Banished Barbie

, Vani Murthy, Leave a comment

Miss Laurie Reitz, a seventh-grade social studies and mathematics teacher at Concord Middle School in Concord, Michigan, may have gone too far in an effort to enliven a lesson on the typically humdrum subject of mathematical proportions. Miss Reitz designed a math project that consisted of students using a Barbie doll as their reference point, and measuring the various parts of her body, including the head, waist and bust.

Several parents agreed that it was undecidedly unfitting. As one mother stated “it was highly sexual and inappropriate…breasts have no place in a math class.” Furthermore, as one parent tersely stated, what began as a harmless math lesson “ended up more as an anatomy project.”

After recording their results, the students were to compare the doll’s measurements with those of the human body. The male students were instructed to obtain the body measurements of their mother or Miss Reitz herself, while the female students were to use their own measurements. As one of the concluding parts of the project, summaries of the students’ results and comparisons were posted in the classroom, including several of the girls’ waist and bust measurements.

It’s perhaps not surprising that it was at this point when objections from both parents and other teachers began to arise. Many parents felt that the assignment was far too sexual in nature, especially considering the age of the students, and it was amidst these complaints that several school board meetings were held in order to find a resolution.

Christine Vandenburgh, whose daughter was in Miss Reitz’s class, has been one of the more vocal parents in her criticism of Miss Reitz’s project. Objecting to the personal nature of comparing waist and bust measurements, she stated that “we found it a negative experience and for some it was traumatic…there’s enough sexual tension and discomfort at that age.” In reference to the students’ measurements being openly posted throughout the classroom, Mrs. Vandenburgh argued that “girls on both ends of the spectrum were uncomfortable and so were some of the boys.”

Despite Miss Reitz’s many detractors, she also attracted considerable praise from other parents who lauded her for her innovative take on a rather hackneyed teaching lesson. Though it was generally believed that Miss Reitz had tried to infuse interest through a manner too sexual for middle school students, several parents believed that there was a deeper lesson to be learnt from her project, and one they supported wholeheartedly. At one of several board meetings that were held, David Wooden, whose daughter was also in Miss Reitz’s class, supported the project for a different reason. He believed that completing the project would serve as a positive yet humorously realistic experience for his daughter, for it would show her that “Barbie is not a true expectation of life” as she compared the doll’s measurements to others.
Though the concerned parents met several times with Miss Reitz regarding this matter, there seemed to be no acceptable resolution, according to Mrs. Vandenburgh. She and other parents asked that the school board remove the project altogether from the curriculum, and expunge any grade received from participating in it at all. Furthermore, Mrs. Vandenburgh also insisted that some measure of disciplinary action be taken against Miss Reitz for what she termed as “poor judgment.” As a result, Board President Steven Rick reassured her and other parents that this matter would be looked into more closely and that some action would certainly be taken. In the end, however, no disciplinary action was taken against Miss Reitz, although the project was dropped from the curriculum. In addition, Barbie has been banished indefinitely.

Throughout the meetings and complaints, Miss Reitz decided to remain reticent about the matter and declined to make any comments when contacted. Shortly thereafter, the school board issued a statement stating that all inquires were to be directed to the Concord School Superintendent, Harry “Bud” Ashton, and not to Miss Reitz herself. Campus Report has left several messages for Mr. Ashton; however they too have yet to be returned.

A junior at Kent State University, Vani Murthy is an intern at Accuracy in Academia.