After months of planning, meeting, talking, workshopping, testing and fretting, we came face to face this week what it’s all been about: little people!
B and I put on our researcher hats and our best neutral tones of voice and headed out to St. John’s C of E Primary School in Bethnal Green. I think it’s fair to say that we were both a bit nervous to be interviewing twenty some-odd year 1 pupils— we had no idea how they would respond. W.C. Fields said to never work with children or animals, and I’m sure a lot of researchers would agree.
But, once we were there, they had trouble getting us out before home time. These kids were HILARIOUS. One delivered a monologue about dog’s peeing habits; another sat down with a sigh and said ‘It’s been a long day. I mean, not for me — for miss.
St. John’s is a great place to run our pilot because it’s full of enthusiastic, creative teachers, and is really committed to supporting the mental health and personal development of its pupils. Year 1 had just finished a unit on friendship, and we could tell that a lot of messages about feelings and kindness had already been absorbed. As we went through our survey questions, we found that there were more kids than we expected who, for example, thought it was ok for girls to play with trucks and for boys to play in the home corner. We wanted to give a gold star to their parents and teachers.
However, we also saw that there’s still a lot of work to do. Overwhelmingly, pupils thought that some jobs were just for men and others were just for women. One of the 'jobs for men’ included ‘going to university’, because ‘men are better at hard schoolwork’; one of the ‘jobs for women’ included ‘making the bed for the men’. One girl said it was ‘women’s jobs to make themselves look prettier’. Nearly all of the children we spoke to thought that men were stronger than women.
Also, we saw that, while a number of children knew that they were supposed to challenge certain stereotypes, a more open-ended conversation with them revealed that the stereotypes still remained. For example, one boy who first answered that there’s no difference between the way boys and girls play later went on to give us a long description about how boys like to play zombies and shoot them in the face and girls don’t like things like that. Part of the big challenge ahead of us lies in digging beneath what kids know is the ‘right’ answer and shifting what they really think.
We left St. John’s giddy from hanging out with these interesting little kids for a few hours— can’t wait to get on with visiting our next school on Tuesday.
Janeen and Bilkis