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Teaching Chivalry in the Classroom

By Judith Costello — October 24, 2007 4 min read
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Last year my 8-year-old daughter came home from the local public school with a large welt on her arm. A boy in her 2nd grade class had thrown her into the cabinets that line the back wall of the classroom. I was shocked.

In part, I was shocked to know it was a boy mistreating a girl. When I was young, it was considered so taboo for a boy to treat a girl that way that it never happened. And if it did, someone—a teacher, a parent, or another student—would have rushed to the girl’s defense and doled out severe consequences to the boy.

But nowadays, gender lines are blurred, so the fact that it was a boy and a girl tussling, rather than a boy and a boy, is hardly an issue. Girls are told they can do everything boys do. Boys then treat girls the way they treat other boys.

This knight uses his strong arm to send a beanbag flying at the dragons.

But is that really the right direction for our society? There are real physical and emotional differences between the genders. And when we act as if this were not true, is it any wonder that problems occur?

I suspect this issue of blurred gender lines is a key issue behind some of the behavior problems in the schools. Classroom management is about respect and clear boundaries. So when girls and boys are told they are essentially the same, except for a detail of biology, then a basic boundary—one that used to insure decency and respect—no longer exists. Confusion reigns because boundaries are unclear. Disrespect becomes the norm because children don’t see respect modeled and reinforced in society.

I went to the school to talk to the teacher and the young boy who threw our little girl. As I stood by the teacher’s desk, other children jumped into the conversation to defend the boy. They said, “Girls are in wrestling and they tackle us on the playground.” They went on to explain that our girl had offered the boy her arm to demonstrate a quick-release self-defense move. The boy decided to show her he was the stronger one. And, of course, he was.

The teacher, Mrs. Becky Cavasos, said, “This isn’t the way gentleman and ladies act. I expect something better.” She confided that the boy in question had already been to the principal’s office many times and nothing seemed to have an impact.

As the students moved away, we talked further about options for helping all of the children to identify personal boundaries and clarify differences. We agreed that it wasn’t just a problem between one boy and one girl.

The image of knights and ladies came to mind. Ever since a group of medieval re-enactors had visited the area, my daughter had been interested in that time period. Mrs. Cavasos decided that this theme could be integrated easily into the anti-bullying program the school was using.

Teacher Becky Cavasos and the author's daughter.

The boys would be given opportunities to be physical in the context of preparing themselves to be “defenders and protectors of all that is good, true, and right.” The girls would be given opportunities to seek out beauty and learn about healing. As ladies they would be the “nurturers and caretakers of all that is good, true and right.”

We used art activities, read stories about dragons, created costumes, studied new vocabulary words, and researched the medieval time period. We learned about the use of herbs for pharmacological needs.

Using their fine motor skills, the girls worked on creating headdresses and decorating their castle. The boys used large motor skills to create huge dragon posters that they helped to string up between trees.

The culmination of our efforts was an outdoor dramatization that students and teachers in other classrooms envied. Several other teachers opened their classroom doors to see what was happening as dragons passed through the hallways and out to the trees. Teachers looked outside to hear the dialogue as young knights went into battle. They were interested to see the knights use all their energy to slay those terrible dragons with beanbags. And when the knights fell to the ground, a group of beautiful young ladies rushed to their sides with healing herbs from the pouches they had created.

After the drama, teachers asked Mrs. Cavasos for more information about the program. They thought it looked like fun and wanted to know more about using the knights and ladies concept for classroom management.

When the current school year began, Lady Cavasos took up the gauntlet. She now challenges all of her students to become knights and ladies. When someone in the class is disruptive she pulls out a dragon poster and invites the class to raise their shields. With humor, and the characteristic nurturing attitude of a lady, she coaxes her students to rise toward something noble and wonderful. Their shields say CARE—Children Are Respectful Everywhere.

“I know a young woman who was always a straight-A student,” says Mrs. Cavasos. “Today she is living with an abusive boyfriend. How can such a bright lady end up like that? Could it be she had no clarity about what to expect from her femininity? She settled for a jerk rather than a knight.”

We continue to discuss what a knights and ladies classroom might look like. So far, it appears to be succeeding in cultivating better boundaries and increased respect. As for the throwing boy—he was so eager to slay dragons that he stopped slaying his friends. And my daughter—well, she is still a tomboy. But she is also beginning to see that becoming a “lady” is a worthy and noble goal.

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