We were on our way to C.J.’s parent-teacher conference when he said he had something to tell us before we got to the school. I panicked for a moment. No parent wants a surprise announcement on the way to (or during) a parent-teacher conference.
C.J. is in fifth grade and his teacher has students not only attend the parent-teacher conference, but lead it. It’s pretty awesome.
“At the end of the conference, I have to tell you three concerns I have and I feel like I should tell you one now instead of surprising you in front of my teacher,” C.J. said.
We were turning into the school’s parking lot. At that point I didn’t know if I wanted to be surprised in private or with an audience.
C.J. told us his concern before we entered the classroom and shared it again in front of his teacher. His concern concerned all of us. His teacher – ever empowering – suggested that he write a letter about his concern and send it to the appropriate people. She felt that would be more powerful than her or I relaying his message.
During winter break he worked on the following letter. The day after he returned to school, he emailed it to his three PE teachers, his teacher and his principal.
Dear PE Coaches,
I feel you shouldn’t split the boys and girls up in PE class. When you do that, you are assuming that all girls are weaker than boys. That’s not true. I am a boy and there are some girls who are stronger than me and some girls who are weaker than me. Everyone is different.
I’m gender nonconforming, so all of my friends are girls. When you split up the classes by boys and girls, it makes me feel alone because all of my girl friends get to be together and I am alone with all the other boys. I bet some other kids feel the same way. PE should fun and about the chance to exercise with your friends. That’s what I want to do.
These days, more and more, everyone is friends with everyone more. You should encourage that by having boys and girls work together. This will help with equality.
If you need to split the classes up, there are lots of ways to do it. For example, you can divide people up by people who like dogs more and people who like cats more. People who like hamburgers more and people who like pizza more. There are lots of ways to split up one big group into two or three smaller groups.
I hope you will discuss this with each other and the principal and consider it. I told my teacher about this and she said that sometimes adults needs to hear things from kids instead of other adults because it makes more of an impact that way. I sure hope so.
C.J., 5th Grade
With this concern, more than ever, I’ve seen C.J.’s advocate spirit blossom. He wanted to advocate for himself, but, even more so, for other kids who may be feeling uncomfortable during PE and afraid to do or say anything about it. The segregation of students based on sex/gender during PE had been bothering him since the start of the school year and he wanted to do something about it. He didn’t want me to take the lead. He wanted to take it.
I’m so used to handling things like this for him. I’m used to advocating for and protecting him. I’m used to traveling a few steps ahead and trying to make things as right as possible for him. But, he’s older now. He’s stronger now. I need to get out of his way. I can’t clear his trail, he needs to blaze his own. Because his voice is more powerful than mine.
# # #
This mixing does make things more interesting. And let’s look beyond what we expect people to be like. The strongest armwrestler in my primary school was a girl.
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CJ has to be the coolest kid ever! I grew up in small town Mississippi years and years ago as a gay kid who tried to blend in. It would have been so great to have CJ around when I was that age. He would have inspired me to be proud of who I am and not afraid to speak out. Kudos to CJ and to you for being such a spectacular parent! I just know he’s going to help change the world!!
I am absolutely astonished! C.J. is an incredible kid and his bravery in this situation and many more will change the world! I hope there will be an update on how this turns out! Way to go, C.J.!!
What a powerful letter! And it was incredibly well done. (Are you SURE he’s only in 5th grade?)
CJ, you ALREADY have changed the world. And thank you for doing so. My next time through should be much better! And I’m excited about that. Keep speaking out CJ and know that your mom and dad and the rest of us if called upon will be there for you. Hugz!
C.J. for President!!!! Please update us on how the school handled his letter. I hope they heard C.J.’s concerns and took them to heart.
I agree with C.J. 100%!!! Way to lead C.J.!!!
I love how you think!
What a lovely letter. CJ has a lot of empathy for his peers and I think that this unique take on the parent-teacher interview gave him the opportunity to let that shine.
Made my heart soar to read that letter.
As a teacher, I think this is wonderful. C.J. sounds like a special kid and makes an excellent point. There are definitely better ways to divide kids up for P.E.
Great job, CJ! I raised a child who felt the same way, all through middle school, and I’m certain that he wasn’t alone. Thank you for speaking up, for yourself, and for everyone else. You ARE making our world better!
What a thoughtful child you’re raising. What CJ suggests will make a difference for the lives of ALL the kids, not just her own life.
May I express my admiration for you, CJ? I believe you *will* change the world — and the world sure needs it.
I’m not crying, you’re crying!
SPEECHLESS!!! CJ you are AMAZING! You will change the world💜
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I toats agree
I’m a 5th grade teacher and I NEVER split my kids into boy/girl groups, lines or anything related. Gender is not a consideration for anything as far as I’m concerned (but I also have a gender nonconforming son). With that said, I never did care about gender, well before my own son was born.
Our PE teacher does this and it drives me batty. Before they even enter the room, they are in gender lines. What on Earth!
I’m so impressed and hope he continues to advocate for not only himself, but others who feel divided. He is right there at the cusp of THOSE YEARS and getting him comfortable with standing up for the rights of all humans now will help him (and hopefully others) as that looming middle school approaches.
CJ is one wise young person.
Wow that’s amazing! I have a younger brother who is only 10 and in fifth grade. I am always teasing him (I’m only 23 and act 10 myself). I am dreading the day he is bigger than me. This story really reminds me of my brother
This is fantastic!! Great job teaching him to speak up for himself! I also love that he wanted to prepare you by telling you before the conference, this is a great story. I hope he sees a positive change in PE!
When I was in school girls and boys always had Physical Education together. That’s the best way.
Wooow.. I wish i had such support when i was young.. Inspiring
Love this, I wish CJ had been in my class!
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I’m so darned proud of everyone involved. Can’t wait to show it to my daughter. Please tell us how it goes. This is only the first of many such letters along CJ’s life journey.
Every time in school I was in an all-boys group for anything I was always scared and anxious because it meant possible humiliation or getting hit. When girls are mixed in with boys there is a civlizing vibe. I was never as anxious when the group was mixed and I could focus on the work at hand.
All these years you and your family empowered C.J. by advocating for him and wow!! It worked! He is strong and empowered now. So beautiful. I love his letter! It’s perfect.
A thank you CJ! For say what I’ve known all my life! You are 200gazillion percent correct! There are lots of ways we can group people together. Being a boy or a girl should never be two of them! I have so much hope for the kids of our future! Great big hugs!
Isn’t it amazing how our children will blossom and grow into awesome people when they are loved and supported for who they are rather than force fit them into the old stereotypes? God certainly knew what he was doing when he chose you both as C.J.’s parents!
OMG I just love C.J. He makes a lot of sense and bravo to him for being an advocate for all kids!!
It’s amazing to see CJ standing up confidently for what he believes in.
Wow, just wow! This is just incredibly great! We need to keep shattering those stereotypes that separate us.Thank you, C.J.!
Great job C.J!! Way to stand up for yourself and others who may be feeling the same way! You’re an inspiration.
That is great! I wish I’d had his initiative and courage (and parental support) when I was younger.
This is so wonderful! CJ’s fifth grade teacher is remarkable. But you and your husband both should feel VERY proud, because you have raised CJ with 1) self-confidence; 2) self-awareness; 3) the ability to express himself articulately and strongly and maturely, and 4) the security of knowing he could confide in you both. That’s excellent parenting. And the ripples extend far beyond anything you can imagine!
CJ your truly more strong than you realize. You are an ispiration to many.
Let us know what happens! This is wonderful.
Amazing. What a great kid. We struggle with this too, for organized sports stuff. I want my kiddo to be active but he would never want to be on a baseball team with all boys, ya know? So far we’ve been able to find co-ed stuff but it will be harder the older we get. Thanks for this share.
When I coached youth baseball, ages generally 8 to 12, and this was 25 years ago, in house, so the talent level was not that much different, I vocally lobbied to allow girls to play in the organized league with the boys. I got big push back for all the typical reasons, but many girls wanted to play baseball at that age. Later on of course the vast majority went to all girl softball teams. But st least they developed a love for the game in our league, and hopefully learned some skills that boosted them when they moved on. We had maybe a dozen girls every year playing, so I’m really glad I pushed that issue back in the stone age. By now it’s a non issue at that age bracket.
Now though it’s reversed. We gotta encourage and let boys play field hockey, or on the girls soccer teams if they want. At that age there’s not that much discernable difference in physicality, strength, or talent to worry that someone, any one girl, really, is getting short changed here.
This is wonderful. CJ has the mark of true leader.
CJ for president! What an amazing kid.
Fantastic! WTG CJ!! As a parent of a son who lives with anxiety, I envy CJ’s ability to advocate for himself. I hope the school decides to make changes.
I LOVE this letter!!! Go C.J.!! Never stop blazing your own trail as the positive impact it ends up having on others is immense! Thank you C.J.’s family for sharing his letter. I know how impactful you and your son are because my son is the 1st grade version of your awesome C.J. You guys rock! C.J. never stop being YOU! Your enormous fan in Westport, CT
Excellent commentary, by CJ. He did it exactly the right way, as well. Very advanced and logical thinking. I wish more adults had this capability. Thanks so much for posting this!
This is awesome. I thing he will change the world..he’s affected mine.
I was actually thinking about that the other morning…how I need to let my sons be their own person. I used to be able to see the baby inside my boys’ eyes…but as they get older, it’s getting more and more difficult. My wife and I used to take care of all of their needs, and i’m realizing (and being told) that they can handle some things on their own…and, realistically, NEED to handle things on their own.
This is wonderful, beautiful, and awesome. All All you guys keep up the good work.
This is perfect! I, as I’m sure, many other readers, will love to hear what the outcome is of CJ’s letter. Growing up, we were never separated boys from girls in gym class, so I’m really surprised that they are doing that these days.
Once again, out of the mouth of babes. I love his way to split up groups instead of by gender. Pizza vs hamburger , Dogs vs cats…we love to learn from outside of the box thinkers. He (and you) have already changed lives/minds and continues to do so. I hope the staff thinks about these alternative group segregation techniques.
I love that CJ is self advocating, it will only help him (and others) as he matures. I will say that starting at about that age, and continuing now, when my kids come to me with an issue or concern or problem from school, the first question I ask is what level of involvement do they want me to have. It has helped them understand that I am there for them in whatever capacity they need.
When I started, I explained that I could be involved in many different ways:
1. Just listen without judgement to whatever they needed to get off their chest
2. Offer advice or alternatives to what they were thinking about saying/doing about the issue
3. Speak to someone on their behalf
Ultimately, this has helped them be self advocates and to come to me with everything going on. Sometimes I have to remind myself to just listen and not interject my opinions when they aren’t wanted or needed yet, but it has worked really well for us.
I hope you continue to let us know how your family is growing and I wish you all the best.
I love everything about this! I teach rec tennis to elementary kids and reading this was a great reminder. I loved his suggestions about the different ways to split large groups. I will share this with my own boys as well as I’m encouraging them to advocate for themselves. C.J. is an amazing kid. I love reading about your family’s journey.
OMG, I love C.J.! I have never liked it when teachers divided the class by (perceived) gender. I think it’s lazy in several ways. That is a beautiful, thoughtful letter. Go, C.J.!