and gnashing of teeth while a family implodes? Okay, to be fair, any change in routine can be disruptive for a young child. I don’t dispute that a child could be sad when a parent returns to work, begins work, takes a trip, gets sick, etc. And if one parent typically does a a task, the task might not go so smoothly when the other parent takes it over. And being sad and rushed in the morning absolutely could lead to a not-so-good rest of the day. The challenge with this worksheet is the inherently sexist assumptions in it:
- The parent at the source of all this drama is the mother. How dare she have the audacity to return to work instead of staying home and tending to the house all day while her child is in school?!
- The child who is sad is a girl. Because little boys need to man up and can’t show emotion.
- The parent who can’t cook is the father. Plus, he can’t do the dishes.
- The parent who comes home early to take on child care duties is the mother.
If this worksheet sent Daddy back to work, noted that Mommy’s not so great in the kitchen, and told us that Liam was sad, it would be more inclusive. It could also send the child to a fun after-school program instead of having someone come home from work early, or it could introduce a babysitter, nanny, or other child care provider. Or the child could go home with a friend, stepparent, or another relative until their parent is home from work. The child could be part of an LGBT family with two dads or two moms, or part of a single parent family. Wait, though! One commenter on Ms. Palvino’s post had this to say:
This is true, commenter. And if this worksheet is one of many that tells different family’s stories, it’s not quite so bad and the collective outrage surrounding may be somewhat unwarranted. Even if it does lend support to existing stereotypes, it reflects some families’ reality, too! In my own life, I’m an at-home parent who does some independent contracting work in a couple areas and also volunteers in multiple capacities.
When my work or volunteering requires me to travel, my daughter is sad. Why? Because I’m the parent who’s always there, and when I’m not there things are different. Her father and I are two different people and we don’t things exactly the same way. You know what, though? She also supports me: she notices images and things that are related to what I do and points them out to me, helps with airport drop-off and pick-up, asks her father to send messages showing me what she’s doing and what fun she’s having while I’m gone, and she loves showing off the library where “Momma works” (ahem, volunteers).
Unfortunately, while I’m not sure what Ms. Palvino’s daughter’s worksheets usually look like, I would guess they weren’t written with an eye towards inclusion of different kinds of families and breaking down gender stereotypes.
Here’s some good news, though! Ms. Palvino contacted her child’s teacher, who agreed with her take on this worksheet.
And one more thing, because I don’t want to leave out one of the best parts of this story: Ms. Palvino fixed the worksheet and shared it on her Facebook page! I’ve put her updated worksheet below, but be sure to click the link and read the variety of comments that have been left under her post.