"Is It a She or a He?": Using Literacy to Explore Gender-/Hetero-Normativity with Second Graders

2016-10-18T00:00:00Z (GMT) by Paul Hartman
Although there has been a growing amount of research exploring lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer- (LGBTQ) related issues in schools, the context of most of this research is middle- and high schools.  This leaves a gap in understanding the ways in which normative understandings of gender and sexual identity operate within primary classrooms.  As part teacher self-study and part critical social research project, this qualitative research study examines data from a fifteen-week after-school literacy club. Drawing from a Foucaultian (1977, 1996) notion of discourse, this project offers 1) a critical literary analysis of children’s books that contain themes related to non-normative gender/sexual identities, and 2) critically analyzes the discourse produced in literature discussions of such books.  Data is analyzed to understand the ways in which power manifests in the selected children’s books and in the talk of the students, specifically paying careful attention to the ways in which the heterosexual matrix—the invisible rules that rely on and reify dichotomous understandings of male/female, masculine/feminine, men/women (Butler, 1999)—is reified, challenged, and disrupted.  The findings suggest that such themed children's literature creates important possibilities for children to engage in social justice work and highlights the ways in which the primary classroom read aloud space can affirm the agentic capacaties of young children and can act as an integral site of discussion, dissensus, and meaning-making.