I began the year's anti-bias work in my multiracial classroom by looking at gender stereotypes. As a dialogue trigger, I read aloud the picture book William's Doll, by Charlotte Zolotow. This is a wonderful story about a little boy who is teased and misunderstood by his friends and family because he wants a doll. When I finished the book, I asked the students the following discussion questions: "Why was William teased? What did William's father expect him to be good at because he was a boy?" I explained that the fact that William was expected to like sports and play with trains were examples of stereotypes, oversimplified pictures or opinions of a person or group that are not true.
Next, I asked the class, "Why did William's family and friends tease him because he wanted a doll? Why should only girls play with dolls? Where did this idea come from?" The students immediately said, "Family!" Through discussion, the students began to understand that they are surrounded by messages that reinforce these stereotypes. We brainstormed some ideas of where these messages come from, such as television shows, advertisements, and books.
Next, I asked the class, "Why didn't William's father listen to his son when he said he wanted a doll?" One student exclaimed, "Because William's father believed only girls played with dolls!" I explained that the father believed this stereotype was true.
One boy in my class complained, "I don't get it. I like dolls and stuffed animals. Why did William's dad care? Why didn't he buy his son what he wanted? That doesn't seem fair. Someday, I'm going to buy my kid whatever he wants!"
Finally, I asked the class, "In this story, who was William's ally? Who did not believe the stereotype and helped William get what he wanted?" The students knew that William's grandmother was the one who stood up for him. She was an example of an ally. William's grandmother bought William the doll, and she taught the father that it is okay for boys to want to hold dolls, the same way he held and cared for William when he was a baby.