This week Meredith Kleykamp tweeted us a photo of a comment written on her 3rd grade son’s cursive homework. The teacher wrote: “beautifully written! for a boy!”
So what’s the message here?
Some argue that boys are slower than girls to develop the fine motor coordination that facilitates beautiful handwriting. I’ve never interrogated that research, but let’s assume, for sake of argument, that that’s true.
If it’s true, then maybe Kleykamp’s son’s handwriting really is beautiful “for a boy.” But does that make the teacher’s comment innocuous?
Kleykamp observes: “‘Beautifully written’ is sufficient to convey praise.” Then what additional message does the extra commentary send? Given a social context in which boys are encouraged to be unlike girls, Christopher Knorr thought the subtext might be: “you will be forced to choose between your penmanship and your masculinity.”
Scholars call these kinds of lessons the “hidden curriculum.” Here’s another shocking example.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Bill R — March 21, 2014
Unfortunately America has a well-earned reputation for fielding bad teachers.
I'm guessing this one's fireproof.
a — March 21, 2014
I'm just happy they still teach cursive.
peacie21 — March 21, 2014
the teacher said the boy has good handwriting for a boy. that means she's suggesting that boys generally have bad handwriting, not that good handwriting is for girls.
the problem here is actually people identifying wrong issues -.-
Amanda — March 21, 2014
In the nineteenth century, Victorian social customs encouraged young men to participate in hand written correspondence with others in an effort to perfect their penmanship and eloquence. It was a sign of well-bred man if he could write and speak 'beautifully'. Social expectations of gender change and shift and some are harmful and limiting.
I do agree that we shouldn't end a teacher's career. It has to begin with a pedagogy that understands the way people in positions of authority can shape expectations along gender lines.
Kshiteez K Himalaya — March 22, 2014
"Beautifully written for a boy" actually mean beautiful among the boys, still not that fine as write by girls... that clear... as world is still ridiculous over gender and construct gender in each steps of life course Girls are taught how to be 'beautiful' (heart) and boys are taught to be 'tough' (mind). Teachers failed to reconcile the mind and heart... that is nonsense education system!!!
kiran — March 22, 2014
it is ridiculous !!!! nobody can say boys don't write well like girls . It's basically interest which matters . Girls can do better than boys in fields that are considered to be boys . And boys can do equally well as girls do in the fields that are considered to be for girls .
Andrew — March 22, 2014
"Beautifully written for a boy" sounds more like a backhanded compliment than positive reinforcement.
Imagine a math test coming back with the comment "great job, for a girl!"
Or a term paper that said "great English, for a Latino!"
In all cases, the applause is undercut by a negative and offensive stereotype.
robert e — March 22, 2014
Looks to me like she may have added "for a boy" as an afterthought, as if she was concerned that "beautifully written" by itself might be threatening to a boy's gender identity. It's only a slightly different manifestation of gender stereotyping, and no more defensible, but to this reader at least it's a more plausible scenario. No one asked the teacher about it?
Ignatz — March 22, 2014
[Kleykamp observes: “‘Beautifully written’ is sufficient to convey praise.” Then what additional message does the extra commentary send? Given a social context in which boys are encouraged to be unlike girls, Christopher Knorr thought the subtext might be: “you will be forced to choose between your penmanship and your masculinity.”]
And did any of these people ASK THE TEACHER? Or did they just post it on the internet for public speculation about what she meant?
Emma — March 24, 2014
Do we know for certain that the teacher is a woman? Several posters are assuming that, but I can't see anything in the original post or the linked tweet that confirms it.
MKleykamp — March 24, 2014
Folks asked whether I spoke to the teacher. I did not as I do not think this person intended harm. I'm aware that we all can slip up. I intentionally have not identified the person. Why tweet it? Because it serves as an example of how pervasive are gendered assumptions. The identity or intent of the teacher is beside the point.
Julia Ellsworth — December 8, 2015
"Your penmanship than your masculinity!" Sounds pretty comic to me! In all seriousness, the teacher shouldn't have made that remark, as it sounds snarky and very sarcastic and biting. However, the teacher probably meant it only in jest, as older kids could understand and have a good laugh at. At 3rd grade, a kid still may take it a little too much to heart and be hurt, so one must be careful with younger kids when joking like that. All in all, it's not sexism, but one should be careful to make it clear they're only teasing! :)
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Aaron — August 4, 2022
I don't agree with the 3rd grade teacher. wordle unlimited, I am a boy and I'm very good at writing. Why she said writing is for girls?? fall guys
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