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Where do you start to tackle gender stereotypes about jobs? Primary school seems a good place to begin. I’ve done a fair few careers events in primary school of late and it’s very clear that stereotypes about jobs start young. Stereotypes about clothes, toys, etc, start even younger, of course.
This point was brought up in relation to STEM careers at a roundtable event I went to yesterday, but it was also very obvious at the journalism workshop I gave at a local primary school a couple of weeks ago. Ironically, the kids associated journalism with women when, in my humble experience, it is dominated by men, at least at the top – like so many professions.
In addition to stereotypes, it is clear that young kids often don’t even know what is involved in many jobs and, unless someone they know does a particular job such as their mum or dad, they often don’t think it is something that they might do. The main thing about talking about your job at primary school is that it is great fun. While secondary school kids often find anything school-related really, really dull, particularly if it involves adults, primary school kids embrace visits by external people as a source of great excitement. They stare at you as if you had landed from the moon and there is never any shortage of questions because self-consciousness has yet to set in. There were all sorts of questions about how I write, what I write, where I write and who I write about. Who had I interviewed, they wanted to know. I told them it was mainly politicians and the like and professors, people who might find the cure for cancer or make us understand climate change.
They looked slightly deflated when I mentioned that I briefly interviewed a Prime Minister [John Major]. It’s not Lego Batman or DanTDM, is it? It’s not even Jeff Kinney [author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, as all eight year olds know]. I taught them some shorthand, however, and they gasped in amazement that I could read the magic code back.
I asked them what skills you needed to be a journalist and though, as a journalist, I have a love-hate relationship with PR, I put on my PR hat and emphasised that good journalism is about finding out the truth, or at least it should be. Being able to read and write were important, said the kids. Tick. Being able to talk to people. Tick. Being able to interview. Tick. What do you need to be able to interview, I asked. This perplexed them a bit. You need to ask good questions, said I. So often poor news is the result of not asking fully informed questions and letting people off the hook or failing to find out anything useful or interesting. To ask good questions, of course, you need curiosity, something young kids tend to have in abundance.
I decided to do an interactive exercise to make the talk more fun. I pretended to be a police officer reporting an incident. I gave the kids the briefest details and they had to ask questions to find out what had happened. The incident involved an old lady in a car. Her car had swerved to avoid something in the road. That was the only information they got. Queue questions.
There were lots about the car. A Rolls Royce. Eventually they found out that the car had swerved to avoid a tiger which had escaped from the local zoo. The nearby town was in lockdown. It later emerged that the lady in the car was the Queen. Importantly [at least to the kids] the tiger was called Sabrina. I told them to write the headline and first paragraph of their story. They went to town. Tiger vs Queen was one. The Queen’s Tiger Catastrophe was another. The Disaster said another headline simply, although I pointed out that this could apply to many news stories these days.
The kids are going to work on their own school newspaper now. They seemed quite up for it when I left and I even dared to ask them if they thought they might like to be a journalist. Several hands went up which I consider a success. I’ve been trying to encourage only son to join newspaper club at his school and so far his resistance has been absolute. He lives journalism every day and he thinks it mainly involves shouting at the computer and hiding in the toilet with the phone.
The evening after the workshop one of the teachers sent me more headlines and first paragraphs. Some of the kids had slightly embroidered the details I gave: “An old lady, the age of 90, crashed a car and tried to catch a scared tiger” was one. But many showed tremendous attention to detail: “Last weekend, there was a tiger and it came out of the zoo and there was a 6 foot wall. The queen had a crash.” I had mentioned the incident happened the Saturday before. One boy had counted back and taken my statement about including who, what, why, when etc to heart. “On the 17th November, in Windsor, the Royal Majesty was injured by the local zoo’s tiger Sabrina, who has escaped and is still running free!”
All the seeds of great future reporters. And, boy, do we need them now.
Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.