BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. – Captain Johnston Blakely Elementary teacher Karen Keller is fighting for gender equality … in her kindergarten classroom.
Keller is raised eyebrows recently with her classroom policy for LEGOs during “free choice” play time, which limits access to girls only. As she explained to the Bainbridge Island Review, it’s her twisted way of imposing gender equality on her students.
“I always tell the boys, ‘You’re going to have a turn’ – and I’m like, ‘Yeah, when hell freezes over’ in my head,” Keller said. “I tell them, ‘You’ll have a turn’ because I don’t want them to feel bad.”
Keller’s watched her kindergarten students segregate themselves by gender and interest during free play time since she started at the school in 2008. Boys typically dominate the Legos, while girls mostly prefer to play with dolls or crayons.
Keller apparently believes it’s her job to change that dynamic, because research shows playing with LEGOs helps students with spatial and math skills, areas men tend to excel at over women. Keller believes that’s the case because of society’s gender stereotypes, the same reason she thinks girls tend to avoid the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
“The stuff LEGO is marketing for girls is just so limiting,” she said, citing play sets with themes centered on baking, cooking, homemaking and decorating. “I just feel like we are still so far behind in promoting gender equality.”
So she cooked up a plan to set things straight by banning boys from playing with the LEGOs during free time, so girls have unencumbered access to the blocks. Initially, Keller attempted to entice her girl students to build with pink and purple LEGOs, “but it wasn’t enough,” she said.
Keller then took it upon herself to apply for a Classroom Enrichment Grant from the Bainbridge Schools Foundation to purchase “LEGO Education Community Starter Kids” for three classrooms, though she left out any mention of her girls-only approach, according to the Review.
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“I had to do the ‘girls only LEGO club’ to boost it more Keller said, according to CBS Seattle. “Boys get ongoing practice and girls are shut out of those activities, which just kills me. Until girls get it into their system that building is cool, building is ‘what I want to do’ – I want to protect that.”
The teacher’s approach, of course, infuriated parents who posted comments online.
“’So the boys will just have to wait their turn’ – a turn that never comes,” Tim McGuire wrote. “So, what are the boys learning? They’re learning that they are second class citizens and that women in positions of authority will lie to them. Wow.”
“What a well-meaning, evil-doing idiot!” Fred Hayward posted. “She is totally ignorant of the needs and issues of half (the male half) of her students and using her position of power to abuse children. As a former public school teacher, I say, ‘Fire this hate-filled woman NOW!’”
“Why not just get enough LEGOs for everyone?” Will Sager questioned.
“This is the end result of feminism,” John Eric added. “Boys are good at something and enjoy it? Better stop them from doing it because girls don’t enjoy that thing, because equality or something.”
Erin Farnsworth doesn’t believe Keller’s classroom experiment has anything to do with equality.
“This is absolutely disgusting,” Fornsworth wrote. “Restricting play from one gender to encourage another is not promoting ‘equality.’ Let’s also add that in telling her student they’ll get a turn when in reality she has no such plan she’s endorsing blatant dishonesty.
“She’s teaching other people’s children it’s ok to lie and if that was my children’s teacher I would raise holy hell,” she posted.
Keller apparently posted a response from Blakely Elementary School on the LEGO debacle to Pastebin.com:
Karen Raines Keller
Responses from Blakely Elementary School to the Lego article
From Ms. Karen Keller, Blakely kindergarten teacher:
I sincerely regret any problems created as a result of the Bainbridge Review article.
As put forth in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education grant request, I was attempting to set up an environment to encourage girls to actively and freely play with Legos during our 30-minute free-choice block. I proposed allowing girls to have an unencumbered opportunity to become more comfortable working with Legos in an attempt to support girls and STEM. My boy students typically dominated this free-choice activity and, given all the research touting the benefits of such open-ended “trial and error” play, I wanted to get the girls connected to building materials. A variety of other building materials were available during these 30-minute blocks. To reiterate, my goal behind this grant was to support girls in STEM.
I was not explicitly clear regarding the time frame of Lego play for all students. Free-choice time has afforded few opportunities for the girls to have equitable access to Legos. When I received the Legos last spring, not this fall as the article stated, the boys also had many chances to play with them during free choice. I started off with the girls-only play to get them interested during the first month of school, and then boys had access to Legos during free choice.
Unfortunately, my remark about “hell freezing over” was a casual, off-record aside meant to convey my frustration with the marketing to girls in our society. Of course, this flippancy was not appropriate for the setting and was easily taken out of context.
Anyone who has worked with me is aware of how I treat all of my students with equal respect and kindness. As a long-time educator and member of this community, I will continue to review best practices and adjust my teaching methods to provide optimum growing experiences for my students. I really do want what is best for each of my students.
It is easy for me to relay that I make every effort to foster a thriving environment for all my students and invite anyone into my classroom to observe and confirm this. I take my job quite seriously and regret helping to foster the offhand tone evident in this newspaper article, as this certainly was not my intent. Every student in my class has access to all curricular materials, including Legos.
From Mr. Reese Ande, Blakely principal:
Blakely Elementary prides itself in meeting the needs of all students in a manner that is supportive, inclusive and appropriate. It is not our practice to promote access or opportunity through any forms of exclusion. Ms. Keller is a passionate teacher who cares deeply for each and every one of her students.