An exercise in multiple choices
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Remember those fill-in-the-blank homework assignments? Usually they involve a multiple-choice element with the assumption there is only one correct, factual answer. But in the case of the homework assignment given to Lynne Polvino’s 6-year-old daughter, it was more of an exercise in reaffirming seriously outdated gender stereotypes.
The assignment titled “Back to Work” tells the fictional story of a girl named Lisa whose household goes up in flames once Lisa’s mother decides to return to her job at a “big office.” Lisa has a terrible morning because her bumbling invalid of a father can’t make toast, and without her mother playing the role of slave, she has to do her own dishes. The horror.
“But when Lisa arrived at home, there was her ____.” Was it her teacher, her father, or her mother? Naturally, the correct answer is Lisa’s mother, because who else would Lisa expect to “leave the office early so [they] can be together after school?” Certainly not her father, who has more important things to do at his big office. As you can see, this homework assignment is pure misogynistic garbage.
On May 23, Polvino shared side-by-side photos of the original “Back to Work” assignment and her rewrite on Facebook. In her revised version, Dad is a functioning adult who makes a “very good” breakfast, Lisa has a great day at school where she enjoys the “play-based learning and small student-to-teacher ratio in her state-of-the-art public school classroom,” and participates in a “federally-funded after school enrichment program” complete with robotics and painting courses. For a family in New York City, that sounds a little more accurate.
Polvino’s post has since been shared more than 1,500 times and prompted nearly 300 comments.
For the most part, Polvino’s post garnered positive feedback and support. Commenter Leeba Weisberg wrote, “I loved the re-write. I bet the original assignment was written in 1982 during the big backlash against working moms and their supposed abandonment of their kids.”
In an interview with Today, Polvino said that while the assignment “pushed so many buttons for me,” she didn’t want her daughter’s teacher to see the rewrite as a criticism of her teaching abilities. In a comment following up on her original post, Polvino wrote, “As we all know, NYC public schools face many challenges, including lack of adequate funding for up-to-date classroom materials, and I admire and appreciate all the good work the teachers and administrators do.”