Title Page
 Table of Contents
 Review of the literature
 Methodology and procedure
 The social setting
 "Girls are like women"
 "Girls and women are pretty"
 "Girls are nice"
 "Boys are like men"
 "Boys games": Pretending to be...
 "Strong boys and tough boys: Boys...
 "Boys are better than girls"
 Conclusion and implications
 Biographical sketch

Group Title: sociology of gender in a kindergarten-first grade classroom
Title: The sociology of gender in a kindergarten-first grade classroom
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00097458/00001
 Material Information
Title: The sociology of gender in a kindergarten-first grade classroom
Physical Description: ix, 481 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Mendheim, Barbara Anne, 1945-
Publication Date: 1979
Copyright Date: 1979
Subject: Sex differences (Psychology)   ( lcsh )
Sex role   ( lcsh )
Social perception   ( lcsh )
Child development   ( lcsh )
Foundations of Education thesis Ph. D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Foundations of Education -- UF   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Statement of Responsibility: by Barbara A. Mendheim.
Thesis: Thesis--University of Florida.
Bibliography: Bibliography: leaves 475-480.
Additional Physical Form: Also available on World Wide Web
General Note: Typescript.
General Note: Vita.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00097458
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000097764
oclc - 06609725
notis - AAL3205


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Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Page i
        Page ii
        Page iii
    Table of Contents
        Page iv
        Page v
        Page vi
        Page vii
        Page viii
        Page ix
        Page 1
        Page 2
    Review of the literature
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
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        Page 27
        Page 28
    Methodology and procedure
        Page 29
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    The social setting
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    "Girls are like women"
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    "Girls and women are pretty"
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    "Girls are nice"
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    "Boys are like men"
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    "Boys games": Pretending to be like a man
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    "Strong boys and tough boys: Boys like us"
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    "Boys are better than girls"
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    Conclusion and implications
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    Biographical sketch
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Full Text







For Merle, my mother


To the students and teacher of the class I observed, I

extend my sincere thanks. My stay with them was educational and


Friends and teachers have given important advice and encour-

agement during the years I have worked on this dissertation,

among them the members of my doctoral committee. Lyle McAllister

encouraged me to continue to the doctoral level, and I valued his

reassurance. Rodman Webb must also be singled out for special

thanks. His unfailing sense of humor, his intellectual clarity,

and his telling me about persons who carry small rulers up their

sleeves all put me in his debt. I want especially to thank Hal

Lewis, my chairman, for his guidance and generous assistance

throughout my graduate program. He has been supportive and critical

at the right moments and is regarded as a friend.

Gayle Zahos, my sister, helped me over some rough spots, and

without her help I'd probably still be on Chapter VII. Thank you,


Susie Weiss typed the dissertation quickly and carefully

under difficult circumstances, and I appreciate her expert work.

Finally, I want to thank Carl, my companion and teacher, who

helped me live through the Dark Years and still see some light.



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS . . . . . . . .

ABSTRACT . . . . . . . . . .

* iii

. vii


I INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . .

General Objectives of the Dissertation .
The Social Setting and the Participants.
The Methodology and Collection of
Material . . . . . . . .
Definitions of Terms . . . . . .


Summary . . . . . . . .
Notes . . . . . . . . .


Introduction . . . . . ...
Participant Observation Methodology. . .
Validity of the Study . . . . .
Time Span of the Observations . . .
Collection of Material . . . . .
The Concept of Typifications . . . .
Notes . . . . . . . . .

General Information . . . . .
Notes . . . . . . . . .


Girls' Knowledge of Women . . . .
Mothers Are Women, Women Are Mothers . .
House: A "Girls' Game". . . . . .
Summary . . . . . .. . .
Notes . . . . . . . . .




What Is Pretty? . . . . .
"Pretty Girls" and "Strong Boys". .
Having a Boyfriend Meant a Girl Was
Summary . . . . . . .
Notes . . . . . . . .
VII "GIRLS ARE NICE" . . . . .

. .
. . .

"Nice Girls" and "Mean Boys" . . . .
"Nice Girls" and "Mean Girls" . . . .
"Boys Know How to Fight Better Than Girls".
Niceness, Meanness, Friendship, and Status.
Girls Hitting Boys . . . . . .
"Mean Boys" and "Nice Boys" . . . .
"Mean Boys" or "Strong Boys"? . . . .
The Ways Girls Responded When Boys Were
Mean to Them . . . . . . .
Nancy and Anne . . . . . . .
Summary . . . . . . . . .
Notes . . . . . . . . . .

VIII "BOYS ARE LIKE MEN" . . . . . .
What Are Men Like? Not Like Women . .
What Are Men Like? Men Are Tall, Big, and
Strong . . . . . . . .
What Are Men Like? Men "Do Things," Are
"Brave," and Adventurous . . . .
What Are Men Like? Men "Work" . . . .
Summary . . . . . . . . .
Notes . . . . . . . . . .

Common Elements in "Boys' Games" . .
The Development of the Outside Play as
"Boys' Games" . . . . . . .
Boys' Rules for "Boys' Games": "Playing
Right" . . . . . . . .
Girls and the Boys' Rules for "Playing
Right" . . . . . . . .
Summary . . . . . . . . .
Notes . . . . . . . . .






S. 256
S. 262

S. 263

S. 264
S. 281
S 288
S. 291

. . 302

. . 307

. . 314

. . 341
. . 346
. . 350




Criteria for Toughness: "Beating Up,"
"Winning," and "Losing" . . . . . .
Glenn and Shawn . . . . . . . . .
Summary . . . . . . . . . . .
Notes . . . . . . . . . . .


Girls and the Idea that
Girls . . . .
Anne versus Shawn . .
Summary . . . .
Notes . . . . .

Boys Were Better than


Conclusions . . . . . . . . . .
Implications . . . . . . . . .

BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . . . . .

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH . . . . . . . . .











Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate
Council of the University of Florida in Partial
Fulfillment of the Requirements for the
Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Barbara A. Mendheim

December, 1979

Chairman: Hal G. Lewis
Major Department: Foundations of Education

This dissertation is a report of a qualitative analysis of the

sociology of gender in a combination kindergarten-first grade

classroom which was part of a laboratory school affiliated with a

large university. The goals of this study were to describe what

gender meant to the children who were observed as they lived their

everyday lives within this particular social setting and to describe

how they used gender meanings to construct an intersubjectively

meaningful social world. Essentially, the purpose was to describe

the social reality of gender as the children subjectively appre-

hended it and objectively constructed it in day-to-day activity.

Participant observation and open-ended interviewing were the

methods used to collect material for analysis. The material was

gathered over a period of ten months from September 1974 to June

1975. Over 600 hours were used for observation. The situation in

the classroom was such that the 30 children were relatively free

from external constraints from adults and were consequently free

to pursue their own projects and construct their own social sys-

tem without immediate or pervasive adult intervention. Most of

the observations, then, were of children in interaction with other

children unmediated by direct adult influence.

In order to adequately represent the subjective experience of

the children a conscientious effort was made to bring as few pre-

conceptions about the nature of the phenomenon of gender as possi-

ble to the research setting, and analytical and phenomenological

categories were not used or constructed prior to the period of

observation. During the period of analysis and writing some

concepts from phenomenological sociology as developed by Alfred

Schutz became useful for understanding the meaning of the material

collected and for organizing it for presentation.

Schutz's theory of typification was especially useful.

Schutz's assumption is that knowledge of the social world is know-

ledge of its typicality and that language provides a unique

vehicle for persons to order their social experience, both as they

apprehend the meaning of events and act in the life-world. The

study was organized by reference to some of the essential typifi-

cations about gender that were shared by all the children of a

gender in the class. For girls, the essential meaning of being a

girl revolved around meanings having to do with personal related-

ness and intimacy with other people. Boys' typifications about

boys revolved around issues of power and competence in the world.

Girls' and boys' typifications about the other gender were dis-

cussed, especially in relation to their ideas about their own


Children's subjective meanings and objective social relations

were described. This study described some of the individually

held variations of meanings about gender, how children's shared

knowledge about gender was reflected in their everyday activity,

patterns of association, and status considerations, and how the

social relations which emerged were then apprehended by the

children as a validation of their essential typifications. The

study showed that the children concretely reproduced the essen-

tial forms of their typification about what same gender adults

were like, including the social distribution of knowledge and

place by gender. A central focus of the study was a description

of how gender and gender meanings were related to the social dis-

tribution of power by gender within this social setting.


General Objectives of the Dissertation

This dissertation is a report of a study in the sociology of

gender among kindergarten and first-grade children in a school

setting. The main goal of the study was to describe how the

children socially constructed gender by describing what they knew

about what it meant to be a girl or a boy, some of the ways that

externalized their knowledge in day-to-day activity, and how the

social relations and products they created and maintained through

their activity in turn influenced their ideas about gender.

The Social Setting and the Participants

The social context of the study was a combination kindergarten-

first grade self-contained classroom which was part of a laboratory

*school of a large southern university. There were 15 girls and 15

boys in the class. The social composition of the parental group

was a socioeconomic and racial mix but with a pronounced middle-

class, academic-professional majority. The children were taught by

a mature white female teacher who was occasionally assisted in a

minor capacity by other adults. In addition, the children

attended special area classes and were instructed by other teachers.

School personnel with whom the students were in daily contact had

no systematic or conscious program to modify the children's ideas


about gender. The students were allowed a great deal of unstruc-

tured time and had the freedom of movement to follow many of their

own impulses and to develop their own social reality without imme-

diate adult supervision.

The Methodology and Collection of Material

The material analyzed for this study was collected through

participant observation and open-ended interviews with each child.

The material was gathered over a period of ten months from Septem-

ber 1974 to June 1975. The general purposes of this study were

known by the teacher but not by the students.

Definitions of Terms

In this study gender refers to the psychological, cultural,

and social aspects of femaleness and maleness. Sex refers to those

aspects of femaleness and maleness that are typically designated as

biological. Gender identity refers to the sense that an individual

has that she/he is of a gender and includes a self-typification

about such an identity. Gender role refers to the expectations one

has for the self and others which are gender based or the result of

being said to be one gender and not the other. The components of

gender role are typified both in terms of types of performances and

types of actors and may include interests, activities, association,

sexual behavior, attitudes, skills, dress, and expressive modes.


This section has several interrelated goals. Some of the

most relevant research on the content of young children's ideas

about gender will be reviewed. There will be a limited considera-

tion of research on the school's role in sustaining, creating, or

changing children's ideas about gender. Finally, three studies

which are methodologically and substantively most similar to the

present study will be reviewed and discussed in order to illustrate

how this study is different from previous research on children and

gender within schools.

Sociologists and anthropologists, stimulated by the women's

liberation movement, have recently produced an important body of

theory and empirical research on gender and social organization.

However, this research has focused upon how adults, rather than

children, organize gender and how institutional structures organize

men and women rather than boys and girls. Children are taken into

account in studies of childrearing practices, and the relationship

of such practices to the reproduction of economic, political, and

social structures; but they are rarely studied as world-builders in

their own right, as persons who share knowledge about the social

world and knowingly act to create social reality.

Most research on gender that focuses on very young children's

perceptions of social reality has been by developmental


psychologists rather than by sociologists and anthropologists.

There are three main psychological theories of gender identity and

role development: psychoanalytic theory, social learning theory,
and cognitive developmental theory. Of the three, the cognitive

developmentalists, like the present author, emphasize the ideas

that children have about gender and the active role children take

in creating their reality within a gender-based context. In addi-

tion, the cognitive developmentalists often prefer open-ended

interviewing and a nonquantitative approach to more quantitative,

forced-choice methodology. Open-ended interviewing was one method

used to collect data in the present study.

Of the cognitive developmental psychologists, Lawrence

Kohlberg (1966) has provided the most comprehensive picture of

children's ideas about gender, through his own research and through

his interpretation of other studies which used more quantitative

methods. Consequently, the first part of this review will rely

heavily upon Kohlberg. It will not include, however, his complex

theoretical formulations. For this the reader is referred directly

to Kohlberg.

An assumption of most empirically based research about

children and gender is that children are either male or female and,

above a certain age, know that they are. Though some children as

young as eighteen months can correctly identify their gender, by

the age of three, three-quarters of children.can correctly label

themselves as boy-s or girls (Kohlberg, 1966; Money & Ehrhardt,

1972; Thompson, 1975). According to Kohlberg, many children of


three do not know much of what it means to be a person of a

gender. Their gender label is understood to have the same status

as their names. Most persons of three do not know that everyone

is a gendered person, that gender is dichotomous, that one's

gender does not change, or that gender is essentially assigned

because of one's genitals (Kessler & McKenna, 1978; Kohlberg,

1966). According to phenomenologically based social scientists,

children of three do not know what Harold Garfinkel has identified

as the essential adult "rules" for socially constructing gender

(Kessler & McKenna, 1978).

Because very young children are ignorant of the adult assump-

tions about the nature of gender, children have what are considered

strange ideas about gender. For example, a three-year old might

know that if a man changes from pants to a dress he changes from

being a man to being a woman. A three-year old does not know the

rule that genitals, not dress, are the essential signs for attrib-

uting gender to another or to herself/himself. Similarly, because

young children do not know that one's gender stays the same

throughout life, a child of three, or even four or older, may know

that one's sister may be a daddy when she grows up. Very young

children are unaware that women were once girls and men were once

boys or that men or women are like they, the children, are.

Children know that other children are the same, or different, gender

as they are before they know that adults of the same gender are

like they are (Kohlberg, 1966).


The empirical research by Kohlberg and others showing that

three-year olds apparently do not know the essential rules of

gender construction necessary to stabilize their gender identities

seems to be in conflict with the clinical experience and observa-

tions of John Money and his associates (Money & Ehrhardt, 1972;

Money, Hampson, & Hampson, 1955). Money clinically studied

children who, for a variety of reasons, had developed gender iden-

tities counter to the gender others attributed to them, had ambig-

uous or poorly developed gender identities, or had been assigned

at birth, intentionally or mistakenly, a gender that was counter

to some aspects of their biological statuses as males or females.

Money found that, with proper environmental, surgical, and hormonal

support at puberty, children below the age of 18 months, and as

late as three years, could successfully become either girls or

boys and grow up to be men or women regardless of their biological

status. It was the assignment of gender and commitment to it that

was essential for a child to develop the desired identity and role

behaviors necessary to socially construct herself/himself as a girl

or a boy. However, after the age of three, according to Money, it

is typically easier and better for the child's psychological and

social well-being to allow a child who has an incorrect or socially

ambiguous identity to retain the identity she/he knows herself/

himself to be instead of trying to change the child's sense of

herself/himself as a girl or a boy to fit the child's biological

makeup. Money found that after three, changing a child's body was

easier than changing her/his mind.

Money identified three as the "critical age" to reassign

gender and said that after three the child was'resistent and con-

fused and the process of reassignment is extremely problematical.

Kohlberg (1966) and Kessler and McKenna (1978) contend, however,

that children of three may not even know their gender labels and

are very likely not to know that one's gender does not change

throughout life, the rule of invariance, as well as other rules

for socially constructing a gender identity. The apparent dis-

agreement has not been resolved. It may be that after a certain

period of time it is the significant adults in a child's life who

cannot sustain the reassignment. Kessler and McKenna have sug-

gested that very young children may have some, as yet, unknown way

of perceiving differences and similarities between persons like and

unlike themselves without recourse to notions of gender or cogni-

tion and labeling. Some of the transsexuals whom they interviewed

reported that their attempts to "pass" as their newly assigned

gender are often unsuccessful with very young children while suc-

cessful with older children and adults. Kessler and McKenna sug-

gest that research into this area, and other issues about gender

differences, have been hindered by the taken-for-granted, common

sense assumptions that scientists use to investigate gender.

By the age of five, most individuals have learned to cor-

rectly attribute a gender to themselves and others (Kohlberg,

1966). The cues they use to attribute gender reveal something

of what they know about gender, though not what their knowledge

signifies to them at a meaningful level. Using forced-choice


questionnaires researchers have found that most children know

that males and females have different hair lengths and wear dif-

ferent types of clothing and they use these cues to attribute

gender. Furthermore, these cues have priority for children over

cues that are more meaningful to most adults. In one study

(Thompson & Bentler, 1971), children of four, five, and six who

were asked to determine the gender of plastic dolls when the dolls

had the hair length of one gender and the genitals of the other,

had little trouble labeling the gender of the dolls even when they

were in conflict. Most children know that women have longer hair

then men and most based their choice on hair length regardless of

the genitals. An earlier study (Katcher, 1955) also demonstrated,

by forced-choice methods, the priority for children of hair length

and clothing over genitals to determine gender. In that study,

only 51% of five-year olds could correctly identify gender by gen-

itals. Among the six-year olds, 71% correctly attributed gender

to the pictures with genitals. The study indicates that as

children age they learn that genitals, like hair length and dress,

are generalizable by gender. At that age, biological penises and

vaginas have ceased to be only concrete objects and have assumed

the status of cultural objects with social meanings having to do

with gender.

Kessler and McKenna (1978) have argued from a phenomenologic-

ally based perspective that attributing gender to oneself and

others is primary to the social construction of the reality of

gender. They write that once a gender attribution has been made in

course of a particular concrete interaction it is no longer neces-

sary for a person to continue to portray a gender for the other

person. The attributor does the rest for her/him. They write:

As a consequence of holding the natural attitude, the
attributor filters all of the actor's behaviors
through the gender attribution that was made, and the
actor's behaviors are made sense of within that con-
text. (p. 160)

Once a gender attribution is made, the dichotomization
process is set into motion. The cues involved in the
schema which led to the attribution are seen as con-
nected with a myriad of other cues which are conse-
quently also attributed to the person. (p. 161)

Once the rules for socially constructing gender have been learned

by children they tend to construct dimorphism where there was

continuity (Kessler & McKenna, 1978). Between the ages of five

and seven, almost all children have learned the adult rules for

constructing and attributing gender. At this age, most children

know that persons are either male or female; that everyone is of a

gender; that one grows up to be the same gender; and that adults

were the same gender when they were children (Kohlberg, 1966).

Research indicates that children have developmentally chang-

ing ways of viewing and interpreting perceived differences between

males and females. Using open-ended interviewing from a cognitive

developmental perspective, Ullian (1976) found that

. with increasing age, there are shifts in the
kinds of interpretations the individual gives to bio-
logical and social differences between males and
females. It is the nature of these interpretations,
rather than of the biological and social differences
per se, which shed light on the psychological
aspects of masculinity and femininity. (p. 25)


According to Ullian, children of six view differences between

males and females as based on size, strength, length of hair,

and voice characteristics and other external physical character-

istics. At this age a child knows that roles and labor are

socially distributed by gender but knows these differences are

derived from the external physical differences. At eight years

children begin to sense that gender exists somewhat independently

of external characteristics and relate, in some aspects, to role

training. Consequently, the social distribution of roles, labor,

and attitudes does not seem as compelling and inevitable as at six.

Ullian found that children often have become more aware of per-

sons' future roles within the social system. Children know that

roles in the economic and social sphere are distributed by gender

and they automatically, she says, begin to distribute the required

characteristics to members of each gender to enable them to ful-

fill their role obligations. In contrast to the tolerance of the

eight-year old, children of ten are quite rigid about conforming

to social expectations. Though the way children view and inter-

pret biological and social factors changes with age, the dichoto-

mized dimensions of power, competence, nurturance, and activity

remain stable throughout the developmental period to adulthood and

are distributed differentially by gender.

According to Kohlberg (1966), by about the age of five, six,

or seven, almost all children have learned that they are like same

gender adults. He contends that because children value things

like themselves, and because they strive for cognitive consistency

and moral and social conformity, they consciously choose behaviors

associated with the idealized adult gender type. They want to be

like same gender adults.

Researchers have found that at the age of four and five

children have some shared typified images of what men and women are

like. Using forced-choice questionnaires, Kagan and Lemkin (1960)

found that when asked direct and indirect questions about who was

"stronger,"3 more punitive, the "boss," "smarter," and of whom the

children were more afraid, a significant majority of children of

both genders answered the father rather than the mother. The ques-

tions about strength, smartness, and being the boss brought

especially high agreement among the boys that it was the father.

When asked which parent was more generous and "nicer," children of

both genders answered the mother, though agreement was not clearly

so high as upon fathers being stronger, smarter, and the boss.

Kagan and Lemkin found that almost all of the children wanted to

grow up "to be" and "to be like" the parent of her/his own gender.

Emmerich, Goldman and Shore (1971), using similar methodology,

found similar results. Hartley (1959) and Kohlberg (1966), using

open-ended interviews, found that children had similar ideas about

girls and boys as Kagan and Lemkin (1960) and Emmerich et al.

(1971) found that they had about adults.

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers have been criti-

cized for having and using stereotypical knowledge of boys/men and

girls/women. In several studies (Feshbach, 1969; Levitin &

Chananie, 1972; Loo & Wenar, 1971), teachers were asked to


describe or rate what their preschool and primary school students

were like along several dimensions. The teachers tended to rate

boys as more active, aggressive, and extroverted than girls.

According to the researchers, the teachers' ratings and descrip-

tions conflicted with systematic observation measurements which

found no gender differences in children's aggression or level of

activity. Their findings, however, are different from those

reported in other studies which found boys to be more physically

aggressive (Knudson, 1973; Spiro, 1958). A systematic observation

study of several cultures found that in each, boys were more likely

to act aggressively; girls were found to be more sociable in all

but one culture studied (Whiting, 1963).

Research based on social learning theory (Serbin, O'Leary,

Kent & Tonick, 1973) found that teachers reinforced, through posi-

tive or negative attention, aggressive behavior by boys but not

dependent behavior. For girls, teachers reinforced dependent

behavior but not aggression. The study did not report teachers'

perceptions of their behavior.

In every known society, primary responsibility for children

and essential social location, domestic or public, are distributed

or assigned by gender in an interrelated manner. Women are home

because they take care of children, men are not because they do

not. Some anthropologists and sociologists suggest that this

asymmetrical distribution of labor and place accounts for women's

powerlessness in relation to men (Chodorow, 1978; Rosaldo, 1974;

Strathern,1976). Polatnick (1973) contends that power is the

reason for the division. She argues that, for a number of reasons,

being at home with children reduces women's power relative to

men's, and that men don't rear children because of the reduced

power connected to childrearing, rather than because of a "natural"

and inevitable biological relationship between women and children.

Kohlberg (1966) has found that children of five and six, and

even younger, articulate these universal divisions of labor,

place, and power when asked open-ended questions. They know that

women are home with children and that men are outside, beyond the

home. Using a combination of interviewing and forced-choice ques-

tionnaires, researchers found similar images of men and women among

five- and eight-year old girls and boys (Hartley, 1959, 1960;

Hartley & Klein, 1959; Schlossberg & Goodman, 1972).

According to Mead (1935), the prestige values of every known

society are always attached to the activities of men and the way

men are thought to be. Women are always accorded an inferior value.

She found this to be the case despite the variability in masculine

and feminine patterns from culture to culture. Open-ended question-

ing of American children has revealed that some children as young

as four are aware of the differential prestige attached to being a

woman or a man (Kohlberg, 1966). Kohlberg suggests that children's

perception of superior male prestige sterns from young children's

attraction to adults who are perceived as competent, in control of

resources, and powerful. Children's perception of men/fathers as

more powerful and more instrumentally competent has been found by


researchers using forced-choice methodology (Kagan & Lemkin,

1960) and open-ended interviewing (Ullian, 1976).

As previously noted, both Kohlberg (1966) and Ullian (1976)

found that children know that masculine power is primarily derived

from men's larger size and strength. Kohlberg suggests that

children perceive this size difference directly, not, for instance,

because it is taught to them directly by others. Both Kohlberg and

Ullian found that children believed that size and strength mediated

other more social factors, such as occupation which children also

knew gave men power.

Schools have been accused of sustaining and even encouraging

children's knowledge about gender differences in instrumental

competence, social prestige and power, nurturance behavior, and

roles and occupations. Some critics contend that teachers behave

differently with boys and girls, depending upon typified knowledge

of what children are like rather than perceiving the child as a

unique individual. There is a body of research that supports the

contention that teachers'interaction with boys and girls is differ-

ent. For instance, one systematic observation study (Serbin et al.,

1973; Serbin & O'Leary, 1976) reported that teachers spent more

time teaching boys than girls, especially when teaching instrumental

type skills. After explaining a procedure requiring motor and

instrumental competence, for instance, using a stapler to attach

paper handles on a basket, teachers tended to patiently assist boys

as theo boys completed the task themselves. With girls, teachers

were more likely to complete the task for them rather than teach


them how to do the task themselves. One problem with assessing

the meaning of such research is that one does not know, but can

only guess, about the interaction between students and teachers.

One cannot know, for instance, whether children behaved differ-

ently toward the teacher and thus elicited such behavior. Or what

meaning the help from the teacher had for the girls, boys, and


Another gender-related aspect of what Henry (1966) called

the "hidden curriculum" of schooling is the content of children's

literature and textbooks. Analysis of textbooks and literature by

a number of researchers (Feminists on Children's Media, 1971;

Key, 1971; O'Donnell, 1973; Women on Words and Images, 1974) has

revealed that they support the images of men and boys, women and

girls, which characterize children's knowledge about gender dif-

ferences in power, occupation, role, nurturance, competence,

activity level, and sphere of operation. In addition, male char-

acters were found to outnumber female characters about three to

one or more. Some educators defend this unequal distribution of

characters with the explanation that boys won't read books about

girls and girls will read books about boys. Consequently, if

children's books aren't about boys, boys will be penalized in the

development of their reading skills. Feminist critics respond

that boys won't read books about girls because girls are portrayed

in such an uninteresting manner (Women on Words and Images, 1974).

In addition, feminists charge that the portrayals and the ratio of

male to female characters may teach girls that they are less


interesting and important persons than boys, whatever the explicit

intentions of publishers and educators in using such materials.

Schools have also been charged with perpetuating the idea

that power in public roles is a prerogative of men through the

"hidden curriculum" of the hierarchical relations of authority in

elementary schools. Examination of the issue by Johnson (1971)

showed that most school administrators are men though 80% of ele-

mentary school teachers are women and that the percentage of female

elementary principals has progressively declined from 55% in 1928

to 20% in 1973. According to feminists, this hierarchical rela-

tionship teaches and reinforces the knowledge that power and men

are associated in public roles and that women, including their

women teachers, are supposed to be less powerful and less of an

authority than men.

Despite differences in prestige attached to men and women,

girls, as well as boys, of all ages between three and 14 seem to

prefer persons of their own gender when asked about preferences

directly or through the use of projective questions. Children of

four and five were shown sets of pictures, each with a girl and a

boy, and were asked whom of each pair they would choose as a

friend. In general, children preferred same gender friends.

Children observed in schools also played more with same gender

persons (Belotti, 1976; Cadmus, 1974; Knudson, 1973). Other

researchers (Hartley et al., 1962) asked children eight to 11

years old whether they would rather have a boy or a girl baby

when they grew up and had children. To determine how children


viewed adult preferences between boys and girls the children were

also asked about a fantasized couple who wanted to adopt a child.

Those children who expressed a preference between a boy or a girl

baby preferred a baby of their own gender. Children also thought

that women would prefer girls and men would prefer boys. In this

study no questions were asked about the reasons for preferences.

Smith (1939) presented children ages eight to 14 with a list

of 33 traits which had been designated by experienced teachers as

desirable or undesirable. Children were asked to indicate whether

a trait was more like a girl or a boy. Children of all ages

assigned more positive traits to their gender than to the other,

and in general saw their gender more positively. However, with

increasing age, boys expressed a progressively lower relative

opinion of girls; girls, by contrast, increasingly expressed a

higher opinion of boys relative to themselves. By the age of 14

girls thought almost as well of boys as they did of girls.

Quantitative type research on college age men and women

found that persons of that age of both genders tend to construe

and construct reality using the assumption that what is linked to

men is better (McKee & Sherriffs, 1957). Goldberg (1968) gave

college women sets of booklets with the same six articles in six

professional fields including some traditionally associated with

women, some with men, and some with neither gender. In some book-

lets an article would have the name of a female author, in

another booklet the same article would carry the name of a man.

The college women were asked to evaluate the articles on several

criteria. The results showed that when articles had the names of

men they fared significantly better than when the same article

was presumed to be authored by women. College women perceived

men as being more competent even in areas which were traditionally

viewed as being a woman's sphere.

Findings from forced-choice research by Brown (1957) show

that the decrease in girls' relative preference for femininity

begins at age five. Kohlberg (1966) notes that this decline cor-

responds with an age-developmental perception of superior male

prestige, power and competence.

What gender means to children is revealed by their behavior

as well as by what they say. However, most of the research about

children's behavior has not been considered within an intentional

context and the question of how children themselves articulate the

meaning of their behavior has not been a specific concern of most

research. Instead, patterns of behavior are identified through

observation and are counted, by agreement within a science, as

instances of some type of behavior. Alternatively, observers enter

the field with observational instruments listing concrete behaviors

which, again by agreement within a science, are said to represent

instances of certain types of behavior. When the particular

behaviors are observed they are counted and quantified. The

research goals are to measure frequencies of behavior,not to

describe the meaning children give to their own behavior. There

may be some speculation on the part of the researcher, however, on

subjective meaning.


A study by Knudson (1973), a primatologist,4 illustrates

the latter methodology and will be described here to show how the

present study, by contrast, will focus on the meaning of the

behavior to the actor rather than on behavior per se. Knudson's

study, "Sex Differences in Dominance Behavior of Young Human

Primates," was concerned with counting the frequencies of certain

behaviors among nursery school children which she believed had to

do with dominance and submission. The results of the observations

were statistically analyzed in relation to a number of other vari-

ables such as size, age, and presence of siblings in the classroom.

Knudson found that boys were, on the average, more physically

aggressive and that girls were more verbally aggressive than boys.

She reported that boys, unlike girls, had a relatively well defined

hierarchy of dominance, and were generally more dominant than girls.

Knudson's findings were consistent with other studies that showed

that though there were average differences in aggressive behavior

*of the genders, no behavior was entirely exclusive to one gender.

He data also showed that intergender variation of dominant and

submissive behavior was more significant than intragender varia-

tion. Several conclusions may be drawn from considering these

data, but it cannot be known what the behaviors meant to the

children because their subjective meanings were not reported.

The extent to which Knudson was unconcerned with the partic-

ipants' own meanings was illustrated by an aGcount she gave of

one subject, a girl who was counted for several days as a boy.

Unlike other girls, she regularly played with boys outside and


exhibited what Knudson called "rough and tumble" play. Knudson

did not say how the girl or the other children'interpreted the

girls' behavior. Did they count her as a girl or a boy or was

gender even relevant to them? How did she perceive herself? Was

she potentially a transsexual or did she give meaning to her

behavior within the experience of a girl's identity? More gener-

ally, what did the children in the classes observed make of the

different patterns of behavior of girls and boys? Did girls and

boys interpret the meaning the same or differently? Were there

no shared gender meanings but only individually determined mean-


As a primatologist, Knudson approached human behavior with

the same methodology and in the same terms as nonhuman primate

behavior. This meant, among other things, considering behavior

independently of meanings constituted in language. The intention

of the present study is not to question the legitimacy or value

of systematic observation methodology, or Knudson's findings, but

to illustrate that a methodology which can result in a child's

being counted for several days as a member of the wrong gender

is not adequate to understanding a child's subjective meaning

within an objective context.4

There is current research on gender and children within

school settings that has used participant observation methodology,

or a similar approach, to collect material for analysis. However,

these studies have had different theoretical orientations and

purposes than this study. Three recent studies using similar

field methods to study gender will be discussed at this point to

illustrate how the central concerns of those studies are different

from present concerns.

A fundamental difference is that all three studies have

employed the conceptual framework of socialization. The primary

emphasis in socialization research is upon environmental factors

which act upon a child and to which she or he reacts. Much of

the quantitative based research previously discussed has also

used the socialization approach to ask questions about children.

The active role of the child in structuring reality is theoretic-

ally assumed by some researchers but in practice is typically

neglected or viewed as a secondary goal.5 The primary question in

most socialization based research is how do social agents--schools,

the media, parents, and other institutions--induct children into

gender roles and what are the processes of transmission? The

question is a good one but not a useful one for answering how

children construct their own social reality.

Pivnick (1974) used the socialization framework and partici-

pant observation field methods to study gender and children in a

first-grade classroom in a somewhat traditional school setting.

Pivnick wanted to determine what teacher behaviors, institutional

structures, and school materials supported or challenged what she

had previously identified as the conventional "sex-role expecta-

tions" (or gender role) for adults in adult society. She reported

that there were a few, relatively minor ways that teachers differ-

entially responded to girls and boys which reflected teacher gender


role expectations, but there were no systematic attempts to teach

gender roles directly. Teaching gender roles through school

materials was, however, a different matter. Like previous

Researchers who had investigated children's media, Pivnick found

that characters were extremely gender typed and that boy charac-

ters were by far the most notable and commanding. Pivnick noted

that there were no attempts on the part of teachers to present

alternative nontraditional views of the genders.

Pivnick did not explicate children's conceptions of gender,

nor were their ideas very often portrayed indirectly through

description of behavior. Children's talk and behavior were

usually discussed only when they were part of a teacher-child

interaction presented to illustrate the teacher's gender role

expectations and what she was doing to socialize children into

conventional roles.

Belotti (1976) used field observation methodology, as well

as material collected from observing and participating as a member

of Italian society, to answer the question posed as the title of

her book, What Are Little Girls Made of?6 Part of her discussion

concerned children's participation in games and rituals,

children's literature and toys, and the role of the school in

socializing girls and boys into their respective gender roles.

She found that most Italian nursery school teachers knowingly and

unknowingly inducted children into conventional gender roles.

Some of her findings are particularly interesting because they

demonstrate differences and similarities between American and

Italian culture in the gender area. Though not setting out to

\study children's knowledge about gender, in the process of

describing how parents, teachers, book publishers, and the mass

media socialized children, she paints a rich picture of girls and

boys. One senses something of how they gave meaning to and con-

structed their world. On the other hand, she never explicitly

states what they know in their own terms. The reader is left to

ponder whether her imaginings about children's experience reflect

their actual interpretation of their experience. In general, the

focus of the study was on how adults organized children's reality

rather than upon how children organized their own reality within

a gender-based context.

Another briefer study which utilized the methodology of

participant observation in a natural setting and the conceptual

framework of socialization was Joffe's (1971) research in a self-

consciously progressive nursery school in California. Her stated

purposes were to determine the school's role in the transmission
of gender role expectations and to determine how the children them-

selves conceived of their gender role obligations. She found that

though the school was theoretically and politically committed to

minimizing gender-typed socialization, some adults, especially

helping parents, inadvertently transmitted cues about what was

appropriate, expected behavior for the genders. Since the school

was dependent upon outside sources for children's media, the media

werefound to lag far behind the school's progressive posture about

gender roles.


Joffe implicitly retained the perspective of socialization

when she attempted to examine how children perceived gender roles.

Instead of referring children's talk and behavior to their own

conceptions of gender, Joffe referred what they said and did to

what she knew about the meaning of adult gender roles and behavior.

To illustrate, Joffe described several events where one child

rejected another's use of toys or objects by reference to gender.

"Girls only!" a girl yelled to a boy who wanted to join her on a

large structure in the playground. The boy countered, "No! Boys

only!" Joffe suggested that because the behavior of exclusion was

reciprocal it was, in her words, "meaningless." She continued,

saying, ". . one can reasonably conclude that to neither of the

contestants is there any serious belief in an essential 'male' or

'female' aspect of the structure under dispute" (p. 472). She

designated this gender-based exclusion as part of an "ideology of

control" but again related it to the experience of adults rather

than to the experiences and meanings of the children. Joffe wrote

In sum, we might look at the use of sex as an ideology
of control in childhood as a revealing caricature of
the adult world and its usage of sex categories. Like
these children, adults also invoke sex as a means of
behavior control; the crucial differences are that
among adults, the two categories are utilized in a
patterned way (some would call it male supremacy) and
both male and female adults--unlike these children--
actually behave in accordance with this ideology.
(p. 472)

From Joffe's treatment of this event we know two things. First,

what the children did and said, and second, what Joffe herself knew

about adult gender patterns of behavior and adult meanings. What


we do not know, and cannot know from her presentation and
analysis, is what the children knew about gender and what meaning

the event had for them. In the present study, such an event or

pattern of events was further analyzed to assess how it expressed

children's knowledge about gender, and constructed the concrete

reality of gender as children articulated meaning in their own

terms. To declare that such behavior is meaningless because it

does not conform to prior knowledge about adults' meanings is a

way of not taking children seriously as social constructors of

reality. It would be analogous, I think, to characterizing a

third world people's attempts to modernize along the Western

industrial model, within their own concrete cultures and societies,

as a caricature and meaningless because they had not yet become

Westernized and modernized. To observe third world persons on

television with grass skirts, outhouses, and McDonald hamburgers

does provide a mirror of sorts for Americans. But what do these

'things mean to them? Certainly they do not experience themselves

as caricatures.

McKay (1974) has suggested that children are in possession

of their own culture or succession of cultures and are competent

interpreters of their social world just as adults are competent

interpreters of their world. He has criticized researchers for

studying children using the notion of socialization. He contends

that it is an expression of the sociologist's common-sense and

taken-for-granted position in the world of everyday as an adult.

As such, socialization analyses essentially mirror the adult


sociologist's view that children are incomplete human beings for

not having yet been socialized and that adults, by contrast, are

complete. McKay complains that socialization research is "for-

ward looking" in the sense that the child is not considered on

her/his own terms but as someone in the process of becoming some-

thing else, that is, an adult, a complete human being. Children

should be approached by sociologists just as anthropologists

approach members of other cultures: on their own terms. The next

section of the dissertation will propose a framework for studying

children and gender on the children's own terms.


A review was made of some of the most relevant empirically

based research on gender and young children to describe what

researchers have found that children, especially of the ages four

through seven, know about gender. The review of the research

using methodology other than participant observation indicated

that children typify and construct gender along several dimensions.

First, by the age of seven most children know that there are two

and only two genders, that they are different from one another,

that everyone is of a gender, and that gender is invariant. Sec-

ond, children know that power, types of competencies, social loca-

tion, social function, attitudes, physical traits, and expressive

style are distributed by gender.

Some of the research on the school's role in differentiating

and typing by gender was briefly reviewed. In general, it seemed


schools and teachers tended to support children's notions about

gender, as delineated by the research on children's ideas, rather

than to change or modify them.

Three gender studies which used participant observation type

methodology were reviewed and contrasted to the present study. It

was found that these studies, representative of the genre, used

the framework of socialization to examine children and gender within

school settings. The studies tended to ignore or gloss children's

own conceptions of gender and did not seriously consider how

children constructed gender in day-to-day activity. In conclu-

sion, it seemed that no current research had the goals of the pres-

ent research: to explicate children's ideas about gender and to

demonstrate and describe how they used those ideas to construct

reality in day-to-day activity in interaction with other children

within the social setting of the school over time.


1. See especially Chodorow (1978), Rosaldo and Lamphere, eds.
(1974), Reiter, ed. (1975), and Rubin (1975) for some good
examples of the development of feminist theory and empirically
based research.

2. For a contemporary formulation of psychoanalytic theory and gen-
der development see Stoller (1968, 1975); for the classic
statement see Freud (1925). For a complete statement of
social learning theory and gender development see Mischel
(1966, 1970). See Kohlberg (1966) for a cognitive-develop-
mental analysis of the development of gender. For a phenom-
enologically based critical analysis of these positions see
Kessler and McKenna (1978). Kessler and McKenna (1978) have
made an important contribution to gender.research and feminist
theory with their recently published work, Gender: An
ethnomethodological approach, and have provid-ed the foundation
for a phenomenological theory of gender development. Unfor-
tunately, this work was not available at the time the present

study was formulated or for the bulk of the analysis and writ-
ing. It is recommended to anyone interested in gender
research, whatever their theoretical orientation. Their com-
plex analysis cannot be adequately considered within the
review of the literature for this study.

3. The quotation marks signify the exact phrases or terms used by
the researchers in their questionnaires rather than phrases
or terms introduced by children.

4. For a feminist reinterpretation of primate studies see
Leibowitz (1975).

5. Some of the research of Hartley (1959) is a notable example of
a balanced approach where the views of the children are taken
into account. See especially Hartley (1959).

6. Belotti's (1976) book is especially notable for its implicit
male bias and value system for assessing the meaning of little
girls' behavior. If the girls are typical girls she expresses
contempt for them. Belotti also expresses class-based contempt
for women Italian nursery school teachers who, according to her,
are usually from the lower classes.



The goals of this study were to describe what gender meant

to the subjects of the study as they lived their everyday lives

within this particular social setting and to describe how they used

gender meanings to construct an intersubjectively meaningful

social world. Essentially, the purpose was to describe the social

reality of gender as the children subjectively apprehended it and

objectively constructed it in day-to-day activity. The method of

inquiry best suited to realize these phenomenological goals was the

method called participant observation. This section will discuss

participant observation methodology and the criteria for the valid-

ity of the study. It will then discuss the actual collection of

material for the study.

Participant Observation Methodology

As used for this research, participant observationI is a

term that refers to the "circumstances of being in or around an

ongoing social setting for the purpose of making a qualitative

analysis of that setting" (Lofland, 1971, p. 93). It is an

attempt to be close to and study the people who live in that

setting in order to understand their meanings and lived experi-

ence by observing them over time and recording their activities

and utterances as they naturally go about their everyday lives.



A central requirement for understanding the subjective mean-

ings of the subjects of a study is that the participant observer

enter the natural setting with as few preconceptions about the

nature of the phenomena to be observed and described as possible.

Zaner (1973) writes

To seek to understand the social world as it is for
those whose social world it is is possible only if
one practices the systematic art of listening to them
in their own terms and attends to the "social world"
they construct for themselves. "Listening" as I
intend it here, is no mere fetish, but requires the
careful construction of devices--models and ideal
types, analysis of common vernaculars, study of the
multiple forms of expression .--by which an
attuneful and appreciative "seeing" of social worlds
can alone occur, one which is adequate and faithful
to the "things themselves" in their own proper set-
tings. (pp. 41-42)

The construction of analytical and phenomenological categories must

emerge during the observation and analysis, and not prior to it, to

adequately represent the subjective experience of those studied.

Lofland (1971) describes the commitment of one doing phenomenologi-

cal inquiry as a commitment to "represent the participants in their

own terms" and, therefore, it is necessarily a process of dis-

covery, a process of learning what is happening while one is

engaged in the world of the subjects. He writes that "one must

find out about those terms rather than impose upon them a precon-

ceived or outsider's scheme of what they are about" (p. 41). The

participant observer must approach phenomenon in a manner which

allows it to appear to her/him as it is in itself prior to any

theoretical interpretation of it.

Lofland (1971) characterizes the role of the participant

observer as that of a reporter who has "taken the role of the

other" and who,by the depiction and presentation of what life is

like for her/his subjects, allows the readers to at least par-

tially project themselves into the point of view of those who have

been depicted. He writes

. the reporter should have himself been close to
the people he reports on. By the term "close" I
refer to four types of proximity. (1) He should
have been close in the physical sense of conducting
his own life in face-to-face proximity to the per-
sons he tells about. (2) This physical proximity
should have extended over some significant period of
time and variety of circumstances. (3) The reporter
should have developed closeness in the social sense
of intimacy and confidentiality. . (4) He should
have conducted his recording activities in such a way
that his reportage can give close and searching atten-
tion to minute matters. He should have paid atten-
tion to the minutiae of daily life.

Lofland lists several requirements for the report itself.

The report should be truthful. It should describe
what the reporter in good faith believes actually
went on; it should be factual.

The report should contain a significant amount of
pure description of action, people, activities, and
the like.

Fully to capture the reality of a place, the report
should contain direct quotations from the partici-
pants as they speak and/or from whatever they write
down. (pp. 3-4)

The primary goal of the participant observer is a descrip-

tion of the characteristics of a phenomenon rather than an analysis

of causes or consequences. Berger and Luckma.nn (1967) make this

clear when they write

The phenomenological analysis of everyday life, or
rather of the subjective experience of everyday life,
refrains from any causal or generic hypotheses, as
well as from assertions about the ontological status
of the phenomena analyzed. It is important to remem-
ber this. Conmon sense contains innumerable pre- and
quasi-scientific interpretations about everyday real-
ity, which it takes for granted. If we are to describe
the reality of common sense we must refer to these
interpretations, just as we must take account of its
taken-for-granted character--but we must do so within
phenomenological brackets. (p. 20)

"Bracketing" refers to the technique of suspending the belief in

the constancy and independent existences of phenomena by treating

our own taken-for-granted assumptions as beliefs rather than as

inmmutable reality. By bracketing questions and assumptions about

the origin and ontological status of phenomena, an observer may

better explicate how the subjects themselves ongoingly construct

and, perhaps, articulate notions of causality. In this study,

unless the antecedents of some aspect of the phenomena of gender

were present and apprehended by the observer, the cause of the

aspect was not considered or, if considered, will be clearly iden-

tified as conjecture.

Analysis primarily takes the form of an ordering of the sub-

ject's categories for understanding and constructing the social

world. The task of the observer, then, is to engage herself/him-

self in the world of the subjects while at the same time maintain-

ing the stance of a disinterested observer who, being disinterested,

can render an explicit objective account2 of the manner in which the

subjects themselves structure, order, and account for their experi-

ence, regardless of the ultimate validity or invalidity of the


knowledge upon which such ordering is based (Berger & Luckmann,

1967). The point in the present study was to tell how it was for

the subjects. What did the subjects know and what did they do,

considered from the perspective of gender?

A participant observer basically has three sources of

material available to develop this description of the subjects'

world. First, the researcher has face-to-face access to the con-

versations and acts of the subjects as they live in their natural

attitude of everyday reality, an attitude which the observer seeks

to leave undisturbed by her/his presence. By observing the sub-

jects over an extended period of time the researcher may determine

the typical individual and shared meanings subjects use to define,

interpret, and apprehend the people, objects, and events within

their concrete social setting. By carefully examining the material

collected, the researcher should be able to describe the explicit

and implicit motivational and explanatory schemes that recur over

time and that seem to be essential and central to the subjects'

production of their meaningful social order as they daily construct


The researcher also has access to the objects which the sub-

jects produce in the form of written documents, arts and crafts,

tools, toys, and so on. The participant researcher should become

aware of subjects' shared meanings expressed within and by the use

of such objects.

Finally, the participant observer must also utilize her/his

own experience as a person who lives in the world as well as


studies the world. Part of the task of the observer is to critic-

ally reflect upon the nature of the observed phenomena as it

appears in her/his own consciousness.3 The observer must explicitly

recognize that she/he perceives the social world in terms of humanly

constructed meaningful patterns and not as meaningless sense per-

ceptions. This recognition must occur not simply to guard against

bias and projection but must occur as a recognition of what

actually occurs during sociological work. The sociologist as

observer inevitably employs her/his own meanings as a resource

shared with participants in order to make sense of their acts and

conversations. Turner (1974) makes this point when he writes that

. . the task of the sociologist in analysing naturally occurring

scenes is not to deny his competence in making sense of activity

but to explicate it" (p. 214). The ultimate goal of the observer

is to describe the life-world of the subjects and not to render an

account of her/his own experience. In practice, the analysis and

description depend upon reflection on the content and assumptions

which structure one's own consciousness of the phenomena. The ren-

dering of the other's world depends upon self-understanding on one's

own life-worldly experience.

Participant observation methodology has been used extensively

by sociologists for qualitative analysis of natural settings, but

the methodology has not been used extensively for studying the

setting of the school. In those school-based studies that have

employed the methodology of participant observation the goals and

theoretical assumptions of the research have been different from the

present goals and assumptions. In general, such research has

intended less phenomenological goals. Three studies that used par-

ticipant observation methodology to study aspects of gender within

a school setting were previously discussed in Chapter II.

Validity of the Study

Phenomenologically based studies using the methodology of

participant observation have clearly different goals from studies

which employ quantitative methods of analysis. Quantitative studies

seek to provide reliable generalizations about and systematic

empirical measures of the frequencies of events. They seek to pro-

vide evidence of the causes and consequences of social phenomena.

By contrast, qualitative studies seek to be descriptive rather than

explanatory. The goals are to describe human social experience in

its own, perhaps situationally unique, humanly derived terms and

not translate experience into quantitative terms.

If the criterion for the validity of qualitative studies of

everyday life is not verifiability with other research, as it is

for quantitative studies, what are the criteria for determining

validity? Psathas (1973) identifies the "key issue" for studies of

everyday life as "whether the results of an inquiry fit, make

sense, and are true to the understanding of ordinary actors in the

everyday world" (p. 12). He proposes three "tests" to determine

the validity of such studies.

One test of the validity of investigations lies in the
extent to which the findings are faithful to and con-
sistent with the experience of those who live in that


world. Are the findings faithful representations,
descriptions, accounts, or interpretations of what
those who ordinarily live those activities would them-
selves recognize to be true? If second order con-
structs were translated back into the first order
constructs to which they refer, would the observer's
report be recognized as a valid and faithful account
of "what the activity is really like"?

A second test is whether the descriptions and accounts
of the activity would allow others--not directly know-
ledgeable as to their occurrence but sharing the same
cultural stock of knowledge--to recognize the activi-
ties if confronted with them in the life-world after
having only read or seen the account presented by the
social scientist analyst. (p. 12)

The third test suggested by Psathas is one which he describes

as more difficult and not relevant to all studies. Basically, can

the "reader" of a social scientist's report become a "player" in

the everyday world of those who ordinarily participate in that

world merely as a result of having read the report?

Lofland (1971) had a similar assessment as Psathas about the

key issue for questions of validity of studies of the everyday world

of subjects. He wrote

. the best and most stringent test of observer con-
structions is their recognizability to the participants
themselves. When participants themselves say "Yes,
that is there, I had simply never noticed it before,"
the observer can be reasonably confident that he has
tapped into extant patterns of participation. (p. 34)

Time Span of the Observations

To increase the depth and scope of my understanding of how

children understood gender and reconstructed a sense of gender in

their everyday lives, it seemed necessary that I be present for a

considerable period of time. Consequently, I observed in the

setting for over 600 hours, over a period of ten months, from the

first day of school in September until the last day of school in

June. For the first three weeks of the school year I was present

at all times while the children were at school so that I could

become aware of the attitudes and behaviors characteristic of the

students prior to their entry into this situation as well as to

observe the development of social relations from their beginning.

From the fourth week of school until school recessed for the holi-

days in December, I was present except for three afternoons a week.

On those days, I left the school one and one-half hours before the

children left for the day. When school resumed in January, I

observed continuously for another week. After that week I observed

at irregular intervals to monitor new developments. During the

last five weeks of school I was present almost continuously, either

observing or interviewing.

During the period of observation, I accompanied the children

as a single group, in small groups, or individually everywhere they

went during the school day. We went to the school cafeteria, music

class, physical education, the library, the school nurse, all over

the playground, and on short field trips. In addition, I attended

events which took place at times other than regular school hours.

For instance, I attended the elementary school Open House just

prior to the holiday recess. I also attended after school confer-

ences that the teacher had with the practicum students from the



Collection of Material

There were three concrete methods used to collect material

for analysis. By far the most important method was to observe the

children, teachers, and other actors while keeping a running

account of what was occurring in the form of written field notes.

The second most important method for collecting material was to

interview the teacher and each of the children individually, using

a format of open-ended questions. A third, quite minor method was

to have each child participate in a picture-selection task. Because

of the way each of these specific techniques was utilized, each

must be considered part of the general methodology of participant

observation rather than as separate methods. This section will

concern itself with the actual collection of the material in order

to provide an account of the research process, the usefulness of

the methodology within school settings, and an account of the gen-

eral nature of the particular setting.


Depending upon the social context and the necessities of

the research goals, the method called participant observation may

refer to a number of different behaviors, research postures, and

levels of engagement on the part of the researcher. There is,

however, an attitude which is necessary in order to use the method

properly, an attitude of nonjudgemental perception and a mental

posture of disengaged reflection. This attitude and research

posture reflect the primary assumption of qualitative research


that it is possible for the researcher to transcend her/his

common sense taken-for-granted notion of the world in order to

reflect upon and describe the social reality of others, while

being a person who lives both with and within that social reality.

This process is described in the literature in a number of ways.

One is supposed to "empty" oneself of presuppositions, to be

"open" to the phenomena, and to let the situation reveal itself in

consciousness by "seeing" instead of "thinking." By assuming this

attitude, one is able to apprehend experience at different and

deeper levels of meaning.

The successful acquisition of this attitude is typically

influenced by at least two factors. It is influenced by the emo-

tional and cognitive style familiar and habitual to the researcher

in her/his natural attitude, and by the demands for engagement

made upon the observer by other people within the research setting.

In this research, the greater problem was modifying my

habitual cognitive process. The first and most essential lesson I

had to learn as an observer was to monitor my normative judging

process and my tendency to abstract phenomena prematurely. Both

tendencies had to become conscious so that I could "see" without

knowing what I was going to see in advance, to see what was there

instead of merely seeing a reflection of my preconceptions or

abstractions. From observing I understood at a more profound

level what don Juan meant when he cautioned Carlos Castenada

(1971) to stop his "internal dialogue" and rely on his senses. My

strong tendency to abstract phenomena before "seeing" what


actually composed the phenomena constituted a serious liability for

understanding the nature of others' subjective'experience and

describing it. It necessitated a constant process of"taking apart"

my abstractions so that I might understand events better. The

process of recording events concretely and behavioristically

while in the field, rather than interpretatively, was a useful

method for monitoring this tendency.

A device developed for the practical purposes of observation

helped me to learn how to stop the judging and premature abstract-

ing process. I had been aware from the beginning of the observa-

tions that subtle and not so subtle body cues revealed to the sub-

jects any judgements I was making about their behavior. It was

immediately apparent that the children looked at my face,

especially, when they were doing something that they thought an

adult might object to. In consequence, I learned to be aware of

my face and body and the messages that I was giving to the

children. A tightened jaw, slightly raised eyebrows, raised chin,

tension ,in the shoulders, all provided messages to the children

of disapproval. Similarly, smiles provided encouragement. Obvi-

ously, if I would encounter the children as they would act with

one another beyond the presence of significant adults, these

behaviors had to be changed. When I maintained an almost totally

impassive, relaxed facial expression and loose posture my external

appearance immediately seemed to convince the.children that I was

not making either positive or negative judgements about their

behavior. However, this discipline of outward appearance became


more than a facade because it seemed that by acting neutral I

became neutral. My mental processes became congruent with my

body. I would become conscious of being better able to observe

all manner of behavior without constructing normative judgements

about it or constructing elaborate fantasies about its meaning.

And when I did make such judgements and construct such fantasies,

I became aware of it by using my body as a monitor of changed

feeling. My "open" body facilitated an open, receptive awareness.

The implicit and explicit demands of others for the researcher

observer to become actively engaged, to be a full participant, were

far less of a problem in this social context than they might have

been in another. Most importantly, I learned that young children

can be observed without one's active participation far more easily

than most adults. This will be discussed later. In addition, the

attitude of the adults who worked at the school was characterized

by openness and genuine respect for the value of research. Mrs.

Cowan, the teacher whose class I observed, was particularly sup-

portive of my role as a researcher.

However, the fact remained that when I entered the classroom

my role and situation were somewhat ambiguous and the level at which

I would be actively engaged as a participant or disengaged as an

observer was somewhat problematic. For my part, I wanted to

observe and to take written field notes while observing. I

intended to initially limit my participation to a minimum, and only

for the research purpose of acquiring more information or clarify-

ing something that puzzled me. However, the participants, adults


and children alike, had other projects than research they were

pursuing, and oftentimes in the early period of the observations

they would seek to engage me in one way or another.

Mrs. Cowan was gracious and generous in her acceptance of

my presence. Her immediate goals, however, were not primarily

those of facilitating research; she had to organize 30 children,

of two general developmental levels, and 30 individual levels,

into a coherent social group so that learning and social develop-

ment might take place consistent with her assessment of individual

needs. This involved her being actively and continuously engaged

with 30 children who were four, five, and six years old. Though

she had the assistance of a teacher aide for two hours in the

morning until December, and the occasional assistance of parents,

for practical purposes she was alone. Neither the aide nor the

parents initiated activity on their own, but waited for specific

directives from the teacher.

During the large part of the day when neither aide nor par-

ents were available to assist in the ubiquitous details of class-

room life, the teacher wanted and needed some help and quite nat-

urally saw me as being a potential source of assistance. There I

was: an adult female, constantly present, apparently doing nothing

but watching and writing on a note pad, and all the while about me

children were requesting paper, crayons, pencils, help, and atten-

tion. During the early part of the year the .teacher would ask me,

at what I usually experienced as inopportune times, to provide

assistance of a mundane nature, e.g., to "cut the art paper for the


children and pass it out" or for assistance which implied that I

accept responsibility for intervening among the children, e.g.,

"taking the children to music."

The need to "get along" with the teacher, and the wish to

help when possible, made such requests problematic. Because of the

extremely fluid nature of classroom life, I felt it was imperative

to continuously observe and take notes about the developing social

situation during the early phase of social organization. In addi-

tion, it seemed to me that were I not there some type of interactive

response would naturally develop, and my being there was incidental

to the natural setting. And, though I did not mind assisting at

times, I did not want to accept the role of teacher aide, for once

accepted, the role would be hard to shed. Consequently, I resisted

the more neutral, mundane requests passively. For instance, by

doing the task when specifically requested, but never volunteering,

and ending the engagement as soon as the specific concrete request

was fulfilled. Not an insensitive person, Mrs. Cowan soon under-

stood that I conceived the needs of my research to take precedence

over her needs for my assistance. Consequently, she began to modify

her requests so that she asked for assistance far less often, wait-

ing for times that she perceived me to be receptive.

The matter of my participating in classroom life as an adult

who was responsible for children and who would actively intervene

and modify their behavior was more serious an issue, and on that

score I was quite firm and forthright from the beginning. I

explained to the teacher why I did not want to assume any role which


implicitly demanded that I be responsive to the children. I

wanted the children to know that they could do'"anything" in my

presence, and that no judgement or consequence would result from

my witnessing their behavior. Therefore, with the understanding

of Mrs. Cowan, I did not perform such tasks as "leading children

to the gym for physical education," or "watching them after

lunch," until well into the observation period, after I had been

typified by the children as a harmless, and possibly socially

incompetent, adult.

Having established an observational baseline of sorts after

several weeks of observation, Mrs. Cowan and I developed an

implicit understanding about the role I would take as a partici-

pant, and to what extent I would assume responsibility in the

classroom. My sense of the agreement was that I would intervene

only in the event of an emergency, that is, when there was a real

and imminent danger for the physical safety of a child. The exact

lines of responsibility were never drawn nor was the question ever

discussed explicitly, but a satisfactory arrangement evolved in the

context of the ongoing interaction. She observed me, and, I imag-

ined, concluded that, "Yes, she won't let a child who is in the

shallow creek drown. . But will she stop a child from enter-

ing the creek in the first place?" The situation was ambiguous.

I was passive and impassive, and observed to be so in a variety of

situations in which adults would normally intervene. I stood by

and observed and took notes while children fought with one another,

even when one was clearly being hurt by a larger child; I observed


the children tearing through the halls and yelling on the way to

lunch, and continued taking notes all the while; I observed them

as they disobeyed the explicit rule of the teacher not to go down

by the creek without an adult, without taking any action other than

to follow them after a few moments to observe them and take notes.

It was the incident of the creek, I believed, that helped Mrs.

Cowan understand the sense that I had of what was her responsibility

as the teacher, and what was my responsibility as a researcher

observer. Because I had always felt my presence to be incidental

to classroom life, and because I had never explicitly or implicitly

agreed to any other definition of the situation, I felt relatively

comfortable in assuming that role.

During the later part of the observation period, when Mrs.

Cowan needed to leave the classroom and I was the only adult pres-

ent, it was enough for her to be satisfied that I agreed to remain

until she had returned. Mrs. Cowan would ask, for instance,

"Barbara, are you going to be outside after lunch?" I would answer

that I was, and she would reply, "Good. I need to go to the rest-


Agreeing that I was going to be outside observing after

lunch was not the same thing, I felt, as agreeing that I was respon-

sible for the children other than the way any adult would be con-

sidered to be responsible for children in her presence. Fortun-

ately, a situation never developed which constituted an emergency.

I did intervene for reasons of safety twice, though the situations

had not yet fully developed into imminent danger when I acted.6


Importantly, Mrs. Cowan had a reliable sense of the limitations

and restrictions that children placed upon themselves in terms of

safety and hurting others. Apparently she had developed it from

years of teaching. She seemed to have the ability to determine

whether there were children in a group who would cross the boun-

dary from hurting others to doing serious damage to others or them-

selves. In this group there were no children who did not have a

good deal of self-control about safety.

The ethical question of my being an adult who did not act

but only observed children was more problematic in relation to

the children. As I have said, my research needs as I saw them at

the beginning of the observations were to establish myself as a

person whose presence did not essentially concern the participants.

In relation to the children, the task was a relatively easy one.

I quickly learned that one may ignore the requests and questions

of children, requests which are ubiquitous and unceasing within

such a context if one acknowledges them; I would simply look at

them impassively as though I did not comprehend the meaning of

their behavior nor understand the normative values which usually

attach to such behavior. This was relatively easy as I had never

angag(d them, even in mundane ways. In this context, the children

did not get angry when I did not respond to their requests or

questions, even by acknowledging them. They did not try to hide

their behavior from me.7 After the first day or so, they were

apparently not self-conscious about my presence and were willing

to do all types of things in my presence, from lying to other


adults and beating up other children, to expressing joy and affec-

tion to one another.

Initially, I was surprised to the point of being thrilled that

I could be in the presence of other humans in face-to-face interac-

tion without having any responsibility to act or be socially compe-

tent in more than a rudimentary way. After a time, the situation

became more ethically problematic for me. I began to feel a sense

of complicity in the ubiquitous acts of violence, as though my pres-

ence as an adult who did not act in the face of such violence served

to affirm its legitimacy, or served to increase the feelings of

helplessness of a child who was being hurt. During the earliest

period of the observations, a child who was being attacked would

appeal to me and the aggressor would hesitate to continue the attack.

After a short period of time, however, it became common for an

aggressor to tell another that it was useless to appeal to me. As

Wanda put it when she was hitting a smaller child, who unsuccess-

fully sought my help, "Don't do no good to tell her you stupid black

ass. She ain't gonna do nothing' to help you." Comments of that

sort were somewhat unsettling. Even as I continued my observation

and note taking, I began to speculate on what manner of statement

my passive presence made to the children. I never satisfactorily

answered that question for myself, but continued observing and tak-

ing notes without intervening.

I came to be known by the children, who did not usually remem-

ber my name, as "the girl who writes all the time." Unlike the

teacher, the children were never told what I was doing in the


classroom and some occasionally asked me what my purpose was. Unlike

the first-grade children Cadmus (1974) observed in a more structured,

teacher-directed setting, many of the children I observed were never

satisfied with my answers to their questions about what I was doing

in the classroom and why I wrote all the time. Using Cadmus' sug-

gestions, I initially answered, "Writing down a few ideas." Such an

answer was often followed by another question such as, "What ideas?"

Shelley, the most persistent questioner, tried to get me to give a

phenomenological report of what I was doing and what my intentions

were. After several attempts at penetrating my obscure answers the

following interaction occurred:

Shelley: "What are you doing?"

Observer: "Writing down some ideas."

Shelley: (Exasperated) "Ideas about what?"

Observer: "The phenomenological reality of gender."

Shelley shakes her head, thinks a moment, and then, pointing
to the handwriting on the page says, "What do these ideas
say? Read the words to me." (Emphasis hers.)

Observer: "Excuse me now."

Shelley: "Are you writing about us?"

Observer: "I write about everything I see."

If I had it to do again, I would, at the beginning of the

observations, tell the entire group in simple, understandable terms,

what I was doing in the classroom. A truthful, forthright answer

would not have changed their behavior in any significant way. The


crucial point in observing was that I did not judge them or inter-


The children's typification of me as a person who did not "do

anything" was obviously useful for observing. I was able to take

notes and watch them without having any significant impact on the

life-world, and without having to constantly monitor the impact of

my own participation and involvement. In combination with the rela-

tively unstructured and unrestricted nature of the classroom, I was

able to observe 30 children beyond the presence of significant

adults, and,thus, to observe a child directed and constructed mean-

ingful social world as it was being constructed and maintained.

Observing the various adults was more problematic.8 Unlike

the children, none of the adults thought that I was unaware of the

meaning of their behavior. With adults, a different stance had to

be taken, one which was generally friendly if somewhat formal.

Initially, the teacher was somewhat apprehensive about my

presence in the classroom, especially as she felt a bit anxious,

"rusty" was her word,about her teaching this year. I could easily

observe the teacher without influencing her behavior when I observed

her indirectly, from a distance, or while she was in a formally

structured situation, as when she was working with the entire group.

Over the long run, her public utterances and behavior were largely

spontaneous and uninfluenced by my presence.

However, it was difficult to observe her closely when she was

interacting with a single child during individualized instruction.

In order to hear her soft voice I had to sit right next to her and

the child, especially as there was always a good deal of sound from

the rest of the class. Many people tend to feel uncomfortable when

one observes them and despite the fact that Mrs. Cowan was accus-

tomed to being observed as a laboratory school teacher she felt

uncomfortable. Almost invariably she would stiffen a bit, and then

deal with her uneasiness by trying to incorporate me into the role

of assistant teacher thereby reducing the threatening aspects of my

role as observer and researcher. She would try to get me to become

a full participant in one way or another, usually by requesting

that I take over the job she was doing. For instance, if a child

was reading to her she would ask, "Would you read to Barbara?" I

would then end up listening to a child while she left to teach


Because the results of such observations were generally unsat-

isfactory, and accessible only by indirect means, I did not observe

such intimate, one-to-one encounters very often. In essence, Mrs.

Cowan had effectively modified an aspect of my behavior which had

made her more uncomfortable than she wanted to be. However, I did

observe the teacher's public behavior toward children so I was able

to see what other participants saw, and to assess the meaning which

they attached to her statements and behavior.

Ques tionirg and Interviewing

The research posture I assumed during the first period of

observation was not entirely passive and unresponsive to the sub-

jects. During this first three months, my research-as-zombie


period, I would occasionally ask a child about the meaning of an

event. The questions were generally asked in simple informational

terms such as, "When you said __ to that boy, what did you mean?"

Or, "Why do you think that started crying when ___ said

that?", and so on. The purpose of asking questions was to clarify

some matter usually having to do with motivation. Asking questions

often provided immediate clarity but there were pitfalls involved.

By asking questions I once or twice ended an event before it had had

a chance to fully develop. More importantly, by asking questions,

I sometimes tended to abort my own reflective process. Instead of

reflecting upon my own puzzlement or confusion and trying to deter-

mine what assumptions or categories I was using to understand mean-

ing, and thereby possibly reveal categories that the others were

also using, I sought immediate clarity. The most important of these

times was when I could not determine a child's gender. On the other

hand, there were times questions should have been asked when they

were not, and opportunities for clarity were lost. From experience

I learned that essential themes were recurring and if I observed

carefully, the significant aspects of the situation would be revealed.

This was a highly individual matter, however, and another researcher

might benefit from more, rather than less, questioning.

Systematic and structured ways of questioning were not used

until well into the observations in late December when the first

picture selection task was given. There were several reasons for

the late date of structured questioning. First, I had found that

my questioning tended to make some children shy of acting around me


immediately afterwards, and caused others to orient themselves to

me. I found the role of nonparticipant observer to be useful and

enjoyable and I did not want to change this role relationship

with the children. Second, I wanted the questions developed for

the interviews to have emerged during the process of observing

rather than from any prior categories and conceptualizations.

Third, I wanted to consider the responses and answers within the

context of what I had learned from observing over an extended

period of time. I wanted to know what the children did and said

with each other before I considered what they said to an adult.

At the end of the year each child was asked these predeter-

mined, open-ended questions during a long and short interview ses-


Long Interview Questions

1. What is your mother's occupation or job?
2. What is your father's occupation or job?
3. What do you want to do or be when you grow up?
4. Do you like school? What activities do you like the
best? The least?
5. When you play, what do you like to play the most?
The least?
6. Whom do you like to play with the most? Why? The
least? Why?
7. Some people are boys and some people are girls. How
are boys and girls the same?
8. How are boys and girls different from one another?
9. What can girls do?
10. What can boys do?
11. What can men do?
12. What can women do?
13. Do girls have fun? Do boys have fun? Who has more fun?
14. If you were grown up and were going to have a baby,
would you want a girl baby or a boy baby? Why?
15. Who do you think should be the boss or make most of the
decisions in your family? Why?


16. Do you know what power is? What is it?
17. Who has power in the class?
18. Who has power in your family?
19. How does a person get power?
20. If you could have a man teacher or a woman teacher next
year which would you choose? Why?

Short Interview Questions

1. Which boy in the class is most like a boy? Why?
2. Which boy in the class is most like a girl? Why?
3. Which girl in the class is most like a girl? Why?
4. Which girl in the class is most like a boy? Why?

The general purpose of the interviews was to understand how

the children, when asked directly, would articulate the categories

which they used to understand, interpret, and construct the world

in terms of gender. Also sought was knowledge about relationships

and patterns of activity which might have to do with gender, such

as friendship or status. Both the content of their typifications

and their typifying process were of interest. Another purpose was

to consider their meanings within the context of what had been

observed over several months. Though some questions, such as the

obligatory "What are you going to do or be when you grow up?" car-

ried the stamp of habitualized adult-child interaction (some

children sighed when I asked this question) most of the questions

were developed from research concerns and puzzlements which

emerged during observation.

Because of unforeseen circumstances and demands upon the

time of the children, much less time was used for the interviews

than had been planned. This was especially the case for the

shorter interview which was carried out almost on a hit-and-run

basis right in the middle of hectic classroom activity. The long


interview was conducted over a period of several days during the

next to last week of school. The short interview took place dur-

ing the last two days of school. Unfortunately, lack of time did

not allow every child to participate in the short interview.

Because of the qualitative nature of the research process, and the

fact that the interviews were fundamentally supplemental, this

lack of completion did not substantially detract from the value of

the material gathered.

The procedure used for the interviews was simple. For the

long interview each child was asked to come into the small room

adjoining the classroom and asked if she or he was willing to

answer a few questions. For most of the students the interviews

were conducted individually and outside the presence of other stu-

dents. I wanted the ideas of each child uninfluenced by others in

an immediate sense, and I wanted the less active, less articulate

children to have a chance to give voice to their view of the world.

There were some exceptions to the rule of individual interviews.

Anne, Karen, and Victoria wanted to be interviewed together and I

agreed. Each of the three was asked each of the questions in turn,

but they were allowed to interact with one another during the pro-

cedure. Because of special circumstances, Michael had to be ques-

tioned within the classroom proper while others were about. He

was interviewed while Shawn, who had already been questioned, was

present. Shawn was encouraged not to dominate but was allowed to

comment. In both of these atypical cases it was decided that the

interaction during the questioning was as instructive and as


important for analysis as the solitude of other interview situa-

tions. In fact, some especially valuable material was gathered

during these two interviews.

The shorter interviews were all conducted with other children

around, though each child was questioned individually. During the

short interviews other children would sometimes listen to the

answers being given, would inadvertently provide a stimulus to the

child being questioned which influenced her/his answer, or would

even coach the interviewee as to what answers to give. Though this

was not ideal, nor what had been planned, the answers of the inter-

viewee, as well as the comments and responses of other children,

were quite useful for understanding what gender meant to them.

A relatively noninterventionist posture was taken by the

observer for the interviews. Several guidelines were fairly rigor-

ously observed. First, the same nonjudgemental attitude used for

the observations was achieved during the interviews. The child was

asked a question and the response was accepted and written down,

verbatim when possible, or in its essence. Answers which con-

sisted of shrugs and terse statements, such as "I don't know," were

accepted, though the question was repeated to give the child

another chance for comprehending a meaning. However, no additional

explanations of a meaning were provided, either in the form of

suggesting examples or by explicating a concept by using different

categories to explain meaning. Either a child understood and con-

structed a meaning or she/he did not. The reason for this rigid

approach had to do with the purpose of the interviews. The purpose


was to have the child provide the explanatory concepts and cate-

gories and to articulate the elements of a concept rather than to

have the child respond to observer constructed typifications

other than those structured by the questions themselves.

Had the interviews been the primary source of material this

approach would not have been acceptable, and it would have been

necessary to follow through more thoroughly. But because the

interviews were fundamentally supplemental to the observations the

responses were acceptable without further elaboration.

There are no problems with the validity of the content of

the questions, their structure, the order they were asked, the

answers, or the particularities of the interview situation, given

the conceptual framework of the study and the reflective tools of

analysis. In essence, the answers to the questions, within the

context of the interview situation, have essentially the same

status for purposes of analysis as the material gathered through

observation. In fact, the interview should be considered as face-

to-face interaction and a subject of analysis as interaction,

though it intimately involved the researcher. This approach was

consistent with the methodological framework of the study.

The interview material was considered in terms of the moti-

vation and meaning the interview in its totalitL had for the child,

including at times the fact that another child was coaching from

the sidelines. All of the answers and responses have the same

status and validity, though some answers were more useful and pro-

vided more insight than others. When a child gave an answer which


seemingly parroted an adult axiom, but acted in a contradictory

fashion during the face-to-face of everyday, the answer was as

useful as when a child gave what appeared to be a completely spon-

taneous answer. When a child gave an answer which was clearly

related to a stimulus in the immediate environment, including the

gender of the observer, the response was useful in terms of under-

standing the process of typification and of social maintenance of

social knowledge. For instance, when a boy made a negative remark

about girls during an interview and suddenly realized that the

observer was a girl his response at that point was material for

analysis. The research question was, What did the answer mean

within the social context?, rather than in terms of a more isolated

, and abstract conception of knowledge. Subjective meaning is social

meaning and social events, whatever their nature, were material for

analysis. Given the assumptions of the process of analysis and

the criteria for validity there are few relevant questions about

the validity of any material. This is not the same thing, of

course, as questions about the validity of the results of the


Picture Selection Task

A minor source of material used for the study was the

responses given by children during a picture selection task.

The purpose of the task was to get material on friendship selec-

tion, status, and perception of teacher preference among students.

It was given twice, once just before the holiday recess in


December and once again in March. The procedure used was to invite

one child into the small room where snapshots of every individual

member of the class were randomly arranged on a table. The child

was given a few moments to look at the pictures and then was asked

to perform one of two tasks, and then the remaining task. After

the first task was completed the pictures were shuffled and ran-

domly arranged on the table for the next task. The instructions

for the tasks were:

1. Choose the picture of the person whom you'd like to
be your best friend, the person that you like the most.

2. Pretend you are the teacher, Mrs. Cowan. Select the
child that you think is the best student in the class,
the one you think that Mrs. Cowan likes the best.

After choosing a picture the child was asked to choose

another, "Of the ones that are left, choose . .," until all of

the pictures had been chosen. When a child did not want to finish

the tasks, for whatever reasons, I insisted that she/he finish. I

recorded her/his objections to finishing, recorded any remarks made

at the time, and noted where she/he wanted to stop. All of the

choices and their order were recorded as well as other significant

remarks and behaviors. It was clear that no child had difficulty

understanding what was being asked of her/him. All the children

were initially eager to do the tasks though some did not want to

continue to make selections for various reasons. No child asked

why the task was being given. Only one child, during the second

task, showed any concern about the answers given by another

child.10 At no time did any child show concern that other children


would learn of the answers she/he gave. I do not know whether the

children talked about their answers among themselves. I never

observed any to mention the tasks to others.

There was a difference in the attitude of most children

toward the teacher-task and the child-task, a difference that

persisted regardless of the order in which the tasks were given.

The children were generally uninterested in pretending to be the

teacher. The lack of interest in the teacher preference task was

not surprising as it had become apparent during the observations

that the teacher did not generally show a significant preference

for individual children, and had, for a variety of reasons,

assumed a role that resulted in children not having much tension

about her opinions. Consequently, the teacher-task was given only

during the first session.

Occasionally, after a child had finished making her/his selec-

tions I made an observation about the choices which had been made

*and recorded any responses the child gave to my observation.

Where my comments were the stimulus for a child's remark, as

opposed to when comments were spontaneously offered by a child, it

is noted in the analysis. Most often, primarily because of a lack

of time or perceived interest on the part of the child, I did not

comment on the choices after they were made, but simply dismissed

the child and thanked her/him for performing the task.

No quantitative analysis was performed on the material col-

lected and none would have been useful to the purpose of this study.

Such an analysis would have been a different type of study than the


one made. I did use some simple arithmetic to consider some of

the picture-selection task material, e.g., ten'girls selected a

certain boy in their top ten selections, but all such counting

was considered in the context of the observations and was used to

illustrate a point made through the observations rather than to

make a point in itself. In fact, given the casual nature of the

procedure, the loose structure of the questions, and the complex

nature of the phenomena, a quantitative analysis would have been

either meaningless or false in its meaning. Like the interview

questions, the task selection must be considered as "soft" data,

as conversation, in fact, and should not be thought of as representing

any more objective type of material. It might even be argued that

the most meaningful and useful part of the material was the spon-

taneous comments and body behavior of the children as they did the


The Concept of Typifications

During the period of analysis and writing some concepts from

phenomenological sociology as primarily developed by Alfred Schutz

(1970; Schutz & Luckmann, 1973) beeete-useful for understanding

the meaning of the material collected and for organizing it for

presentation. The most important of these concepts was that of

typifications or typicality constructs. Shutz's concept of typifi-

cation is a complex one and only a few of the more important points

relevant and necessary for the present study will be briefly dis-

cussed here.

According to Schutz, an individual's common sense knowledge

of the world is a system of constructs about its typicality, and

the meaning a person gives to the world is constructed by refer-

ring to her/his current typifications, the totality of which con-

stitutes her/his stock of knowledge at hand. Typifications are

structured in consciousness through language, and language pro-

vides a vehicle so that complex phenomena can be apprehended

simply and immediately in their typified, subjectively essential

aspects. Whether in face-to-face interaction or in more anonymous

social time and space, aspects of persons, objects, and situations

are understood by reference to typicality constructs which are

structured in an individual's current stock of knowledge and not

by reference to the unique and complete phenomenon prior to typi-

fication. Typifications allow us to act in the world without con-

tinually reassessing all of our sense data and we develop recipes-

for-acting which are apprehended as appropriate to situations. An

individual comes to a situation with her/his current stock of know-

ledge and engages in the process of typifying various aspects of

a situation while living it. The typifications in an individual's

stock of knowledge, some of which are contradictory, which become

relevant at a particular time depend upon the social context and

her/his current projects and motives. Knowledge is always con-

textual and each of us has many sets of typifications of other

types of people as well as typifications of the self. The deter-

mination of which specific typification will emerge depends upon

what is understood to be relevant at that particular time in that


concrete setting. It is the immediate interests and projects one

has which determines which aspects of a situation or person will be

typified and brought to awareness and which aspects will be

ignored. Another point is that there are reciprocal typifications

among people. One is subject to the typifications another has of

one and one tends to refer one's actions not only to one's idea

about oneself but also to the ideas one imagines or knows that

others have about one. A person's knowledge of the social world is

inherently interactive and social and constructs about the meaning

of the world are constructed in relation to and with others.

Another characteristic of typifications, or elements within one's

stock of knowledge at hand, is that they are changed only to the

extent necessary to act in the world, changed only to the extent

necessary to explain or act in problematic situations. Typifica-

tions are tenacious and because one's typicality constructs do not

fit a particular situation one does not abandon them but merely

modifies them to account for problematic aspects.

The material collected in this study has been organized by

referring to some of the children's essential and core typifica-

tions about gender as they were structured in their language and

which were the foundation for their acting as gendered persons in

a gendered social world. They were the primary typifications

about gender which children used in this concrete social setting.

In another context, for instance, at home with their parents or

under the close supervision of other adults, these typifications

would, it is believed, remain as central ideas about gender but


would have been given different expression because, as stated

before, the process of typifying is interactive, contextual, and

reciprocal. This study will describe those typifications which

children shared about gender which were most relevant to them as

they lived in this context with 29 other children with little

direct supervision or control by adults.

Some clarifying remarks need to be made before proceeding

with the presentation of the material. First, the description

of what the children knew about gender and what they did in rela-

tion to what they knew neither exhausts their knowledge nor their

activities. The purpose here is to explicate the essential shared

elements of knowledge and types of behavior children themselves

connected to being of a gender, and not to describe how gendered

persons behaved in general. Some children seemed more complex than

others; some exhibited what I would call, in my natural attitude,

depth of character; none seemed shallow. All approached their

world with relatively complex motivation and a variety of projects,

only some of which had to do directly with their knowledge about

gender. Very little of their complexity will be evident from the


On the other hand, the reader should also keep in mind the

phenomenological fact that these children did live in their world

as gendered persons and that being of one gender and not the other

was central to their experience. Similarly,-children attributed

gender to others in all instances of social contact. To my know-

ledge, no child ever acted in a situation without knowledge of the


other's gender. The one instance when a stranger's gender was

ambiguous and attributing gender was problematic, the student,

like the observer, seemed to want to know the other's gender.

Gender was important because social meaning was mediated by ref-

erence to gender and, specifically, in reference to the essential

elements of knowledge about gender which will be explicated here.

As Kessler and McKenna (1978) said,""The attributor filters all

of the actor's behaviors through the gender attribution that was

made, and all the actor's behaviors are made sense of within that

context" (p. 160).y The reader should understand, then, that

children approached each situation and each person while implicitly,

if not explicitly, understanding gender as a relevant category.

Finally, with one exception, all the statements or phrases

that are enclosed within quotation marks were statements or phrases

made and used by one or more children. The exception is the phrase

"everybody knows," a phrase used to suggest a sense of something

being common knowledge rather than it necessarily being a literal

fact. Statements enclosed within apostrophes indicate a general

sense of individual or group meaning but do not signify statements

actually made by participants.


1. The methodology to be described here is called, variously,
the participant observation, participant-as-observer, field
research, qualitative observation, and field observation.
Participant observation is a term currently employed by many
social scientists. It best suggests, I think, the phenomen-
ological fact that the observer is part of the world at the
same time she/he studies the world.

2. "A person who accepts the role of observer remains outside the
ongoing interaction which constitutes the we-relationship on
hand. . If the observer is a genuine observer, he remains
detached, takes no sides, has no stake in the outcome of the
ongoing interactive process. Thus, he must be considered
objective by definition. Because for [Alfred] Schutz, the
objective point of view is simply the point of view, the per-
spective, of the uninvolved observer." (Wagner, 1970, p. 35)

3. As Henning (1976) points out, it is when utilizing her/his
own experience as a source of data that the participant
observer is methodologically closest to phenomenologists and
phenomenological sociologists.

4. For a sample of such research, as well as a guide to doing
qualitative research, see Lofland (1971).

5. For examples of the use of participant observation methodology
within school settings see Eddy (1967, 1969), Jackson (1968),
Henry (1966), and Cadmus (1974).

6. I stopped what was playful rock throwing, at one another, by
some boys. I intervened when Wanda and Myra had Shelley on
top of the jungle gym, terrified because the two girls were
sadistically rocking the structure back and forth and threat-
ening to topple it over with Shelley on it. After a few min-
utes of Shelley's terror, and the two girls' pleasure, I chose
to end the event, though it was clear that Wanda and Myra were
making threats without the intentions of following through.

7. After the first two days of observation, I observed children
to actively seek privacy from me only once, when Michael and
Shawn were fighting with Nancy. Later the two boys were
expressing their hostility in a conversation. Shawn started
suggesting that Nancy had a sexual relationship of a violent
nature with her father, who sometimes came to class to observe.
When Michael noticed that I was listening, he became embar-
rassed and cautioned Shawn to hide the sexual drawing he was

Most conversations about nonromantic sex also tended to
include a touch of violence. Violence without sex was never
hidden from me. Of the girls, only Wanda 'linked sex and

8. I did not fully appreciate the difference between observing
adults and children until the night of the Open House. Before
the holiday recess the elementary school had an Ooen House to
which parents were invited. In the classroom itself I was
cordial and assumed the role of helper to the teacher. I sus-
pended my role as researcher observer, at least to the extent
of taking notes. I had decided that it would be impolite of
me to take notes around parents and impolite to observe closely
without participating, even though the children were there too.
I lost this correct insight, however, during the program in the
gym. Before I became aware of what I was doing I had assumed
the role of observer in the way I was accustomed to doing at the
school with the children. A conversation between several par-
ents from another class, who were standing at the gym entrance
waiting for the program to begin, caught my attention. I
unconsciously sidled up and leaned into the group, obviously
listening to their private conversation. When they stopped
talking I became aware of the silence. When I looked up, I
saw them observing me. Red-faced and with a shrug of my
shoulders, I immediately moved away from that group, leaving
for another, far away spot. I learned what I already knew.
That one cannot treat questions of privacy the same way for
adults as one does for their children. I had become so accus-
tomed to taking liberties with the privacy of their children
within that social setting I unthinkingly took liberties with

For a discussion of some of the potential similar problems and
issues when observing adults, see Lofland (1971).

9. I would recommend that a researcher use a reliable tape
recorder for interviews. Much color and fullness were lost by
my not recording all of the interviews. The one time I tried
to use a recorder, however, the tape became scrambled and I
lost the entire interview with no chance to get another. It
made me gun-shy; thereafter, I depended on written notes.

10. Jimmy was concerned about the answers given by another child
and was well aware of the significance and meaning of the
answers given for the friendship selection task. The event
was relevant to gender and is discussed in the text of the

11. Some of the comments children gave on the teacher picture-sel-
ection tasks did reveal something of what children knew about
gender and something about what they knew of the teacher's
preferences as a gendered person. Some of these comments are
discussed within the text.


The purposes of this chapter are to provide more detailed

information on the nature of the social setting including informa-

tion about the school, demographic information about the students

and their parents, and the way the teacher organized the classroom

and the students' time. A rather detailed description of how the

teacher organized classroom activities and time and approached her

task as teacher is provided so that the reader may understand to

what extent, and why, the children were able to construct a child-

defined social system.

General Information

The school selected for this study is a laboratory school

affiliated with a large state university in north central Florida.

The school has all grades from kindergarten to 12th, but the ele-

mentary school students and the high school students are physically

separated from one another and have very little contact.

The school, founded in 1934, was once located on the main

campus of the university, but since 1958 has been located close to

the university on a well kept spacious site of 34 acres. There are

several buildings rather than a single structure. The buildings

are relatively modern one-story buildings of-the kind where the

passageways are open to the outside on one side. The elementary


school classrooms are large and are distinguished by large glass

windows and sliding glass doors which open out'to a small covered

patio area with a concrete floor and a small playground enclosed by

a brick wall about three feet high. The small playgrounds are

shared by two adjoining classes. Beyond the enclosed playground

is a large play area which separates buildings and opens out to

quite a large play space used in common by the classes which border

it. There are many windows in the school, which provide a feel-

ing of openness and spaciousness. As one looks out the windows

one sees trees, plants, shrubs, and, most unusual, a small creek

that flows through the school,and divides the elementary section

from the high school section. One day a small alligator was seen

in the creek, or so the children said. It's a beautiful school.

Unlike public schools children are not assigned to this

school, but parents must instead apply for their admission. Because

of the generally high academic reputation of the school and the

reputation of the faculty, as well as because of its connection to

the university, many parents in the community and in adjoining

small towns want their children to attend the school. For some

parents, but not others, the school's perceived progressive or

liberal philosophy of education provides a special incentive. For

some the reputation that the faculty has for respecting the dig-

nity and integrity of children is paramount. As one mother told

her child who was crying and afraid because he was late to school,

"You don't have to be afraid in this school; you know this

school is not like that." The reputation that the school had about

respecting children was deserved, as I discovered1 after hours of

observation. Because of the various appeals, the school has a

long waiting list, especially for some categories of applicants

such as children whose parents are white, from the middle and

upper socioeconomic groups, or who are connected in a professional

way to the university. In any category and for every child admis-

sion requires some effort on the part of a parent.

The extra effort suggests that the parents of these children,

especially those from lower socioeconomic groups who were least

likely to be familiar with the school, were more actively involved,

if not interested, in the schooling of their children than a typi-

cal parent of a child in a public school.2 This inference was

supported by some observations. It was not unusual for parents to

come to the class to assist the teacher or, more commonly, to

observe. Mothers and fathers came to the school.

The event that made me aware of the high level of parental

involvement, though it was not necessarily the most significant

indicator of involvement, was the Open House and program held prior

to the holiday recess in December. The place was packed. At

least one parent of every child in the class I observed came to the

program, and both parents of most children came indicating that

it was not just a matter of having to come because the children

were in the program and must be driven. The gymnasium, where the

program was held, was filled to overflowing with the families of

the elementary school children. Parents stood in the halls of the

gym and sat on the gyn floor after the bleachers were filled.


This and other events confirmed an opinion that these children

for the most part had parents or others who not only loved them

but were actively and intimately involved with them.

At one time in its history the school was racially segre-

gated and admitted only white children, and students were primar-

ily drawn from the children of university faculty and administra-

tion. Since 1971, freed from the restrictions imposed by state law

and custom by a Federal court order, the school has actively

recruited blacks, though they too must apply, so that the number

of black children is proportional to the number of blacks in the

community. The school also tries to diversify the social and eco-

nomic composition of its population by selecting children from

lower socioeconomic strata and by limiting the proportion of

children of faculty. It has only been moderately successful at

its attempt to diversify. The following charts show the race, sex,

occupation, and amount of schooling of parents of children who

were observed.

The university was well represented. According to the

information submitted by the parents, seven of the children in this

class had fathers who had the Ph.D., six of whom were associated

with the university. Two of the six had mothers who taught at

the university, presumably with master's degrees or higher. Eight

children had parents who were full- or part-time students at the

university at the time of the study. Of these eight children with

student parents, six had a parent who was a graduate student, two,

undergraduates. Of the six graduate student parents three were



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studying for the Ph.D. One received it during the period of the

study. Of the three children who had a parent studying for the

master's degree, one also had a father who was a medical student

at the university.

Other of the children had parents who were college graduates.

At least two more children had parents who had done some graduate

work at the university.

On the cards submitted to the parents by the teacher, from

which some of this information was gathered, parents listed occu-

pations of skilled workers such as electrician and plumber and

service occupations such as policeman and waitress. But the occu-

pations listed by the parents did not necessarily always reveal

the entire story. The waitress, delivery man, and retail clothing

clerk had all attended the university or other colleges, but had

chosen to participate in what was described by some writers as the

counter-culture, by some citizens as the "hippies," which had dev-

eloped in the community largely in relation to the university.

Consequently, while it appeared to the school administration that

they were accepting applicants from the lower level service type

occupations and therefore assuring social and economic diversity

of the school population, the reality, at least in this particular

class, was in essential ways otherwise.

Considering the black families separately, the educational

level of the black parents was similarly high and was not repre-

sentative of the larger black community. Of the seven black

children five had at least one parent who was a college graduate.


Of the five at least three had a parent who had a master's degree

and of the three, one had a parent who had, prior to the time of

this study, worked for the Ph.D. and who had been the first black

person to be elected President of the Student Body at the uni-


As a group fathers were more schooled than mothers. It was

sometimes difficult to ascertain the level of schooling achieved

by mothers, though they were typically the ones who had filled

out the cards for the teacher. The card asked for occupation

rather than education so that mothers would put down "housewife"

or homemaker" or no answer at all if not currently employed, what-

ever their previous employment or level of education. For inex-

plicable reasons two women who were teachers at the university did

not list that as an occupation, perhaps because both worked part

time or because both had husbands with the Ph.D. who also taught

at the university. From the information available all of the

fathers who lived with their children were either employed outside

the home or were students or both. Of the mothers, all but seven

were employed outside the home. In the case of the seven children

whose parents were divorced, or for other reasons both were not

living in the same household with the children, every mother

worked, and the children lived with their mothers or other female

relatives. The parents of two more children separated during the

period of this study. Those two children also lived in the same

household as their mothers. In most cases of divorce or separa-

tion it appeared that the father maintained relatively close


contact with his child. One widower remarried during the period of

the study.

As in most elementary schools there were more women person-

nel than men. Of the 11 classroom teachers in the elementary

school nine were women; the elementary art and music teachers were

women; one of the physical education teachers was a man, the other

a woman. Most of the additional personnel with whom these children

had contact--librarians, the school nurse, reading specialists,

lunchroom attendants, food servers, and the guidance counselor--

were women. For the first time in the history of the school the

principal was a woman. All of the practicum students and practic-

ing teachers from the university who worked in the class observed

were women.

The Teacher

The teacher selected for this study, referred to here as Mrs.

Cowan, was one of three teachers who taught self-contained combina-

tion kindergarten-first grade classes at the school. My selection

of Mrs. Cowan instead of one of the other two women teachers is

somewhat embarrassingly revealing of an unscientific bias possessed

at the beginning of the study. I had wanted to observe a teacher

who fit a vague image I had of a typical teacher, a teacher who

would provide me with lots of material about what it was that

"teachers were doing to girls and boys to produce stereotypical

gender-related behavior." My perspective was implicitly based on

the concept of socialization, that children weren't active


participants in creating their reality but merely followed the

lead of adults. Based on largely unexplicated assumptions and

typified elements of knowledge, I chose Mrs. Cowan from among the

three available teachers. One of the teachers had been described

to me by my informant who worked at the school as "a young white

teacher who is really into research about sex roles." I certainly

did not want to observe a teacher who was "really into research

about sex roles." Where would I get my interesting anecdotes about

teachers imposing traditional gender roles on children? The other

teacher who was not chosen was described by the same informant as

"an older, middle-aged black woman." "Black woman" was not part

of my picture of typical teacher and, in any event, added the

possibly complicating dimension of race that I wanted to avoid.

Typical teacher was the third teacher described: "white,middle

aged. Appears to be somewhat conservative in dress." Yes. That

was the teacher I wanted.

Despite the bias inherent in my choice of the teacher, I was

fortunate and the research benefited from the choice. Because of

Mrs. Cowan's approach which, as might have been expected, did not

fit my expectations of a white, middle-aged teacher who dressed

conservatively, I was able to observe 30 children who were rela-

tively unrestricted. And certainly they were not restricted in

the ubiquitous, numerous, and sometimes petty ways that were char-

acteristic of many of the classroom teachers-I had previously

observed. In short, I was able to observe children in a natural


setting as they constructed and interpreted social reality without

excessive or significant adult intervention.

Mrs. Cowan had a well articulated theory of education and

thought of herself as a professional. She had an advanced degree

in early childhood education, occasionally attended conventions

and workshops on teaching and child development, and was familiar

with much of the research as well as many of the current issues

in the field. She described her theory of education as "what used

to be called Progressive." When I remarked how she consistently

used an individualized and open approach with all its difficulties

in a class of 30 she laughingly replied, "You know, 'keeping the

faith of Progressive education'." She described herself as hav-

ing "a lot of experience" as a teacher. At one time she taught at

the college level, but for the last ten years has taught preschool,

kindergarten, and first-grade children. She said she preferred

preschool because "that's where you really have a chance to make

an impact."

In her judgement the practice of combining kindergarten

children and first-grade children in one class was ill founded.

"The fives4 need a year of their own because they are in a differ-

ent developmental stage than the sixes and should not be encour-

aged--and certainly not made--to do much cognitive work." She

believed that the "fives need this time to practice their social

relationships, to learn to live in groups, and to develop their

play skills."


She knew that everyone did not agree and was very aware of

the increasing pressure to emphasize academic work at all levels

and ages in the elementary school. She disapproved of the increase

for the sixes and even more for the fives but has adjusted. "So I

use more time for formal skills than I really like to." She under-

stood the change in emphasis to be the result of parental pressure,

ruefully adding, "Some people want their children to start reading

at four."5

Mrs. Cowan strongly disapproved of the large class size.

When she had taught several years ago in another school each

teacher had a group of 15 students--"about the right size"--and the

increase to 30 with only one adult regularly present made it "almost

impossible to teach effectively." She complained that the classes

at the laboratory school were larger than those at public schools.

Last year Mrs. Cowan did not teach but "took a rest." When

she returned on the morning of the first day of school she

expressed some feelings of anxiety about teaching this year, par-

ticularly regarding parental demands and expectations. She said

that she felt "rusty." Later in the year she said that she had

"settled down" and was feeling more secure about teaching again.

Then at the end of the year she told me she had decided to retire

from teaching. She seemed relieved about the decision.

Consistent with her judgement that children of five and six

need an opportunity to develop social skills.and to learn to live

in groups with other children, most of the time during the school

day was left relatively unstructured. Only three times during the


day, for approximately one and one-half hours, not including

special classes like physical education, library, or music, were

there activities scheduled by the teacher where she was the center

of attention: during "Group," "Get Ready for Lunch Time," and

"Story Time." At these times children were required to sit on the

rug facing the teacher, who sat on a chair, were expected to be

relatively still, to be quiet, and if possible, to pay attention.

As she often said to those children she knew to have short atten-

tion spans, especially some of the kindergarten boys, "You don't

have to listen, but you do have to be quiet and sit still so that

others may hear."

"Group" took place in the morning at the beginning of the

school day and, as the name suggests, was in part a ritualized

activity to affirm and create a sense of community. General

announcements were made by the teacher, the day's schedule of

activities and topic for study were discussed by the teacher,

children who were absent were welcomed back, absent children

were noted, and other clerical chores were completed. During Group

children showed and shared those objects they had brought to

school. Occasionally one would talk about an experience that she/

he considered interesting. Sometimes Mrs. Cowan encouraged these

talks and sometimes, for the sake of time, she limited them. Dur-

ing Group Mrs. Cowan taught a lesson to the entire group. The

lesson might be one that continued over several days or might only

take one day with a new lesson or topic the next day. A variety

of topics was introduced, such as health, family structure, and

science. The teacher would teach the short lesson and then pro-

ceed by asking the children specific questions. Usually the

questions were intended to develop reasoning skills, as well as

to focus on specific content, and required a relatively high level

of reasoning ability to answer. The more articulate, verbally

aggressive, and intellectually mature children would usually

respond, and little effort was made by the teacher to actively

engage other students. Boys were, as a group, much more active

about answering questions than girls. It seemed that they were

less shy in a group context.

After Group was over children would begin to work on aca-

demic tasks assigned by the teacher during a period of time called

"Work Time," which lasted anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and

15 minutes. At this time children were expected to sit at what

the teacher called "work tables," at desks for four or more

children, and were corrected if they went to the housekeeping area

or to the art table to work. "This is Work Time not Choose Time.

You can't do your work in the housekeeping area." During Work

Time children could talk freely to one another and were corrected

or admonished only when the teacher felt that they were getting

out of hand and disturbing her or others, as she worked with indi-

vidual students. When they completed the assigned tasks, or, in

the case of students who seldom completed the task because they

were too immature, students were allowed to choose another activ-

ity of their choice inside the classroom or outside in the patio


area of the Small Playground. All during Work Time, then, children

were talking and playing with one another.

After Work Time was "Choose Time." During Choose Time the

children could choose an activity inside the classroom or in the

covered patio outside. They might read, do art or crafts at the

art table, play with blocks, play in the housekeeping area, play

dolls, or do whatever they chose within the specified boundaries,

as long as they were moderately quiet and did not disturb the

teacher, who was usually working with a single student on some

academic task. Choose Time overlapped with Work Time and so was

of an indefinite period. Everyone, however, was free to choose

for about 15 or 20 minutes.

"Small Playground Time" followed Choose Time. During Small

Playground Time children were required to go out into the small

playground which adjoined the classroom and was bounded by a low

brick wall. There they could play with water, make mud, play on

the jungle gym, or the small fiberglass dome, do art or crafts

in the concrete area, walk on the brick wall, play chase with one

another, yell, talk, "play wrestle" or even have a "real fight,"

find insects which they sometimes tortured, perhaps inadvertently,

and generally do whatever they wished within the bounds of safety

or near safety. This was the time the teacher took a short

break, and for some reason the teacher aide, Mr. Row, was reticent

about correcting the children except when it.came to safety. Per-

hapse he took his cue from the teacher, or being an introverted

type, did not feel inclined to intervene. He and I would

sometimes stand and watch as children quarreled and even fought

without intervening.

About 15 minutes before the class was scheduled to go to the

cafeteria Mrs. Cowan would announce that it was "Get Ready for

Lunch Time," the second time during the day that she became the

center of classroom activities. During this time the children

gathered around the teacher's chair to receive their lunch tickets

and generally prepare for lunch. Part of the preparation occasion-

ally included her correcting previous lunchroom behavior, but

mostly this time just involved clerical chores. At the end of this

time the children, accompanied by the teacher, would walk to the

cafeteria. At the cafeteria they were assigned six tables. They

could sit wherever and with whomever they wanted at the six tables

and were allowed to talk. During lunch the teacher, who waited

until all the children were seated, ate her lunch with them at

whatever seat was available. After lunch she would oversee the

clean-up of the tables with the help of sometimes unenthusiastic

students, while the main body of children left to wait on the patio

outside the cafeteria and outside her immediate supervision.

For many of the children the favorite time of day followed

the lunch period. At this time they went outside to play on the

large playground and were free to be as active as they chose,

though there was a strictly enforced rule that Lhey not go down

by the creek without adult supervision. This time, called by the

teacher "Large Playground Time," lasted anywhere from 20 minutes,

the usual time, to 40 minutes. The teacher would take a small

break during this period and then would either observe the children

at play or, more commonly, observe them for a while and then pre-

pare for the next "Work Time" in the afternoon. After mid-year the

children were generally left in my passive supervision.

After Large Playground Time the children were called in and

after getting drinks and going to the classroom toilets, which they

were allowed to go to anytime they needed to without asking, and

then they settled down in a large group for "Story Time," the final

time of the day that attention centered on the teacher and that

she worked with the entire group at one time. Story Time lasted

anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes and everyone was expected to be

quiet. Mrs. Cowan did not encourage or generally respond to

attempts of children to discuss the stories.

After lunch and Story Time there was another combination

Work Time, to finish taks which had not been completed earlier,

and Choose Time. As in the earlier period the teacher worked

closely with individual students on academic tasks and did not

supervise the other children closely. As at other choose periods

some children stuck to one project, some wandered from area to

area and group to group, a couple girls sometimes read books of

their own, one or two children would just seem to be observing

what others were doing. At the end of this time the teacher

announced that it was "Clean Up Time" and "Get Ready to Go Home

Time" and as the children straightened up thq room under the

supervision of the teacher they talked with one another, some-

times in the playful, fantastical way that characterized much of


their interaction. Clean Up Time and Get Ready to Go Home Time

were just a continuation of the relatively free interaction

children had had all day.

One can see that these children were free from direct, close

adult supervision much of the day and this freedom was a factor

in the type of social structure that they were able to create. It

was partly because of the large amount of unstructured time that the

most important social system that emerged in the classroom was the

one that was created by the children themselves with little or no

significant consideration of the immediate opinions or definitions

of adults.

The amount of time children were given to choose their own

projects and to play without close adult supervision seemed largely

to be the result of Mrs. Cowan's theoretical orientation and her

commitment to individualized instruction, even in the unhappy cir-

cumstances of a combined kindergarten-first grade class of 30 young


Another factor that was important in determining the nature

of the social structure that eventually was constructed by the

children was her response to children's aggression, a response that

seemed to be an uneasy alliance between her theory of education

and child development and the fact that she was, by her own admis-

sion, "still quite tired."

Use of physical force by children against one another was a

ubiquitous part of life in the classroom. Though the strongest

force was used outside in the playgrounds it was not unusual for


children to hit, wrestle, twist arms, poke, kick, and threaten

inside the classroom itself. Sometimes Mrs. Cowan was made aware

of the aggression either because of the commotion or because some-

one told her. She considered such activity disruptive and inap-

propriate for the confines of the classroom. It is instructive to

note that her response to aggression or fighting was not signifi-

cantly different than her response to playfulness inside the

class, such as running. All activity of that sort was considered

to be a disruption and a distraction to the teacher.

It must be remembered that Mrs. Cowan was almost constantly

involved in teaching students individually, usually while sitting

in a child-size chair with the student sitting beside her. She

was highly skilled at diagnosing students' learning problems and

had a highly developed theoretical stock of knowledge from which

to respond to help a child academically. The process of individual

instruction was an intense, concentrated, and, so far as I could

assess, an effective one. Consequently, when something inter-

rupted that process and disrupted the teaching and learning the

teacher's conception of what had happened was largely undiffer-

entiated and she was not aware of what had proceeded a situation

by the time she was made aware of it. Getting up and investigating

the matter in detail would have fully disrupted her teaching of

academic material and would have been more tiring and frustrating.

Consequently, she responded to her sense of being disrupted

rather than to the content of the disruption. She did not usually

distinguish between an aggressor and an unwilling participant and


did not inquire about the motives of either. The following event


V Day 7. It is Work Time. Mrs. Cowan is in the front of
the room with Betty, who is reading from a book aloud.
Henry is sitting on the piano bench looking at a book
and occasionally talking to the children who are play-
ing in the adjoining housekeeping area. Shawn, who
has been roaming around the room, shoves Henry off
the bench onto the floor. Henry, startled and crying,
says in his uniquely loud voice, "Stop, Shawn!"

Shawn replied, "Shut up, Henry. I want to play the
piano." He began to bang on the piano.

Mrs. Cowan, hearing the noise, looks up and seeing the
two at the piano and Henry crying says harshly, "I
won't have that in the classroom. It's Work Time not
Choose Time. Henry, have you finished your work?"

Still crying, Henry walked to his cubby, and Shawn
started roaming about the classroom again.

Mrs. Cowan believed that one of the developmental tasks that

children of this age had to learn was how to live in groups with

one another and to develop social skills that allowed them to live

in groups. Her habitualized response to behavior she variously

typified as "bothering me with tales," "tattling," and "bringing

stories to me" reflected this belief, as well as reflecting the

irritation she felt when interrupted by children when trying to

instruct other children in academic skills.

Attempts by children to "tell on" one another were greeted

by annoyance, irritation and, most usually, a harsh reprimand to

the child who was doing the telling. The teacher usually

responded with variations of the theme "You have to learn to get

along." Two events from the field notes illustrate when and how

the idea of "getting along" was evoked.

Day 5. Jimmy and Shelley are walking toward the blocks.
Shelley accidentally and very lightly bumps into
Jimmy. Jimmy goes to Mrs. Cowan, who was teaching
another child, and whines, "Shelley bumped into me."

Mrs. Cowan, without asking what had happened,
answers with annoyance, "Jimmy, don't bother me.
You'll have to learn to get along."

Day 10. Bart and Eldon are playfully wrestling on the
ground outside. Shawn walks by, watches for a moment,
and then kicks Eldon in his back and around his
shoulders quite hard. Eldon, sobbing, goes to Mrs.
Cowan and begins, "Shawn .

Before Eldon can finish the sentence she says,
"Eldon, don't come to me with tales. If you can't get
along then don't play."

The intensity of aggression was not an issue for Mrs. Cowan.

She responded in about the same way when a child was lightly and

accidentally bumped as when one was kicked in the head, an undif-

ferentiated response that came easy as she rarely heard the details

and never sought them out. Nor was justice or injustice at issue

for her. She did not try to adjudicate disagreements and conflict

between children, but tried to get them to deal with the aggres-

sion of their peers without relying on her involvement. "Telling,"

"tattling," and "carrying tales" were discouraged in a variety of

ways, including blaming the teller ("If you'd been doing your work

it would not have happened"), and by blaming everyone equally

("Both of you are supposed to be doing your work now!"), or by

simply ignoring a tale-carrying child.

Sometimes Mrs. Cowan was, or seemed to be, witness to acts

of aggression. There were a number of responses typical of such

times. Sometimes she appeared to be oblivious to the interaction,

as though the children were invisible or as if she saw but did not

understand what was happening. At other times she would criticize

both parties by giving a general command such as "Stop that!"

Occasionally she would single out the aggressor and command her/him

to stop, or would rather severely comment with a remark such as,

"You're not supposed to play in the classroom like that." In a

sense such a remark was a denial of the reality and seriousness of

the event for the children, neither of whom experienced the act as

playful. At other times the teacher was more direct in denying

what the event meant to children. Consider:

Day 13. Mrs. Cowan is at the art cabinet, which is above
the water fountain where Pierre and Ben are waiting in
line to get a drink. When it is Ben's turn, Pierre
pushes him out of line and proceeds to drink himself.

It appeared as though Mrs. Cowan had seen what had
happened. When Ben complained to her, "Pierre pushed
me," she answered, "He didn't mean to. Why don't you
find a place to sit for art?"

Pierre's aggression, which he and Ben knew was purposeful, was

publicly defined by the teacher as accidental and therefore as

something that should be ignored. v

From private conversations with Mrs. Cowan at the end of

the year it was clear that she generally understood which children
were aggressive. But she did not make such distinctions between

children publicly, for instance by criticizing an aggressor, so


that the students would know that she knew. Instead she referred

to the idea of "learning to get along" a maxim she felt to be a

necessary condition in a situation of 30 children with one responsi-

ble adult.

What meanings did the children draw from the teacher's

response to aggression? Did they think that the teacher approved

of aggression? Was ignorant of what behavior meant, ignorant of

socially shared meanings? I tend to think that they basically

understood her behavior as I understood it at one level. The

teacher was too busy and involved with the demands of teaching to

deal in detail or intervene in the social interaction of the

children with one another. The idea that adults did not want

children to constantly come to them with complaints about other

children must have been a familiar one to them despite contrary

admonitions such as, "If someone hits you don't hit them back,

but tell the teacher." In addition the role of teacher was typi-

fied by all the children as a role-type who disapproved of children

fighting in school and the role-type retained its power aside from

the actions of this specific teacher. The children retained some

respect for the threat to tell the teacher because of the role-type

and because of the rare times that Mrs. Cowan did respond to tell-

ing by harshly criticizing the aggressor. Basically, however,

what the teacher's behavior meant to the children was that threats

to tell were without significance. Consider:

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