I have a new policy with my voice students. I am no longer going to tell them they are singing flat or sharp. I fear that the stigma associated with being out of tune might crush them and keep them from wanting to be singers. And that would be tragic.
I've decided also that when the boys in my classes sing loudly and off-key I will totally ignore it. Again, I'm afraid of crushing those delicate feelings--and you never know if correction of a flaw might be hurtful.
Yes, those above two paragraphs were satirical. I was being ridiculous on purpose because I wanted to point out the absurdity of letting a problem continue because corrective feedback is not given. That's the whole point of being a teacher.
Now, let me make one thing very clear: I do not believe that we should call children names, and one has to be careful in how corrective feedback is given. Have I been clear? Good. Because if anyone makes a comment that ignores that basic premise, I'm going to delete you.
Here's where I'm going with this. A new campaign of very influential women and organizations (Sheryl Sandberg, the Girl Scouts, Beyonce, and Lifetime TV) have started a campaign that aims to ban the word "bossy." The reason is that being called bossy hurts a girl's feelings and prevents them from becoming leaders.
I think this is a terrible idea, and I take issue with it for several reasons--but mostly, because I think it hurts the very girls it seeks to help. I'll get to that in a minute.
First of all, leadership is not being bossy. No one likes a bossy boss. We don't like bossy, overbearing men or women. We just don't.
To conflate being assertive and exercising authority with bossiness is a huge mistake. The two are not the same thing at all. We are not nurturing leaders by hiding negative traits and confusing leadership with bossiness.
In my theatre program, I actively mentor girls. Every year, I have two or three young women who are stage managers, choreographers, or production assistants, and in these positions, they have real authority and real responsibility. They manage other students, and run a huge production.
I've seen girls be leaders without being bossy. I have seen assertive authority and I have seen bossiness and the two are nothing alike. Moreover I really don't think most kids have a problem seeing the difference. That is, I've not usually seen anyone incorrectly label the authoritative actions of a girl in charge as being bossy.
And if they are bossy? Well, then we work on that. That's what parents and teachers do. All of us have things we have to work on. Those girls I work with every year? The ones who have so much authority? Well, some of them are shy and I have to help them be more assertive. Some are bossy and I have to help them learn to phrase things differently and be more sensitive to other people around them. Some are forgetful and I have to help them learn to write things down. And on and on. Each child who comes into my care is unique and my job is to help them meet their fullest potential by overcoming the weaknesses that will most likely inhibit their success. Including bossiness.
Girls are small humans. As humans, they have tremendous, almost infinite potential. They also have the whole range of flaws and weaknesses inherent to humanity. Being a girl does not somehow magically make one perfect. They have flaws and weaknesses which will hold them back. It is the job of parents and teachers to help small humans, boys or girls, see their potential and then help them develop that potential.
Being bossy in a girl is a huge social liability. I see girls every year who alienate large sections of their peer group--mostly girls, incidentally--mainly because they are bossy. Kids do not like bossy kids (incidentally, I disagree emphatically that we somehow encourage boys to be bossy. Boys today are under enormous pressure in every realm of their lives to control their alpha maleness and be more collaborative. But that's another story). At times, bossiness can walk a very fine line with bullying.
If we want girls to be leaders, then we should help them learn how to be the kind of leader people want to follow.
In other words, banning "bossy" doesn't do any good. Let's say we end up banning that word. Imagine a bright, motivated girl who is also bossy. But no one ever says that because this campaign is successful in banning that word. So, she drives everyone crazy, but no one ever tells her. Anyway, she goes through school and graduates and wants to take on the world. But the problem is, no one can stand her. She gets passed over for promotions. She runs for Congress but no one will vote for her.
How exactly have we benefited this child? How have we helped her reach her vast, human potential.
Some boys are domineering or overconfident. Should be ban those words too? A ban on the word "cocky," perhaps? That can hurt a boy's feelings. After all, brashness or cockiness is often just the protective coating on deep insecurity. What if a boy needs to start wearing deodorant? Should we risk hurting his feelings by telling him? What if a girl mumbles and looks at the floor?
I believe it is far more productive to look at a young human and know them enough to understand what they can do to meet their fullest potential. And then love them enough to tell them, and invest the time to help them learn more effective ways.
Beyond that, there is the troubling trend to ban words. I can think of a few words that are so awful that they shouldn't be repeated. But every group is going to be offended or put out by something. As our society becomes more fragmented and segmented, this will only increase and I don't think it's a good thing. But more on that later.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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