As a father of two daughters, I have spent a long time thinking about how schools can limit or empower students, particularly young girls. We have all heard of the stereotypes and it is so sad that the following phrases are still heard in many schools:
“Dance is just for girls.”
“Physics is a boys’ subject.”
“Girls/boys are no good at…”
It is even more disheartening to see that this language often does not only come from children but also from adults who commonly do not question what they are saying or the effect it may have. This can be seen in the use of phrases like “You throw like a girl!” which is internalised by both girls and boys from a young age and sets children on the path of believing that ‘girls are not as good as boys at sport’. What a terrible lesson!
Of course, we would never purposefully limit our children, but we often unknowingly limit them by using language that tells them that boys have certain skills and girls have others. By not challenging lazy use of language or by allowing passive acceptance of stereotypes, schools run the risk of stopping children from pursuing what they are interested in. For example, a boy who believes that dance is overly feminine may feel too self-conscious to try that ballet class, and a girl who feels that Physics is not open to girls will not try her best in it, as she will feel that she cannot succeed without gargantuan efforts.
This is why King’s Bangkok places pastoral care, the care for the wellbeing of individuals, at the heart of everything we do. By providing an environment in which students feel able to access every activity or subject open to them, we truly feel that they will be able to follow their passions and reach their full potential. This takes a huge amount of work. During our recent staff induction process, we ran sessions designed to openly examine and question the inbuilt biases that we all hold. Challenging our own thoughts and getting students to think about the language that they use are two big steps in breaking down barriers.
Our next step is working with parents to help them see that the language used at home is just as important. We are lucky to have thoughtful, reflective and kind parents who want to work with us in supporting their children to be happy and successful. We are confident that we will work together to ensure that dance is for everyone, that Physics is a subject for all and that we recognise that we all have strengths and weaknesses but understand that these are individual and not dictated by our sex.