Third-, fourth- and fifth-graders in Madison saw promising action and received a response from the LEGO company after pleading with it to change its approach to gender and diversity.
The students from Shorewood Hills Elementary School, working with Michele Hatchell, an art and social studies teacher, compiled data from more than 600 LEGO sets and found that most were marketed almost exclusively to boys.
"If there is a Lego girl, she is either covered in make up or a Damsel in Distress," one student added.
The exceptions were sets marketed to girls, which depicted a completely different set of activities and used a different color palette (dominated by pink and purple).
"What you are suggesting is that only boys have jobs and like explosions, while girls are unemployed and go shoe shopping and bake," wrote another student.
The students also wrote that nearly all LEGO minifigures represented European ethnicity (LEGO says the yellow color used for most of its people is intended as race-neutral; however, many of the Wisconsin students expressed a frustration that bright yellow is not realistic and that this approach does not reflect the cultural diversity of humanity.).
The students' data and letters, along with LEGO's response, are shared at www.WhatItIsIsBeautiful.com, created by Hatchell. The title references a LEGO ad from 1981, when the company took an opposite marketing tack: a girl in unisex clothing proudly posing with her primary-color LEGO creation, above the tagline "What it is, is beautiful."
"I think you should stop assuming that boys like blowing stuff up and girls like pink," wrote one of today's students. "I'm a boy and, personally I like pink."
From another letter: "In the 'boys' sets there should be girls because girls can do everything that boys can do. Like girls can fight and go to Space. And in the 'girls' sets there should be more boys because boys can do everything that girls can do. Like bake and work at cafés."
"I love to bake, but it's not like I cannot do rock climbing or snowboarding," wrote an 11-year-old.
The students were excited to receive a response from the company (Steve Clines from the customer service area) in early June.
"It's true we currently have more male than female minifigures in our assortment," Clines wrote. "We completely agree that we need to be careful about the roles our female figures play - we need to make sure they're part of the action and have exciting adventures, and aren't just waiting to be rescued."
The letter came one day after the company made a historic move by releasing the first set that featured female scientists. The Madison students were among those referenced in a national blog about the move.
Students were enthusiastic about the change and their role in it. The Capital Times newspaper reported that one student wrote, "My heart was beating hard as my teacher read the letter. By the end of the letter, 'YES!' had run through my head many times. I'm so glad more females have important roles in Lego."
The school's LEGO study, along with its other work to create a friendly school environment, won an award this year from two national organizations, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Welcoming Schools program and Gender Spectrum. The school has been using the groups' inclusiveness program for the last few years as part of a district pilot.