Book: Gender Play

Gender PlayGender Play: Girls and Boys in School
Barrie Thorne
1994 (Rutgers University Press)

Barrie Thorne studied the interactions among children at two different schools and in a few different classrooms with a focus on the gender relations. She looked at not only how boys and girls interacted when they were separate groups, but also how they interacted when they were integrated. She has a mountain of data from what seems like months of observation. She sat in class with these children, ate lunch with them and walked around on the playground with them. She had a great view of the children’s interactions and did a good job of trying to record what they did without the interference of adults, but she never loses sight of the fact that her very presence is adult interference.

This is certainly an interesting study. Thorne examines a number of theories about children’s development, particularly as concerns gender and gendered interactions, and attempts to construct her own theories on the subject. The problem is that Thorne really doesn’t want to over generalize. The biggest problems she finds in existing theories are because of over generalization of the data, and that is certainly a valid concern, but you have to simplify the data a little bit or you can’t make any logical conclusions from it. It’s very hard to create a coherent theory about anything that doesn’t simplify the data somewhat. It just doesn’t seem possible to make a theory that incorporates every piece of data and works as a useful theory.

This was a really interesting book and I highly recommend it. The data is fascinating and the anecdotes are great. It really makes you think about the way the environment kids are surrounded by might influence how they think of gender and how they think of it themselves. I wanted to go watch kids play in a park or something after reading this. It also made me think about what to pay attention to when I’m raising children of my own. I’d love to see more teachers think about these things, to be honest. This is a very interesting and thought-provoking book.

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