Okay, Is This Wrong?



One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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88 Responses

  1. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    There are enough bigger problems with regard to gender inequality that I strongly believe you should not die on hills of gender-colored cupcakes.Report

  2. Avatar Ethan Gach says:

    So I think this is perfectly fine.

    Since it is not directly endorsed or encouraged by the institution (you), and is the act of the kid, then the burden falls on them, and if parents would have a problem, it should be taken up with the other parents (to my mind).

    If a kid feels unconfortable or frustrated, they should take it up with the other kid–an exchange of feelings, whatever. A teach moment maybe, even, probably not.

    But while it’s the job of the institution not to encourage sexism, or allow sexism to originate from within it, I don’t think it’s the institution’s job to purge sexism from the minds or conditioned behavior of the independent individuals who inhabit and pass through it.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      You make a good point. I wouldn’t wade into single-gender birthday parties (very common) in any official capacity. I might explain to parents, specifically or in general, about how divisive such events can be and how foolish it is to assume that all children of the same gender are friends, but I wouldn’t seek to stop it (I would prohibit invitation distribution in class, but that is a general rule we have as a school if the entire class isn’t invited).

      Still, if I am the one putting the cupcakes on the plate, it feels like I am endorsing it. Or, at least, permitting it. There are many instances of child-initiated gender segregation (or other unsavory things) that I am charged with intervening with. If a game becomes “boys only”, I would not let that stand.Report

  3. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I concur with Christopher and Ethan.

    There are bigger battles to fight.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      If the fight involves little more than changing the language in the letter I already send out outline birthday celebration procedures, does that change matters?

      Of course, it is easy for me to ASSUME that is all it will take… who knows what will erupt.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    You could probably temper these things by giving a little speech first about how every child should meditate for a moment on how much better off they have it than children in Afghanistan who are being killed by policies originally set up by pResident Bush.Report

  5. Avatar Rod says:

    What’s wrong is that you don’t know who Spiderman is but have no similar questions about Hello Kitty. You’re sort of the League anti-nerd, huh?Report

  6. Avatar Patrick says:

    If anything, I’d institute a rule that when it comes to cupcake distribution, the birthday girl or boy gets first preference, and then everyone chooses, starting with a random spot in the class. If they all choose gender-normed cupcake colors, megh.

    If the first five girls want the blue cupcakes, the boys can have a teachable moment about pink and how it’s the color of royalty, or something.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      I should make clear that I make no objection to children voluntarily fulfilling traditional gender norms. Many of them came about for biological/evolutionary reasons. I always try to balance them, either via modeling or explicit conversation, but I do not denounce them en masse. What I object to is them being imposed from the outside. If a boy wants a Spider-Man cupcake, that’s his business. But no one should decide that for him… at least not because of his “washcloth spot”.Report

      • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

        This goes for how I feel about bullying as well, but perhaps it’s best for children’s development if they learn to deal themselves with people trying to impose things on them from the outside instead of being protected from such people by authorities.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          So less “Rules and prohibitions from above” and more “Here is what to do if you don’t like how you’re being treated”?Report

          • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

            In general, yes.

            There are obviously exceptions, but in general we owe it to our own children to take a more laissez faire attitude towards their social development, even if it means schools won’t be able to indemnify themselves from parents and other caretakers trying to absolve themselves from responsibility (all part of the great fugue of finger-pointing that plays out day after day at our educational institutions) if something goes wrong.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              I agree and I don’t.

              In general, I try to set up the external parameters for appropriate and acceptable social behavior and interactions. Within that, I try to let the kids develop their own ways. For instance (I as I spoke about elsewhere), I do not require “sharing”, at least not in the way it is traditionally espoused with young children. If conflicts arise over an item’s use and there is not a clear cut solution, I task the kids with coming up with a workable solution. So long as it doesn’t violate a broader tenet, I accept whatever solution they come up with. So if they decide that Johnny gets it first because he is taller… I don’t love the approach, but I let it go. They’re happy with it, so there is no need for me to intervene. Now, if they decide that Johnny gets it because Johnny punches harder and if Jimmy wants to find out the hard way that that is true, he can try to have the toy first… that won’t fly.

              So, I suppose it is a both/and approach. I make clear my expectations, offer them strategies and tips, and then leave them to their devices, intervening only when necessary.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:


                There’s definitely lot’s of room for common sense.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                “There’s definitely lot’s of room for common sense.”

                You’ve clearly never worked in a school.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                I have. Actually, I had a long discussion with my boss today on a similar topic. The gist of my argument was that ultimately, despite how things may look to us all on the day-to-day level, in the battle between people and institutions, people eventually win.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Can you elaborate on that? I think I get what you’re saying but I do better with concrete examples.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                Ultimately, institutions depend on people, and institutions serve people – not the other way around. (I’ll have to think on this topic some more before I can adequately respond I think.)Report

  7. Avatar DRS says:

    These are very young children, right? So let’s go with one thing at a time. It’s nice to have a birthday, it’s nice to celebrate your birthday with your friends by sharing with them rather than seeing it as a chance to get more loot yourself, and it’s nice that its cupcakes because there’s nothing nicer than that.

    To turn it into a teachable moment might result in one birthday boy feeling that somehow his cupcakes weren’t good because otherwise Teacher wouldn’t have said so. Also he might not be aware that bakeries can make cupcakes anyway you want; if he just went to the store and saw them premade, he might feel that he had no choice as to selection (and if he bought them that morning, definitely so).

    If I were you I’d make it a topic to be approached in a few weeks with other examples than cupcakes.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      With this, I agree. If I take action regarding this (still to be determined), I would start fresh next year with general guidelines for all birthdays. I would only respond to this specific situation if something arose out of it, which it didn’t. In the past, other children have done something similarly gendered; I’m just using this as an example because it was most recent.

      But, good points…Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        When I was that age, I can see myself saying “I WANT SPIDERMAN CUPCAKES!” and just giving Spiderman cupcakes to everybody.

        The fact that the kid said “you know what? I think that we could have cupcakes that girls can like too” seems to me to be an indicator of various good things rather than various bad things.

        I mean, I’m assuming that a birthday party with nothing but Spiderman cupcakes (or only Hello Kitty cupcakes) would not have inspired this post, right?Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          I should have expanded upon this in the OP, but often times when kids do things that make us blush with regards to race or gender or whathaveyou, they are often doing EXACTLY what we want them to be doing from an educational/development standpoint.

          As you noted, he recognized that others might have wants/needs/interests different than his own… that’s a huge developmental milestone!
          And he generalized… “My sister likes Hello, Kitty… she’s a girl… girls like Hello, Kitty…” That is another big thing we want kids to do!

          The problem arises when we give them bad inputs. We celebrate a kid saying, “Hmmm… it seems to be that all those things you call squares have 4 sides and they’re all the same and they have corners… so, those things over there, with there 4 equal sides and corners… those are probably squares, too.” And rightly so! But I wince when a kid says, “That person has dark brown skin. She’s probably a housekeeper.” Because that tells me that the kid’s experiences with people of color are limited to those in service roles. Which doesn’t mean his experiences are false or that he is a dirty racist… just that his truth is incomplete.

          So, if anything, I like to try to round out kids’ truths. “You’re right that lots of boys like Spider-Man and lots of girls like Hello, Kitty. But Johnny really doesn’t care for super heroes. And Katie just loves them. How should we handle their cupcakes?”

          It is a weird oscillation between encouraging them to generalize and demanding that they get down into the specifics, especially when we are dealing with people.

          But you’re right… the kid’s motivations were likely outstanding!Report

          • Avatar DRS says:

            You want embarrassing situation with small kids?

            I’m in the subway during morning rush hour and there’s a dad with a small (I’d say pre-school) boy in tow. Conversation between them indicated a trip to the doctor’s and a deep concern whether a needle would be involved. Small boy is rather anxious and seems quite jumpy.

            Across the aisle are seated a young man and his wife who is wearing the full burka, no facial exposure except the eyes. Small boy stares at her spellbound and stops bouncing around. Finally he darts across the aisle, lifts up the bottom edge of the facial veil and sticks his whole head underneath. A small muffled voice: “Hi lady.”

            Our entire half of the subway car is in stunned silence. Small boy re-emerges, turns to his (totally mortified) dad and announces: “Daddy, there’s a lady under here.” He looks into her eyes. “Why do you wear this? You’re very pretty.”

            Her husband – who has been heaving with barely suppressed laughter – leans over and says “It’s because she’s too pretty to be seen with such an ugly fellow as me.” Small boy is diverted immediately: “Oh, no, you’re not ugly! That man is ugly!” Pointing (thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster) at a movie poster on the wall.

            Now that’s mortifying.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              I love that story! But I think it illustrates exactly what is at stake…

              Generally speaking, I don’t think that boy did anything wrong. I mean, I suppose he should not have entered a stranger’s space like that, but young kids are still learning that. He clearly had a real and intense curiosity about the woman and her unfamiliar attire… which is good! Kids should be curious! The problem is, we quickly signal to them that certain curiosities are not okay… like those which might lead them to ask a stranger wearing a burka why she dresses that way. Or, more specifically, we teach them it is not okay to explore such curiosities. When all the adults looked mortified, that risked sending a message to that child, “We do not talk/ask about those things.” Of course, he is still going to think about those things. And if he doesn’t have the opportunity to ask them and learn genuinely what the answers are, he is going to develop a whole bunch of ideas that are much, much more mortifying.

              So rather than have an amazing learning moment like that boy had, we teach kids not to talk about such things and instead seek their answers via their own wild imagination or popular media or their equally uninformed friends or the types of people that are all too happy to tell you why that evil woman was wearing that evil thing… And then we wonder why things never get better.

              Kids should feel comfortable asking about the people around them, provided they do so in the proper place and time and manner.Report

            • Avatar Patrick says:

              Everything about that story is super space awesome.Report

            • This story is almost too wonderful to be true. But since it started with the phrase “I’m in the subway during morning rush hour,” I’m more than willing to believe it. No story that contains that phrase is too crazy to be believable.

              Regardless, this is one of the three or four best stories I’ve ever seen at the League.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                I propose our next Leaguecast is simply people doing dramatic interpretations of this story.Report

              • Avatar DRS says:

                Well, he didn’t get an explanation about burkas from anybody during the ride. So he didn’t really learn anything. My guess would be that he got reminded later on at home that it’s not okay to touch people without their permission and that some people just like to wear veils. He got a little bashful with all the attention and retreated to his father’s lap.

                She was very nice about it and laughed with her husband. She did say, to the woman sitting beside her who said something I didn’t hear, that she usually just told people her hair was a mess and that that usually worked just fine. I got the impression that she didn’t even really think about it, it was just what she wore. No biggie.Report

              • Avatar Kimsie says:

                He got a reasonably age-appropriate explanation.
                “she’s too pretty to be seen with a lunk like me”.Report

        • Avatar zic says:

          I’d presume everyone would have gotten spiderman cupcakes but for shortage; either at bakery or of appropriately-colored frostings/decorations if made at home.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            Nah, the parents indicated in advance that they planned on doing a boy/girl thing, asking how many of each there were.

            I considered saying something there but seeing as how I hadn’t intervened with other families earlier, I found this a weird time to set a precedent, especially with a family who is entirely willing to comply with any directives and thus risk punishing them for actually communicating with me in advance of the party instead of just showing up day of with no notice.Report

  8. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    With every such gender-based tempest in a teapot, my faith in humanity (already low) is further reduced. None of the children complained about the cupcakes they received. Attempting to dissect out gender from American society is a fool’s errand: while we go into separate rooms to relieve ourselves, gender will remain an issue.

    We’ve made fine progress on the L, G, and B fronts. The T part, the transgendered, remain something of a conundrum for our society. Other societies have a place for the Two-Spirit: I wish ours did.

    Americans seem obsessed by sexuality. It’s led to all sorts of strange gender-related issues. Rather than letting children sort this out for themselves, we seem intent upon being Crazy Grown Ups.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      But that plays both ways. It is not uncommon for the gendered cupcakes to be done at the parents’ insistence, not the child’s. Which Grown Ups are the crazy ones at that point… them? Or me?Report

      • Avatar Kimsie says:

        I’d get involved if the parents did something like that.
        Kids are allowed to make silly generalizations, parents ought not to be.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Kaz: if ever there was an issue which would cause me to enlist in the Tinfoil Headgear Brigade, it would be America’s obsession with sexuality and gender. It’s everywhere. It’s completely pernicious, right down to its roots.

        Want to get a child to obsess about something? Tell him not to think about it. Make a big deal out of it. By the time every American reaches reaches puberty, they’ve been stuffed fuller of prudery and nonsense than a Strasbourg goose about to be turned into foie gras. We’re obsessed with pornography — the most ridiculous, tragic obsession of all: going to a restaurant, so some crazy waiter can show us pictures of food. Girls, especially, are so wrapped around the axle of their sexual self-image, they don’t know whether to shit or go blind.

        The whole culture is crazy, top to bottom. And we’re concerned about cupcakes? We need to teach our children not to be ashamed of their own bodies, there’s a start.

        Rant off. I know, it’s the little stuff that aggravates us the most. I understand the well-intentioned urge to keep gender-based stereotypes out of your classroom. Maybe it is the parents, I can’t say. But having raised my own kids not to be prudes, all those years ago, I found it a constant struggle to keep the bullshit from coming home from school.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          Please do not conflate my desire for gender equity with broader prudishness. I teach my students the anatomically correct terms for their bodies when necessary. I certainly do not tell them not to talk about it, but rather attempt to encourage the conversation in a fruitful way. I think we’d all do well if we were more comfortable talking about sex and gender…. we’d have fewer hang ups overall.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            Also, in case it’s not clear, much of the hemming and hawing you see me do here is just that. I have far from made up my mind on this matter and seek guidance here because I think there are a diversity of viewpoints that will consider things I might otherwise miss. I’d say of all the things I look at in my school and say, “That seems wrong! I should do something!” I act on about 10% of them. Sometimes some careful exploration realizes I’ve misunderstood it, sometimes I resign myself to choosing my battles, and sometimes I realize we need to leave space for a few things to be other than what I want. But, I’d still rather over think things than under think things, especially because I am generally able to avoid feeling I need to act on every feeling or thought I have.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            Oh, I know I’m preaching to the choir, with you, Kazzy. You’re on the side of the angels, on this issue.

            I remember, a longlong time ago, sitting with my kids on the couch, looking at a book of Renaissance art. There’s a whole section on Da Vinci in there, including the dissection work. I said to my kids: “The human body is magnificent. Even pulled apart like an engine in a repair shop, it’s magnificent. Don’t ever be ashamed of your body. Don’t be led around by the opinions of others on this subject. Because, if you do listen to those little creeps and freaks, you’ll never be happy in your own skin.”Report

  9. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I dont even think there are bigger hills to die on. It’s one thing if a teacher brings gender based cupcakes and distributes them as such. But a kid for his own birthday? I really don’t have a problem with it.Report

  10. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Thanks to everyone for the feedback thus far. It’s helpful to be able to bounce thoughts and idea off such a thoughtful group of people.

    Let me phrase the question somewhat differently…

    If you, as a parent, received a bulletin from the school outlining guidelines for birthday parties, including both the practical (e.g., nut-free, one per student) and the more ideologically driven (e.g., no goodie backs, but in lieu of such a game or book can be purchased for the class*) and included among them was a carefully, thoughtfully worded guideline discouraging gendered treats, how would you respond? And by “respond”, I don’t just mean what would you say to the teacher or would you comply, but what would you think about the inclusion of such a guideline?

    * I saw this rule put in place at an upper-class suburban public school I student taught in. As I remember it, the school initially permitted goodie bags but it quickly got out of control with parents attempting to one up each other (not uncommon amongst a certain set of parents). To help curb this, the school put in place the aforementioned rule so that even if it did persist, classroom resources were the beneficiary. There *might* have also been a price limit, though even if there was I don’t imagine there was any actual enforcement mechanism beyond being identified as the officially “over the top” parent.

    Remember when birthdays were easy?Report

    • Avatar DRS says:

      If you, as a parent, received a bulletin from the school outlining guidelines for birthday parties…and included among them was a carefully, thoughtfully worded guideline discouraging gendered treats, how would you respond? And by “respond”, I don’t just mean what would you say to the teacher or would you comply, but what would you think about the inclusion of such a guideline?

      I’d think it was great that we’d obviously solved so many other social problems in the world that we had time to monitor the possible subversive use of cake. Also that some people who worked for my kid’s school had waaaaaay too much time on their hands. And yes, this is exactly what I’d phone and tell the principal or whoever runs these things in your school.

      Seriously, dude – it’s a lousy cupcake. If you want to trivialize the whole issue – which I agree is important – then I think the best way to do it would be to turn cake into a teachable moment. If you want to get the kids thinking, as you’re sitting with them eating your cupcake (I assume the teacher gets one?) would be to say something like “I’m eating Spiderman! Does that mean I’ll turn into a spider? Will one of the girls eating a Hello Kitty cupcake turn into a kitten and eat me?!??!?” Then you can hear their explanations about why that won’t happen and you’ll find that they can separate frosting from real life, which is a skill that seems to lapse with age.

      Go read the Raising My Rainbow blog by a mom whose 6-year-old son prefers girl clothes and girl toys. She talks about the various unintended slights her son faces on a daily basis with his preferences, mostly at the hands of adults. The biggest challenge at school is the other kids’ mocking a peer who doesn’t conform to accepted Grade 1 dress code by wearing pink shoes or sitting with the girls to do crayoning. The teachers work hard to keep the focus on how we treat other people. Which is where it should be.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Thanks for your honest reply. You and others have rightly pointed out opportunities for real teaching moments, which is a great way to approach the situation. And thanks for the blog reference.

        But if I may challenge you a bit…
        “I’d think it was great that we’d obviously solved so many other social problems in the world that we had time to monitor the possible subversive use of cake. Also that some people who worked for my kid’s school had waaaaaay too much time on their hands. And yes, this is exactly what I’d phone and tell the principal or whoever runs these things in your school.”

        If the principal’s response was that the policy was decided in one meeting and the guideline took 5 minutes to draft, would that still be too much time?

        Let’s not kid ourselves… Every year teachers and schools have to make decisions about birthday celebrations. Will they allow sweets? Homemade sweets? What to do about allergies? Are gifts acceptable? Etc. Why would consideration of gender equity wade into “too much time” when these other considerations often don’t? Would it be u fair to reapond to a parent who objected as spending “too much time” buying or making separate batches of cupcakes? If one side cares enough to object, why is that time spent more legitimate than the other side?Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Once you open the door to this sort of folderol, it’s very hard to shut it. It’s your classroom: you should have the right to enforce the rules of your choosing. Speaking only for myself, I think birthday parties in classrooms is pernicious nonsense. No parent should be feeding other people’s children: it creates liability. Consider the repercussions of the entire classroom getting sick from something you allowed to be served at such a party.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            “It’s your classroom: you should have the right to enforce the rules of your choosing.”

            Ha! I’ll be sure to invite you to the next sit down I need to have with my administrators and a set of irate parents who are upset that I had the temerity to enforce a rule on their precious little snowflake.

            (Can you tell it’s May 30th?)Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Dude, I made it clear, every year, with each of my kids in grade school. It became a ceremony. The teacher, my kid and I would stand there and I’d say to my kid “This is your teacher. She tells you to do something, it’s as good as me telling you to do it.” I’d tell the teacher “This is my kid. When you tell my kid to do something, you can count on me to back you up. Got a problem with my kid? Feel free to call me, any time of day or night. But I will hold you both responsible for what goes on between you.”

              There was one teacher who really was a problem. And I did get my kid transferred out of her classroom with the help of the principal. Best for both of them. But I never criticised her to her face, and not in front of my kid. Come to think of it, I didn’t criticise her at all. I just told the principal: “My son and Mrs. T are just not getting along. What can I do about it?” He recommended the transfer and everything went swimmingly thereafter.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Bless your heart.

                I welcome feedback from parents, positive and negative alike. There are times I will err or fail to consider something (especially so before I joined the ranks of parenthood). Case in point, I permit the children to play in the mud. It’s mud, they’re kids… simple enough, yes? But one day, we had some really muddy snow out there. And I let them go for it in their snow pants.

                One parent came to me, respectfully, and explained that she didn’t mind her daughter getting dirty and generally agreed with the approach. But they only had one snow suit and it wasn’t machine washable. They couldn’t get it dry cleaned overnight and thus her daughter would not have her snow suit the next day and would not be able to go outside.

                I hadn’t even thought about the issue of cleaning snow suits. I was not yet a parent, didn’t even think about the issue of cleaning snow suits, didn’t really think about what happened after 3PM. The parent’s criticism was valid and her perspective helped make me a better teacher.

                So, I think there is appropriate room to challenge a teacher. But that should happen behind closed doors. Children should not be aware of it. As happened earlier this year, I shouldn’t have a child come to me and say, “My mommy is mad at you.” Not because parents should never be mad at me, but because kids shouldn’t get pulled into it. Just like we shouldn’t let kids play parents off one another (“Well, Daddy said I could…”), we shouldn’t let them play their parents and teachers off one another… in either direction.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                You can’t give anyone conditional authority over a child. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition. If the kid senses there’s a caveat in there somewhere, they’ll hunt for it. And they’ll find it, as did that little snot who told you her mommy was mad at you.

                Shoulda told that little heifer, “Mad at me? I don’t think so. Your mommy never said anything to me about being mad. I think your mommy is a wonderful person. I wonder what she’d say if we had a Little Talk, just the three of us, maybe your Daddy, too?”Report

        • Avatar Murali says:

          What business is it of the school’s if I (if I were a kid) bring in cakes or sweets on my birthday to distribute to my classmates?Report

          • Avatar Murali says:

            That came out harsher than I intended. It’s just that as a kid, on the one or two times I did bring a cake to school, I don’t remember my parents involving anybody else. I just brought the thing and my mom would just explain to the teacher when she helped me carry it in. The idea of the school planning everything to such a small detail just seems so overdone to me. Maybe its a cultural difference.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              I’ll say a few things on this…

              First off, allergies are a huge issue nowadays. It would not surprise me if this was uniquely an American thing. Any kid that doesn’t ace his SATs after eating a PB&J sandwich is deemed allergic and therefor must never enter a state that ever once grew peanuts. I’m slightly exaggerating. Slightly. Anything homemade carries a risk because we can’t verify ingredients. Store bought items must come in their original packaging so we can examine ingredients. Much of this is unnecessary… such caution is really only necessary for kids who have genuine life threatening allergies (Russ can correct me if I’m wrong but I believe these are in the “real but rare” category). Yet, the idea persists. Thankfully, it persists so much that most parents already know the drill and respond accordingly.

              Semi-related is the liability issue. If folks get sick, allergy or otherwise, because of something a kid brought in from home, it puts the school in a bad position. I don’t know exactly what the laws are or what our risk would be (Tod or Burt or our other lawyer friends can weigh in), but it is non-zero, which is enough to bring about a policy.

              Now, leaving all that aside, I think it is nice if a kid decides he wants to do something nice for his classmates and works with his parents to prepare something. This year, I have no allergies in my class so I’ve been able to welcome it on a few occasions. There are some difficulties that can arise, particularly with young children, because of monkey see, monkey do. Susie is working really hard to be thoughtful so she spends her free time one night making cookies for her class. Joey sees that Susie is recognized for her efforts, wants recognition himself, and goes home and demands that his parents also make cookies. Bigger cookies than Susie’s, of course. Add in petty parents who can take the desire for one-up’s-man-ship to a whole new level and you quickly have a situation that devolves into chaos.

              With young kids and/or petty adults, you really do have to worry about “slippery slopes”. Which is frustrating, because there are a lot of things I’d love to let my kids do but have to limit or my pick my spots for because I know three steps down the road is trouble and the likelihood of going three steps down the road is higher than it might be when dealing with more rational people. Sometimes, I can say, “This is permissible, this is not, here is where I’m drawing the line, and this is why.” This tends to be more effective with children than with the adults, unfortunately, and the latter sometimes have more power than I do within the school (a whole ‘nother issue).

              So… in a nutshell… it’s complicated. I wish that it weren’t. But it is. The more people you put into the mix with differing or conflicting goals, the more complicated it gets. Which often leads to zero-tolerance policies, which I also find deeply problematic.

              As a general rule, I tell parents, “Hey, it’s great if you want to work on something with your child to contribute to the class. Please touch base with me first so we can make sure it works both logically and supports the values we are promoting. We can’t have everyone bringing in cookies on the same day nor should kids or parents feel pressured to do something and thus turn a genuine gesture of kindness into a chore. Let’s work together and come up with a plan.” It takes some of the spontaneity away, but I feel is better than either zero-tolerance or no holds barred.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                As a vegetarian with peanut allergies, I do think that kids (even those as young as 6 or 7) should take responsibility to ensure that they can eat what everyone else is having. I do think that 6 or 7 year olds are capable of doing so (I did at that age). I don’t know that others are obligated to accomodate the one guy who has allergies. And I don’t think that teachers should be held liable for what happens if anything, god forbid, does. At most, I think if we just require the parent to tell the teacher if it has known allergens like peanuts or shellfish or something and then just inform the class or the student in question that he cannot have any.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                It’s tough to single kids out, especially young kids (again, mine are 4 and 5, which might not seem much different than 6 or 7 but really is); many with allergies already feel “different” enough and missing out on a treat just doubles down. I usually try to keep a stash of items on hand from them (usually graciously brought in by the parent) so if a situation arises where the other 12, 15, 19 kids are eating something special, he can as well.

                Then you have kids who aren’t actually allergic, but whose parents impose needless restrictions, such as a gluten-free diet. Here, I’ll cop to some bias, which I’m not sure if I can justify. I know certain families have pork prohibitions, sometimes for religious reasons and sometimes for broader cultural reasons. I have no issue meeting these. But when the crazy parent comes in talking about how gluten causes autism (these people overlap nicely with anti-vaxers), I just want to role my eyes. But I can’t. So now I’ve got to tell a kid who wants to eat a cookie and who can safely eat a cookie that he can’t because something-something-something.

                I hear what you’re saying. I *wish* it were simpler. There are a lot of unique factors about American culture in general and independent school culture specifically that make it anything but. Frustratingly so. It’s food. It shouldn’t be so complicated. But it is.Report

              • Avatar Kimsie says:

                A quiet, simple note: It is possible to have systemic allergic responses, even if one has not consumed enough of any one allergy-causing substance. Allergies can work on the principle of “allergic load” — where being somewhat allergic to fifty different things can lead to problems.

                If you’re dealing with someone whose immune system is already overstressed from allergies, even a small dose of a moderate allergen can cause problems.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                I’ve got a cousin like thatReport

        • Avatar DRS says:

          If the principal’s response was that the policy was decided in one meeting and the guideline took 5 minutes to draft, would that still be too much time?


          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            And the 10 minutes you take calling in to voice your objection… that is an appropriate amount of time to object to a policy aimed at challenging gender norms?

            I find this a bit odd, to be honest. It’d be one thing if you disagreed with the effort on its merits. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. It seems, rather, that you’re objecting to anything being done about it. As if it were not worth doing. If that is your argument (and please correct me if I’m wrong), I’d like to hear a bit more to that effect. Why is it a waste of time? What do you think should be done with that marginal amount of time that would be more productive?Report

            • Avatar DRS says:

              You’re not seriously saying that 5 minutes is a realistic time for a policy to be conceived of and put into effect? Then my call to the principal would be more like 30 minutes because I’d have a lot of questions to ask about how these policies come into being.

              I have made my argument in two separate comments. I don’t think the cupcake issue is the hill to die on to challenge gender norms. And I don’t think it’s very nice of you to suggest that my disagreement over cupcakes means I’m somehow in favour of enforced gender norms on children. I have twice so far given examples of dialogue that I would pursue that would turn the focus away from frosting preferences to personal actions towards peers.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Absent school wide policies, teachers are often free to make decisions about their classrooms, programs, and students. I drafted my classroom’s birthday routine. Including a change about gender-specific treats would take as long to put in place as it would take to type. Now, it would take time to think about it, but I think all day. One of the things that makes me as good at my job as I am is that I think about it.

                I recognize you spelled out your argument. But it is one thing to say, “This isn’t the hill to die on,” and another to say, “Why are you letting people die on that hill?”Report

              • Avatar DRS says:

                But it is one thing to say, “This isn’t the hill to die on,” and another to say, “Why are you letting people die on that hill?”

                I have no idea what this is supposed to mean.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                This subthread here is about how parents would respond to such a policy being enacted.

                If you think it’s not worth it for me, as the teacher, to take on this battle for challenging gender norms, that is advice I will take under consideration. And, seriously, I am.

                But if I do opt to take this course of action and you, as a parent, call into a principal and object, it would seem you are not arguing so much that it is not the right battle to pick, but that those who do choose to pick the battle are wrong and should be defeated.

                Does that make more sense?

                If you said you’d roll your eyes and think, “This teacher is on a fruitless crusade,” it’d seem more in line with “wrong hill to die on”.
                But if you’d actively interject to question or challenge the policy, you are going a very different route.Report

              • Avatar DRS says:

                Challenge away. Just leave the cupcakes alone and pick your examples with an eye to making a lasting impression on a non-trivial point. As a parent I’d have more respect for your efforts if they were based on something like “In this class we don’t make fun of people because of what they choose to wear. If Dylan likes pink socks, that’s okay.” That’s a point to take through life.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Can’t I do both those things? Why should the cupcakes be left alone?

                Please remember, it is not I who is injecting gender into the sweets… it is others to whom I am responding.Report

              • Avatar DRS says:

                Come on, Kazzy. Seriously. Because there are stronger examples and better incidents you could focus on than cupcakes. Some of which I’ve given as examples. At this point I think you’re being either deliberately cute or willfully obtuse.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                No… what I’m asking is why can’t I do both. The cupcake policy would take a few minutes to draft and, provided folks abided, no other effort on my part.

                I recognize it is not the ONLY approach to the situation. You’ve outlined others. But it is not as if enacting such a policy prohibits me from having such or similar conversations, for standing up for little Tommy and his pink socks or little Susie and her dinosaur hat.

                It’s not a zero sum game, where effort put into cupcakes takes away from efforts elsewhere.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                And, as silly as it might seem, there are few “bigger deals” to PreK students as birthdays and cupcakes. Defending pink socks but standing idly by while Tommy is denied the cupcake he’d much prefer could look very much to my students as if I picked the wrong hill to die on.Report

              • Avatar DRS says:

                No one objected to the cupcake they received. If they had, there were enough extra that I could have swapped out with no problem (which I have had to do in the past with girls who objected to pink frosting or boys who just had to have the decorative flowers on theirs).

                Well, looks like little Tommy has nothing to worry about according to your original post.

                I think we’ve hit the stupid zone so I’m leaving now.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Such is your right. But I have to think about more than this scenario. There have been times where that wasn’t the case. I can’t simply say, “Well, it wasn’t a problem this time.”

                Bad policies arise when you respond in the moment to problems. Better policies arise when you anticipate potential problems and seek to avoid them.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      I wouldn’t allow birthday parties at all. It’s what I call the Little League Problem. A child fortunate enough to be slightly older than his peers will gravitate to the top of his team. This is especially true of grade school boys.

      Pretty much every state and even DoD has a cutoff date for entry into kindergarten. It’s all over the calendar, too. In Louisiana, it’s 30 Sept except in Orleans Parish, where it’s 31 Dec. Wisconsin is 1 Sept.

      So if your kid is the oldest pupil in the classroom, he or she already has a natural advantage. And those kids whose birthdays fall first in the school year, especially if 1 Sept is the cutoff date, which is the case in most states — will get a party. Children born in summer will never get a damned birthday party in their classroom.

      My middle child was born on 29 Dec. We talked about it and agreed her birthday should be celebrated six months round the calendar, 29 June. But that’s not in the school year and she never got a classroom party. Oh, she had nice parties, no doubt about that. I would always have a private little remembrance of her birth on 29 Dec, closed off from all the Festivus Festivities and Jollification. Always looked forward to it: truth is, I kinda hate what Christmas has become and New Year even more.

      Food for thought, anyway….Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        As a summer birth myself, we always celebrate summer birthdays with the same routine on a day of the family’s choosing.Report

    • Avatar Angela says:

      I *did* get the memo about parties from my kids school. I don’t have it around, but I think it covered
      * allergies
      * appropriate choices (cupcakes or cookies–good, ice cream–bad)
      * whole class invited, or all girls / all boys invited
      * nothing that wasn’t used up during the party

      I thought it was nice and thoughtful to have had it put together.Report

  11. Avatar Will H. says:

    After a few squirts with the military-grade mace, it really shouldn’t matter.Report

  12. Avatar Creon Critic says:

    I think I like your answers at 10:28 and 6:14 best regarding the substance of the issue.

    I did just want to write to push back against the “bigger hills to die on” responses. Your question, “Is this wrong?” reminded me of a Crooked Timber post about the role of thought experiments in moral philosophy, specifically,

    So what does this tell us about what thought experiments do in moral philosophy? They never tell us how to act, even in the highly stylised and unrealistic cases that they describe. Nor do they tell us whether to be consequentialists, deontologists, or whatever (I think that distinction is trivially exhaustive because deontologist means something like “not consequentialist”). What they do is to trigger our awareness of conflicts between judgments that we previously held in combination. They alert us, in other words, to inconsistency, and prompt further argument and search for principles that do more substantive work. My sense of JQ’s scepticism about thought experiments is that he sees them as intended to be conversation stoppers. Far from it: they are intended to (or should be intended to) open up new conversations.

    And in fact your instance isn’t even the highly stylized stuff moral philosophers traffic in day-in day-out, it is a, “This happened to me. Now, dear reader, balance the competing values.” To me that’s perfectly sensible territory worth exploring. No one’s pushing anyone to die on any hills, simply asking for thoughts on a situation.Report

  13. Avatar zic says:

    After thinking about this, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not ‘right,’ meaning the best thing to have done. Remember, I’m the person who advocates for dress codes that includes ‘dresses’ to include them as an option for boys.

    But it is not wrong, either. Little kids do have gendered choices in what they like, in color, character, etc. Certainly, a lot of that’s socialized; but some is just stuff they prefer. As long as the opposing gendered choice in cupcakes is available for anyone, and as long as no kids are made to feel bad about themselves for choosing the other gender’s cupcakes, this is not wrong.

    It’s just, I dunno, quaint?Report