education, modern problems, sexism

Chivalry and critical thinking skills are dead in Texas…

Last night, I read about Shallowater High School, a school near Lubbock, Texas that was in the news because of a controversial assignment that got complaints. An English teacher, who was teaching “Beowulf” and the works of Chaucer, had a tradition of having her students explore the concept of chivalry. The boys were expected to dress in suits and ties. The girls were to wear dresses and heels. For one day, the men would help ladies to their seats and open doors for them, and they were supposed stand when a lady or person in authority entered a room. The ladies were expected not to speak unless spoken to, not to complain or whine, and they were supposed to walk behind the men.

The first time I read about this assignment about chivalry, it was in an article for a television station that was short on information and long on media bias. My initial impression was that it was kind of a silly assignment that sounded ill-conceived. But then I read more about it in The New York Times and learned that the teacher who had made the assignment had been doing it for a long time. Many students actually looked forward to taking part in it, which made me want to learn more about what it entailed.

In the course of reading more about the assignment, I learned that those who were uncomfortable with it were allowed to write a one page essay on chivalry. I also learned that the intent was of the assignment was to show students that chivalry was actually promoting male chauvinism and marginalizing women. The message was that chivalry, which is often touted to be “good” and is now “dead”, is not so much about promoting good manners and courtliness. It was about keeping women in their so-called place, according to the men who wanted to stay in charge. Apparently, past students who had taken part in the assignment got the message, even if it sounded kind of “sketchy” in practice.

This year, the assignment made the news, because some parents complained about it, claiming it was “sexist”. I will admit, my first thoughts, when I read about it was that it did seem a bit sexist. But then when I read that a lot of students actually enjoyed doing it, I changed my mind. Having been an English major and read “Beowulf” a couple of times myself, I appreciate anything that makes that story more engaging for young people. Moreover, I figured there had to be something more to the assignment than what was being put out to the masses. According to the New York Times:

“I really don’t think it was the teacher’s intention to have it be such a sexist lesson,” said Hannah Carreon, 18, a senior at the high school. “There were girls that were excited to get to do this finally and get to dress up.”

And those who didn’t want to participate didn’t have to. Seems fair enough to me. Nevertheless, thanks to the uproar, the school district superintendent, Dr. Anita Hebert, said the assignment was canceled, adding “this assignment has been reviewed, and despite its historical context, it does not reflect our district and community values.” Very fine, and she’s certainly within her rights to have the assignment changed.

Given how thin skinned many people are these days, I think it would be difficult for teachers and administrators to teach, especially in a creative way, without offending someone somehow. I don’t have a quarrel with the school administrator’s decision to revise the assignment, even though some students may have been disappointed. Schools have to evolve with the times, and nowadays, people are less inclined to be open-minded about alternative methods. Most people won’t even bother to read a news article before exploding with outrage, after all.

From the New York Times article.

But then I went into the comment section and there were many outraged reactions left by people who obviously hadn’t read the article. One person wrote that the teacher must be a “misogynistic man” and went off on a screed about racism and misogyny.

I know I should have kept scrolling, but I was lonely, irritated, and bored last night. So I commented that the teacher who had made the assignment was a woman who had been teaching this particular lesson for years. It was a long-standing tradition in her class that, apparently, had been well-received in years past. The teacher was actually trying to show the students that so-called “chivalry” wasn’t actually chivalry. From The New York Times:

The exercise had been scheduled to take place on Wednesday. Female and male students, who had been reading “Beowulf” and the works of Chaucer, were given assignment sheets that described 11 “rules for chivalry.” They would be awarded 10 points for every rule they followed.

Boys were asked to rise any time a female student or faculty member entered a room, to avoid profanity or “vulgar words” and to “allow ladies to leave the room before they leave.”

Girls had to walk behind men or “walk daintily, as if their feet were bound”; address men with “a lowered head and a curtsy”; “clean up” after their male classmates; and “obey any reasonable request” from a man.

According to Colin Tynes Lain, 18, a senior, the teacher had anticipated backlash and said students who were uncomfortable with the assignment could write a one-page essay instead.

In the past, Mr. Lain said, the teacher had given parents and teachers a written disclaimer explaining that the goal of the project was to show how the chivalric code was used to obscure chauvinistic principles that harmed women.

“That’s what she was trying to pull our attention to,” he said. “That this was not chivalry in any way.”

But to read the comments, the teacher was perceived as some boneheaded cave dwelling man who was trying to suppress women with a backwards assignment meant to push them down. And when I gently pointed out that the teacher was a woman who was trying to teach about how chivalry was actually not so good, I got a lecture about racism and misogyny from several “woke” ladies who felt I needed a “schoolin'”.

I commented again that many of the students had been looking forward to the assignment. And they also had an alternative assignment they could do if they didn’t want to participate in the teacher’s lesson on chivalry. But that comment only served to further inflame the “woke” woman who hadn’t bothered to read the article, along with a few others who felt this assignment was so damaging. So my parting shot, which got lots of likes, was something along the lines of.

“Y’all can spare me the lectures on misogyny. I’m simply reporting what was in the article. I didn’t say I liked it or agreed with it. If more people would read before commenting, the world would be a better place.”

I often complain about conservatives. But you know what? Sometimes liberals are just as bad. Some of them have this agenda they just feel compelled to push, often without any critical thinking or forethought applied whatsoever. They often make judgments without knowing all the facts or context. And, just like conservatives, they often make perfect asses of themselves.

I will admit, I have read about some assignments that appeared to be especially tone deaf and ill considered. For instance, just last year, a high school teacher in Iowa was placed on leave for asking students to pretend they were “black slaves”. The assignment was made for an online learning program. A surprising number of teachers have attempted to teach kids about slavery via role play, which is bound to be a bad idea.

The same issue came up in Wisconsin and Missouri, and not just in terms of teaching students about slavery in the United States, but also in history. For instance, students learning about the Code of Hammurabi and Ancient Mesopotamia were taught about the concept of “an eye for an eye”. Punishments for slaves were also discussed. A teacher in Long Island, New York was also disciplined for having students write something “funny” about pictures of slavery. And a student teacher in Tennessee was in hot water for asking fourth grade students to recite graphic, violent methods of controlling slaves. Those lessons made some students distinctly uncomfortable. From the New York Times:

Role-playing can be an effective pedagogical tool, but teachers have to be very careful that they are not reinforcing negative gender and racial attitudes, said April Peters-Hawkins, a former sixth-grade teacher who is now a professor of school leadership at the University of Houston College of Education.

“What we typically see is marginalized groups continuing to be marginalized,” she said. “Black kids being asked to play the roles of slaves, Jewish kids being asked to play the role of victims of the Holocaust and girls being asked to be subservient.”

I think some people felt this assignment would make some girls feel uncomfortable, so they brought up their concerns. Unfortunately, it then became international news and, I think, it got blown entirely out of proportion. And now, the narrative has become completely distorted from the facts.

It’s easy to react to inflammatory headlines without actually getting the facts. People are often eager to promote a progressive agenda, but are loathe to think first. On the surface, this assignment about chivalry seems like it would be offensive and wrong. It sounds like the teacher’s methods might wind up marginalizing girls. And no, it’s not a good thing to teach females that they are to be subservient to men, especially in the year 2021. But if you actually read about the intent of the assignment, it sounds a lot less offensive. Especially since participation was entirely voluntary.

I will grant that the chivalry assignment probably should be reconsidered, but not necessarily because it will damage or offend students. I think it should be reconsidered because of the court of public opinion, our culture of people who don’t want to read before they react, and people who claim to be open-minded but actually aren’t. Frankly, it’s very irritating to get lectured by people who can’t even be bothered to read before they comment. They’re usually people who feel like their (often uninformed) opinions are so very important to share, but don’t care about anyone else’s opinions. And you can’t have a discussion with them because they refuse to consider all sides of an issue. It’s like the thinking has already been done, and not by them, personally.

The teacher who made this assignment is described as “caring and well-liked”. I wouldn’t want to see a good teacher who is caring and well-liked canceled from her profession because of uninvolved people who are hell-bent on thinking the worst about her intentions. I hope she hasn’t been harassed, and I’m glad her name has been kept out of the media.

I know how much time, money, and training goes into making good teachers. I also know that a lot of them don’t get the respect and consideration they deserve. It’s a shame that some of them are punished for thinking outside of the box, even if the lesson ends up being a flop. I hope this teacher will continue to try to teach students the truth about so-called chivalry, even if this particular role playing method is now off limits.

Kinda reminds me of how people have been offended by this classic Randy Newman song… which isn’t actually about “short people”.

He doesn’t mean he doesn’t like people who are short like me…

Incidentally, I have some people on my friends list who are notoriously bad about reacting to headlines and not actually bothering to read. Yesterday, I shared the video that was in yesterday’s post about Gloriavale Christian Community. Two people left me sad reactions, even after I commented that it wasn’t a sad post. Seriously. Watch the video. It’s not a sad tale– it’s a triumphant tale about a STRONG woman who left a truly oppressive and sexist cult. But people are gonna react… and I say, if you’re going to form an opinion and make a public comment or reaction, isn’t it better to actually know what you are reacting to? I think it is.

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4 thoughts on “Chivalry and critical thinking skills are dead in Texas…

  1. Oh yeah. I’ve run into that myself, as liberal as I am. I think it all boils down to people who don’t listen to what others are saying and can’t admit when they’re wrong so they just push forward with their misinformation and belittle the person who is correcting their assumptions.

    • Yep. You are exactly right. Either that, or they can’t stand to take a minute to consider anything beyond their own narrow viewpoint.

  2. Andrew says:

    Hand raised as one who sometimes jumps the gun to comment, only to learn I agreed with the intent or content, but oops – I’ve made an ass of myself…

    I think it’s not possible to teach critical thinking skills without presenting information or scenarios that challenge societal norms in some way. I do think this sort of classroom experiment is valuable, and if the teacher was up front about its context with the students, their parents and the local board, then there’s no problem…

    Except, there is a problem – and as I think you pointed out, it lies between the ears of those who refuse to look at the information and context of something that challenges their thinking

    • The sad thing is, the New York Times article was actually very good. As I mentioned, I first read a much shorter and more biased article from a TV station. I would understand people jumping to conclusions after reading that one. But, as you know, people don’t want to pay for journalism.

      Anyway, that article made it clear that the teacher realized there might be some backlash. There had been some in the past. But she also made it easy for students to opt out if they chose.

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