Educating Our Children—by Jamie Levine

I’m currently interning as a speech-language pathologist at a highly-regarded elementary school in an upper-middle class neighborhood on Long Island. The other day, while I was leading an auditory comprehension lesson for a group of fifth graders, I asked a question about a character in the story I’d just read to the group, and one of the girls responded, “Well, she was a nurse. She had to be.” I countered, “Why did she have to be a nurse?” And she answered matter-of-factly, “She couldn’t be a doctor. Girls can’t be doctors.” What??? When I explained that of course women could be doctors, just as men could be nurses, a boy in the group piped in, “No way! I never knew men could be nurses. Really?” I then proceeded to assure the entire group of children that men could be nurses and women could be doctors, but behind my calm demeanor, I was shocked. While I, like all mothers, expect children to be taught well at school, this incident showed me clearly that a good education begins at home.

I’m a very liberal person—I’m open and honest with my daughter, and just as she’s been exposed to the idea that “everyone has different kinds of families” from a very young age, I’ve tried to teach her that she can do anything and be anything she wants to be. While I know that in reality there are financial and logistical limitations on many future career opportunities for my child, the important message I want to impart is that if Jayda works hard and sets her mind to something, she can achieve anything. And most importantly, gender rules should never be a factor in deciding her future. Like most of her friends, Jayda has a toy doctor’s kit and would never fathom the idea that a woman couldn’t be a doctor (in her fantasies, she’s a princess-doctor, who wears a doctor’s coat over her ballroom gown). And while she is a self-professed girlie-girl, I’ve never deterred her from playing with “boy” toys—and even bought her a garage full of matchbox cars when she was two years old and became fascinated with a male friend’s own stash. Similarly, when we read “William Wants a Doll,” she didn’t blink at the notion of a boy wanting a doll, and though it’s not my father’s favorite activity, Jayda thrills at giving her Poppy makeovers and putting bows in his hair. I want Jayda to believe that as males and females, we’re all equal—as should be our opportunities.

The other day, Jayda was playing with her Barbies, and spontaneously asked me, “We’re voting for Obama, right, Mom?” I chuckled and said, “Yes, I am. But you can come with me if you want to.” She responded, “I want to!” When I asked her why she wanted to come with me—and why she cared if I voted for Obama, she answered, “Because everyone is supposed to vote! And Poppy says Obama cares about women.” I smiled. No matter what anyone thinks of Obama’s politics, you can’t criticize Jayda’s reasoning. So far, it looks like my daughter is getting a good education at home…and I’m going to keep trying to make sure she always does.