The Puggle: August 2018 Edition

Before we get to our usual Puggle updates, we have a favor to ask. Please stop and think: do you know any leaders passionate about girls’ education? Encourage them to apply here to be an Echidna Global Scholar at the Brookings Institution. Applications are due October 1st. In this month’s Puggle we report on three books we enjoyed this summer and what we learned in relation to our work on girls’ education.

In Dreamers: How Young Indians Are Changing Their World, Snigdha Poonam weaves a compelling narrative about six young Indians chasing their dreams. The stories are captivating and telling. They illustrate the urgent need to capitalize on India's youth bulge, which is made up primarily of youth who are uneducated, unemployed, and/or unemployable. We were struck by the growing gap between options and aspirations: “A twenty-year-old in Indore has the same access to information as someone his age in Iowa—and could very well have the same desires. They see no connection between where they live and what they want from their lives.”

There are gendered dimensions that shape and limit these dreamers. Of the six youth Poonam followed, five were men. She hints at why—men are under more pressure to take charge of their family and society. And women with high aspirations are beset by many obstacles, as evidenced by the one story about a woman, which chronicles Richa Singh’s successful bid to become the first female student body president at Allahabad University (excerpt here). Poonam observes: “my wide-ranging forays into the madness of modern India boiled down to the same thing: the anxieties of young men who no longer know their place in the world. What they find hardest to deal with are women who do.”

Chip and Dan Heath—the same all-star brothers who wrote Switch, Made to Stick, and Decisive—most recently bring us insights on The Power of Moments. The book contends that there are certain moments of our lives that are more memorable than others and that we can intentionally create more of these powerful moments. How? By curating some combination of the four elements that typically characterize defining moments: elevation, insight, pride, and connection.

The book is packed with concrete examples and insights that had us thinking about everything from how we celebrate progress to how we engage with loved ones to how we build stronger connections with our grantees. Here are few specific questions the book prompted us to think about:

  • How can education systems create more defining moments (that aren’t high stakes exams)? The book describes how in the U.S. the most memorable moments in high school are sporting events and prom. It gives the example of Hillsdale High School creating a classroom learning moment equally memorable. How can we create more?
  • How can we set girls up for moments of pride? Moments of courage spark moments of pride, and courage is a lot easier to display if you’ve a chance to practice. For example, civil rights activists practiced sit-ins with white allies pretending to be harassing customers. We often ask girls to do very courageous things (stand up against early marriage, study STEM); do we give them enough practice?
  • How do we design more memorable meetings? We’d do well to “break the script” and create more opportunities for connection. A conference without any panel sessions or slides, a one-on-one in the park, a team meeting focused on doing not talking.

Psychologist Christina Spears Brown writes about Parenting Beyond Pink & Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes. She argues that our society is gender obsessed and, because of this, kids learn to believe that gender is a really important and defining characteristic. That makes them (and everyone else in their lives) act in ways that reinforce existing gender stereotypes and limit their capabilities, despite the fact that gender isn't all that important, at least not innately. The way to fight gender stereotypes is to stop labeling everything and everybody with gender, to introduce kids to a range of toys and experiences no matter their gender, to directly name and counter stereotypes when they occur, and to encourage more co-ed grouping.

The book is written for a western parent audience drawing on research conducted in western society. But we were struck that getting towards greater gender equality requires intervening in early childhood so that the skills children practice are not limited by gendered assumptions. It has also made us ask a new question: is there such a thing as over focusing on gender? The author argues that programs only for girls could reiterate for girls that their gender is deterministic of certain characteristics and reinforce, rather than counter, stereotypes.

 

What did you read this summer? Tell us in the comments below!