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This research paper examines the research literature on the gendered socialization of students as they participate in the social and academic culture of the classroom. The term gendered socialization refers to how female and male students receive different messages about appropriate classroom behaviors. It explores the attributes of classrooms where the academic and social experiences for both female and male students are not limited by their gender, and it reveals recommendations, strategies, and insights into fostering equitable learning environments for females and males in early childhood, middle grades, and high school environments. For all of our students, coming to understand what they know and are able to do in the world is our central goal. This research paper emphasizes the importance for educators of understanding the role of gender in their expectations of the academic and social behaviors of their female and male students.
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The central questions addressed by this research paper are (a) To what extent do schools and teachers’ expectations of males and females influence their development, behavior, and academic success in school? and (b) How do classroom interactions and school curriculum socially construct what it means to be female and male and in what ways does that limit possibilities for girls and boys in schools? This research paper seeks to guide individuals to a heightened awareness of the impact of gender issues in the classroom on student learning and self-concept and on the social relations within the classroom. Furthermore, it explores the ways in which sexual harassment in schools and school programs interferes with the equal access to education—afforded all students under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Beyond the classroom climate, this research paper seeks to expose the embedded gender messages in formal precollege curriculum and suggest possibilities for examining curriculum through the lens of gender. Gender issues in the classroom are examined from a developmental perspective as well as from a sociocultural perspective, exploring the interactive nature of student socialization and achievement and the role of school curriculum in fostering a sense of competence in all students. It concludes with a guide for establishing gender-equitable learning environments that contribute to the well-being of all the students.
Defining Gender Issues and Equity in Education
A gender issue refers to a classroom practice or policy that differentiates the learning experience in ways that limit opportunities for females and males in the classroom. Each gender issue or gender-related issue addresses educationally relevant processes and skills. The field of gender equity in education refers to educational practices that are fair and just toward both males and females, are free from bias or favoritism, show preference toward neither gender, and show concern for both genders (adapted from Klein, Ortman, & Friedman, 2002). The topic of gender issues in the classroom addresses the following questions: What are the attributes of gender equitable classroom environments? How does the socialization of girls and boys promote gender stereotypes in the classroom? How are gender stereotypes supported by the classroom teacher? In what ways do classroom gender issues limit opportunities for social and academic advancement for girls and boys? Amidst an array of widely varied responses to these questions is the understanding that an awareness of the role of gender in learning and behavior can help educators to avoid the trap of limiting children’s growth by making and acting upon stereotypical assumptions about individual students’ abilities and development.
Furthermore, it is understood that a study of genderequitable classroom practices addresses the content of the formal curriculum and the curriculum of classroom interactions that give tacit messages to females and males about their roles in the classroom community and the larger formal curriculum. Hence, gender issues move researchers to explore the study of the formal curriculum, the content of curricular materials, classroom interactions as curriculum (also called the hidden curriculum), the ways in which the materials are taught, and the evaded curriculum, the things that are not taught in our nation’s schools (American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, 1992).
Informing the field of gender equity in education and consequently the areas relating to classroom gender issues is the understanding that classroom communities create social and academic climates that are diversified by socioeconomic class, ethnicity, and geographic region. Because social interactions in classrooms emerge from dominant cultural constructs in specific communities, attention to diversity is imperative for the understanding of the full range of gender issues in the classroom. Profound changes in school demographics have demanded that the field of gender equity in education examine the impacts of changing communities on gender relations and gender equity in classrooms. Studies relating to diverse environments and considering schools and communities of learners that differ from the dominant White middle-class model are emerging in the research literature and are addressed in this research paper.
Gender Equity in Education and the Law
Key United States civil rights laws focus on prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, race, and national origin as well as age, religion, and disability. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance; this key civil rights statute makes it illegal to treat students differently or separately on the basis of sex. Modeled on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, and national origin, it differs from Title VI, which applied to all federal financial assistance, by being limited to education programs that receive federal financial assistance (Klein et al., 2002). Also included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination in education on the basis of sex, race, and national origin.
At the United Nations FourthWorld Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, the Platform for Action to raise the status of women around the world was adopted by representatives from 189 countries, including the United States. Included in this platform were provisions for the advancement of gender equity in education, with an entire section devoted to resolutions on that topic. The declaration specifically states
Education is a human right and an essential tool for achieving the goals of equality, development and peace. Non-discriminatory education benefits both girls and boys and thus ultimately contributes to more equal relationships between women and men. Equality of access to and attainment of educational qualifications is necessary if more women are to become agents of change. (United Nations, 1995, summary, p. 1.)
Sexual Harassment and the Law
Under the guidelines established by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The regulation implementing Title IX, Section 106.31 outlaws sexual harassment as a form of disparate treatment that impedes access to an equitable education. OCR identifies two types of sexual harassment in schools— quid pro quo and hostile environment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when a school employee causes a student to believe that he or she must submit to unwelcome sexual conduct to participate in a school program or activity. It can also occur when a teacher suggests to a student that an educational decision such as grades will be based on whether the student submits to unwelcome sexual conduct. Hostile environment harassment occurs when unwelcome verbal or physical conduct is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an abusive or hostile environment for the affected student (U.S. Department of Education, 1997). On May, 24, 1999, the Supreme Court ruled that school districts can be liable for damages under federal law for failing to stop a student from subjecting another to severe and pervasive sexual harassment, hence denying its victim of equal access to education guaranteed under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (as reported in Greenhouse, 1999).
Gender-Equitable Learning Environments
While implying quality education and equal opportunities and access for all students, gender equity differs from gender equality. Equality sets up a comparison between males and females and asks the question Are they receiving the same education? (AAUW, 1998). Gender equity poses a different question for the classroom dynamic: Do students receive the right education to achieve a shared standard of excellence? Gender equity asserts that males and females do not need the same things to achieve shared outcomes. Gender equity is not sameness or equality; it is equity of outcomes—equal access to achievement and opportunity. Hence, equitable education addresses the needs of girls and boys rather than questions whether each receives the same thing (AAUW, 1998).
The field of gender equity in the classroom began as an outgrowth of the women’s movement of the 1970s and focused on the damaging effects of holding male achievement and accomplishment as the norm against which females are measured. This led to a deficit model that emphasized girls’ inabilities to perform as well as boys on various standardized tests throughout the precollege experience. Early work in gender equity challenged this deficit model because it suggested that there was something wrong with the girls that needed to be fixed or remedied. This situation prompted researchers to explore learning environments for girls and boys while they were participating in the same classroom with the same teacher (Klein, 1985; Sadker & Sadker, 1982). What they found (in predominantly White middle-class classrooms) was that the problems were not internal to the girls; rather, they were situated in the external learning environment. Early studies then revealed that classroom practices routinely favor the academic development of boys (discussed later in this research paper), and interventions were developed to provide more equitable learning environments for girls (Clewell, Anderson, & Thorpe, 1992; Greenberg, 1985; Logan, 1997; Saker & Sadker, 1984; Sanders et al., 1997). Although these interventions helped individual girls to achieve in areas in which they were lagging, this deficit model inferred that girls would be successful if they just acquired the same strengths as the boys. This view has shifted to conceptualize equitable learning environments as those that capitalize on the strengths of all individuals—both boys and girls—and invite each to adopt behaviors that help each gender cultivate strengths not usually developed due to socialization practices and stereotyping.
The field of gender equity in education generally acknowledges that equitable classroom environments have the following attributes in common (AAUW, 1992, 1995, 1998; McIntosh, 2000):
- Classrooms are caring communities where individuals feel safe and where understanding is promoted among peers.
- Classrooms are free from violence and peer or adult harassment.
- Classrooms have routines and procedures that ensure equal access to instructional materials and extracurricular activities.
- Classrooms have a gender agenda referring to the deconstruction of gendered expectations for students and encouraging full participation of each student including the expression of nonstereotyped behaviors.
- Classrooms address the evaded curriculum by exploring those who have been omitted and by integrating evaded topics such as sexuality, violence, abuse, and gender politics.
- Classrooms address the lived experience of students by providingassignmentsorprojectsthatdevelopallstudents’ capacities to see their life experience as part of knowledge, wherein students are authorities of their own experience and contribute to the classroom textbooks by creating “textbooks of their lives” (McIntosh & Style, 1999).
Gender Issues Facing Educators
Gender equity research beginning in the 1970s and continuing through the early 1990s consistently reported a series of behaviors that characterized coeducational classrooms in predominantly White middle-class communities (AAUW, 1992; Becker, 1981; Brophy, 1981; Klein, 1985; Lockheed, 1984, 1985; Sadker & Sadker, 1982, 1994). These behaviors revealed differential treatment of girls and boys in the same classrooms, with the same teacher, and experiencing the same curriculum. Categories of analysis included studentteacher interactions (both teacher- and student-initiated), peer interactions, and gender segregation (Lockheed, 1985). Educational researchers sought to gain insight into coeducational environments by spending time, observing in classrooms at precollege grade levels, and documenting teacher-student interactions and peer interactions in classrooms, hallways, cafeterias, and school grounds. These studies compiled data about the nature of teacher-student and student-student interactions in both the classroom and more informal school environments. Field researchers took notes and made extensive ethnographic reports about the experience of being in these classrooms. The researchers recorded and coded interactions by gender and interviewed teachers and students. Some studies used survey data whereby students’ hobbies, attitudes, and pBibliography: were recorded on open-ended and quantitative surveys. One such study of an independent school in an urban area yielded valuable data for faculty and administrators about the ways in which their male and female students were experiencing school and their lives outside the classroom (Koch, 1996).
When looking at classroom interactions through the lens of gender, one repeatedly sees similar gendered patterns of student-teacher interactions, which are elucidated later in this research paper in detail. However, the repetition of these patterns in research studies from the 1970s as well as those documented by the end of the 1990s reveals the consistent pervasiveness of gender bias in the classroom (Marshall & Reinhartz, 1997); this situation has persisted because classrooms continue to be microcosms of society, mirroring the gender roles that teachers and students develop through their socialization patterns. Both ingrained in our individual identities and mediated by social class and ethnicity, gender roles inform much of the behavior we observe in classrooms. In the following discussion are common classroom interactions between teachers and students as they communicate with each other in formal and informal ways. Instances of gender bias in teacher-student interactions are often subtle, well intended, and not designed to limit opportunities for either gender. Several researchers have noted, however, that consistent genderbiased practices can contribute to lowered self-esteem for girls in ways that can be remedied by intervention strategies (Chapman, 1997; Sadker & Sadker, 1994).
Changing teachers’ gender-stereotyped behavior requires prior knowledge of gender issues in the classroom. Teachers who participate in gender workshops designed to create an awareness of and an agenda for gender issues in the classroom tend to promote more equitable classroom settings than do their peers who have had little or no exposure to the topic.This participation is differentiated from simple awareness of the role of gender equity in the classroom. Studies have found that awareness is not sufficient to change behavior because wellintended teacher behaviors have been ingrained and practiced for so many years that teachers automatically respond in certain ways to boys and girls (Levine & Orenstein, 1994). Because many teachers have been socialized over their lifetimes to believe certain stereotypes about genders and have also had some of the same experiences that their students have had, it is difficult for them to acquire teaching strategies that call these belief systems into question.
Gender research results are often described by attributing behaviors to aggregate groups and disregarding individual differences within groups (i.e., active girls, silent boys). This trend toward describing female groups and male groups as a whole—disregarding individual differences—is changing as education researchers explore differences within groups and build an understanding of how race and class mediate gender socialization. Studies addressing gender issues in the classroom, however, described differences between populations of girls and boys in the same classroom settings. The results indicated different patterns of classroom interactions and performance for precollege boys and girls. These patterns were not random; they reflect differing social and academic expectations and opportunities for male and female students. Many of the differentiated experiences reflect the ways in which teachers in classrooms reinforce group stereotypes about student skills and opportunities (AAUW, 1998).
The Hidden, Formal, and Null Curriculums
These teacher behaviors are components of what researchers have termed the hidden curriculum—the tacit messages students receive from the daily practices, routines, and behaviors that occur in the classroom. The hidden curriculum of the school’s climate are “things not deliberately taught or instituted, but which are the cumulative result of many unconscious or unexamined behaviors that add to a palpable style or atmosphere” (Chapman, 1997). An example of these types of behaviors can be seen in elementary school environments— for example, when teachers assign girls the task of recording on the board during a demonstration lesson in science while boys are required to set up or assemble the accompanying materials. This fine-motor/gross-motor distinction is one of many types of gendered expectations that can lead to differentiated outcomes.
In middle school, extracurricular computer clubs are often dominated by middle-grades boys. No one questions the absence of girls. This lack of taking notice is another example of the ways schools communicate a hidden curriculum. The high schools often offer advanced placement (AP) science courses in chemistry and physics that have more males than females enrolled. When school administrators or teachers are not asking Where are the girls?, the message is that they are not expected. Similarly, when advanced placement language arts courses are underenrolled by boys, their absence needs to signal that the school needs to examine the issue. When teachers tend to focus the microscope for the female students who seek help, but the same teachers encourage the male students to figure it out for themselves, they show another example of the implementation of the hidden curriculum (Koch, 1996; Sanders et al., 1997). In short, the hidden curriculum comprises the unstated lessons that students learn in school: It is the running subtext through which teachers communicate behavioral norms and individual status in the school culture—the process of socialization that cues children into their place in the hierarchy of larger society (Orenstein, 1994).
The hidden curriculum is distinguished from the formal curriculum, which consists of subject-matter disciplines and the ways they are taught and tested. The importance of the formal curriculum cannot be overstated: “I think the main message any school delivers about what counts is delivered through its curriculum” (McIntosh, 1984, p. 8). The informal curriculum is comprised of activities that include athletics, school government, and extracurricular activities. The informal curriculum includes the social messages that males and females receive as they participate in school activities beyond the formal classroom environment. The null curriculum— also referred to as the evaded curriculum—refers to what is missing from all other curricula—not as a result of a conscious decision to include it, but merely because it never occurred to anyone to consider whether it should be there (Chapman, 1997). The evaded curriculum, examined later in this research paper, refers to absences in the curriculum that often include social topics and subject matter content that explores the experiences of females.
Gender Issues in the Classroom: The Gaps
The last decade witnessed the publication of several research reports that examined the lives of girls and boys in precollege environments. These reports were commissioned by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Educational Foundation and contribute to an important fund of data on gender issues in the classroom and beyond. In 1998, the foundation assessed developments in Grades K–12 education through the lens of gender and noted gaps that persist despite educators’ increased awareness of the problem of gender stereotyping in schools. To assess the achievement and risk factors, several of the glaring gender gaps in education are summarized in the following discussion; underlying issues and causes are revealed in subsequent sections of this research paper.
Risks for Girls
Girls are more vulnerable to widespread sexual violence and harassment that interferes with their ability to learn. One out of every five girls says that she has been sexually or physically abused; one in four girls shows signs of depression. The teen birth rate dropped by 17% percent among African Americans between 1991 and 1996 and by more than 9% among non-Hispanic Whites. There was no similar decline in birth rate for Hispanic teens.
Boys repeat grades and drop out of school at a higher rate than do girls; however, girls who repeat a grade are more likely to drop out than are boys who are held back. Not only is being held back more harmful to girls, but dropping out also is: Girls who drop out are less likely to return and complete school, and dropout rates among females are also correlated strongly with lower-income families and higher rates of pregnancy. Dropout rates are especially high among Hispanic girls. In 1995, 30% of Hispanic females age 16–24 had dropped out of school and not yet passed a high school equivalency test. In contrast, dropout rates for White students and Black males have remained stable. Dropout rates for Hispanic males and Black females have declined.
Risks for Boys
Boys are more likely than are girls to be labeled problems in need of assistance, to fail a course, or to repeat a grade. Boys are more likely to be identified for special education programs and are more likely than are girls to be labeled for their entire school career. Boys are more likely to gain social status through disruptive classroom behavior, which leads to school failure. Boys are more likely than are girls to engage in highrisk behavior (experimenting with drugs and alcohol), and they are more prone to accidents caused by violence. In school, boys’ misbehavior is more frequently punished than is that of girls. More than 70% of students suspended from school are boys.
Sports and Physical Activity
Girls are twice as likely to be inactive as boys, and male high school graduates are more likely than are females to have taken at least 1 year of physical education. Research links physical activity for girls to higher self-esteem, better body image, and lifelong health. Classroom teachers are urged to recognize the importance of encouraging both girls and boys to participate in organized physical activity.
Boys outnumber girls in team sports, whereas girls outnumber boys in performing arts, school government, and literary activities. Poverty is the largest barrier to participation in sports or extracurricular activities, which are linked to better school performance.
Course Taking and Testing
Girls take English courses in greater numbers than do boys— except in remedial English, where boys outnumber girls. Furthermore, girls outnumber boys in crucial subjects like sociology, psychology, foreign languages, and fine arts. Girls take more AP courses in English, biology, and foreign languages. More girls than boys take voluntary AP tests to earn college credit; in fact, African American girls are far more likely to take AP exams than are African American boys (by a factor of almost two to one). Girls, however, receive fewer scores of 3 or higher, the score needed to receive college credit. This is true even in subjects like English in which girls traditionally earn top grades. Girls lag behind boys in participation in AP physical science classes and in computer science and computer design classes. Girls make up only a small percentage of students in computer science and computer design classes. In 1996, girls comprised only 17% of AP test takers in computer science.
In the college-bound population, males of all racial and ethnic backgrounds score higher than do females on the math section and on the verbal section of the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) (AAUW, 1998a). The gender gaps are widest among high-achieving students. On the verbal section of the American College Testing Program (ACT), girls outscore boys on the verbal section.
The Classroom Climate
The research on gender issues in the classrooms describes differential treatment of males and females who sit the same classroom, use the same materials, and work with the same teacher. The central questions remains To what extent do classroom teachers, school administrators, counselors, and peers limit the development off emales and males through promoting gender stereotyping and gender-biased classroom practices and school policies?
Gender Bias in Student-Teacher Interactions
Gender bias in student-teacher interactions has been documented in classrooms from kindergarten through the end of highschool.Areasofgender-differentiatedinstructioninclude:
- Teacher questions and student responses.
- Types of teacher questions and sanctions.
- Student voice or air time, so to speak.
- Teacher attention to student appearance.
- Amount of wait time.
- Teacher-student coaching.
- Teacher assigned jobs.
A significant finding has been that classroom teachers engage boys in question-and-answer periods more frequently than they engage girls. Involving boys more actively in the classroom dialogue has been seen as a way to control male behavior in the classroom and has often been a response to male aggressiveness. Studies found that in classroom discourse, boys frequently raised their hands—sometimes impulsively and sometimes without even knowing the answer. Conversely, studies found that girls tended not to raise their hands as often; when they did, they were overlooked frequently and male students were chosen instead. Teachers, when asked to monitor their interactions with students, consciously changed this pattern, but only after active participation in a gender workshop or related intervention. Several teacher education institutions offer courses addressing gender issues in the classroom, and pre- and postcourse assessments indicate that teachers make adjustments to their own student interactions after learning the ways in which their unintentionally biased behaviors affect girls and boys’ self-concepts in classrooms. For example, in teacher training courses on gender and schooling, teachers are asked to examine their classroom interactions and to tape themselves. Often, they notice that they call on boys more frequently for responses and coach boys for correct responses more frequently than they do with girls. Teachers tend to change their interactions when they are made aware of their practices. For example, some elementary school teachers tend to praise girls for how they dress and wear their hair. In courses and workshops, however, teachers are encouraged to extend more praise to girls’ problemsolving skills and performance in class. Similarly, teachers are encouraged to acknowledge boys’ skills in working well in cooperative groups and to praise their capacity to work in a team within the classroom context. Teachers report that they change those behaviors when made aware of them (Koch, 1998a).
A related finding revealed that teachers tended to ask boys more open-ended, thought-provoking questions than they asked girls, demonstrating the expectation that boys were capable of greater abstract thinking. As noted later in this research paper, these findings become exaggerated in different subject area classes in middle and high school, especially mathematics, science, and technology.
Several studies revealed that although the classroom helpers selected by teachers are carefully selected girls, the boys are more likely to demonstrate and use technical equipment and actively engage with materials during experiments.
When girls exhibited boisterous behavior and impulsively called out a response, they were reprimanded in ways in which boys who routinely exhibited the same behaviors were not. One study described third-grade elementary school girls as suffering from overcontrol, a term used to indicate the silence of girls and their reluctance to ask questions even when they did not understand a concept (Harvard Education Newsletter, 1989).
Research studies affirm repeatedly that males receive more of all types of the teacher’s attention in classrooms and are given more time to talk in class from preschool through high school. Teachers tend to offer more praise, criticism, remediation, and acceptance to boys than to girls. Although males receive harsher punishment than do females for the same offense, females are often unduly punished when they exhibit male social behavior. Teachers are often invested in the silence of the girls. Girls tend not to call attention to themselves and to be quiet, social, and well behaved in classrooms. Even when they are sure of an answer, they are not apt to volunteer. Teachers often sanction so-called good girl behavior in elementary classrooms as a way of maintaining their vision of proper classroom management. Teachers tend to offer different types of praise—rewarding girls for their appearance or the appearance of their work and praising boys for the ways in which they solve a problem or accomplish a task. Girls learn early on that their appearance matters in ways that are not valid for the boys. Being pretty, cute, thin, charming, alluring, well-dressed, and sexy are attributes to which girls aspire because such attributes are valued by adults and media messages. Classrooms reinforce those values when girls are praised for appearance and dress on a consistent basis.
When asking the class questions, teachers tend to exhibit longer wait times for boys than for girls. Wait time refers to the period of time between asking a question and calling on a student for a response. Research has found that wait time is an important teacher technique for encouraging full participation of all students and promoting higher order thinking rather than simple recall (Rowe, 1987). Whereas some researchers assert that teachers give males longer wait time than they give females to keep males’interest and manage classroom behavior, other researchers believe that teachers expect more abstract or higher order thinking from the males and that those expectations are manifested in longer wait times. Studies reveal that teachers tend to coach boys for the correct answers through prodding and cajoling, but they go on to the next student when a girl has an incorrect response (Sadker & Sadker, 1994; Sandler, Silverberg, & Hall, 1996).
Most teachers believe that they treat girls and boys the same; research reveals that they frequently do not. The teacher’s gender has little bearing on the outcome; it is the gender of the student that determines the differential behavior (Sadker & Sadker, 1994).
Gender Equity in Early Childhood Environments
The classroom is a place where students are socialized into behaving in certain ways. Children arrive at school with early gender socialization patterns that often influence the life of the classroom. The structure and climate created in the classroom need to mitigate these social differences in order to capitalize on strengths of each gender and build skills that may be lacking due to stereotyping. One study explored the lives of girls and boys in kindergarten classrooms (Greenberg, 1985). Observations of early childhood teachers reveal that girls are praised in kindergarten for arriving to school willing and able to conform to classroom structures and rules. Teachers spend more time socializing boys into classroom life, and the result is that girls get less teacher attention. Boys receive what they need—additional work on obeying rules, following classroom protocols, controlling unruly impulses, and establishing the preconditions for learning.
Girls’ needs are more subtle and tend to be overlooked. For example, most girls arrive into kindergarten with better development of fine motor skills than most boys have. They often do not have as well-developed gross motor skills, although that steadily improved in the 1990s with the institutionalization of organized sports for girls. Early childhood environments would serve little girls well by exposing them purposefully to activities requiring large motor skills, ranging from block corner activities to climbing and running during recess. Instead, researchers noted that the activities girls needed most in early childhood were relegated to free play or recess time. The needs of boys, however, were met during the instructional class time (Klein, 1985).
Segregated play in early educational environments does not meet the needs of both genders. For example, one study revealed that boys wanted to enter the doll corner but only got there by invading as superheroes (Paley, 1993). For boys, this type of aggressive behavior can be lessened—not accentuated—by doll corner play. Other studies explore the affect on playtime of setting up the early childhood classroom in ways that encourage cooperative play between girls and boys (Gallas, 1998; Greenberg, 1985; Schlank & Metzger, 1997). One study followed a group of kindergarten boys whose boys-only club exclusively limited enrollment to athletic boys (Best, 1983). Belonging to the boys’ club was directly correlated with higher achievement. This type of allboys group adversely affects those who do not belong.
Furthermore, segregated play activities are encouraged by heavy media promotion of so-called girls’ toys and boys’ toys; this further differentiates interactions and communication styles of girls and boys. This differentiation disadvantages girls and boys as they participate in learning communities because it limits the range of behaviors, skills, speech patterns, communication styles, and ways of knowing to same gender groupings. Early childhood classrooms that are structured to maximize boy-girl interaction during free time as well as instructional time help both girls and boys to develop with fewer restrictions.
In one kindergarten classroom, a girls’group was building a tall tower in the block corner when it suddenly fell over; they left the task in dismay. Agroup of boys had built a tower and knocked it down purposely for the sheer joy of building it back up again. Risk taking and building confidence are important attributes for all students to acquire. Testing ideas and risking error are significant components of learning. Similarly, the kind of family-like communication that occurs in the doll corner provides important experiences for little boys who are not traditionally socialized to develop their verbal expression skills in ways in which girls are (Best, 1983; Greenberg, 1985; Paley, 1993).
Boys need to recognize the value and importance of attitudes and competencies stereotypically associated with the feminine. Girls need to acquire many of the attitudes and competencies associated with the masculine. Classrooms are places where mixed-gender grouping can foster an appreciation for qualities each gender has been socialized to acquire from birth. Instead, gender teachings (McIntosh, 2000) are full of inherited ideas that comprise a set of rules each biological sex must follow. These rules are invented, differ across cultures, and can change over time. As the years go on, girls and boys come to see their gender teachings (e.g., boys don’t cry) as a part of their sex and hence natural for their sex. To the extent that early childhood classrooms can begin to deconstruct restricted notions about how to be a boy or how to be a girl, it is possible to achieve gender-equitable learning communities. Although progress was made in the last decade of the twentieth century, the White Western societal belief persists that the sexes are somehow opposite. Classroom communities that reflect this belief tacitly encourage separate gender play, with boys persisting in the block corner and girls remaining in the dramatic play or house corner. This research paper is informed by the belief that classroom communities can challenge existing beliefs of what is natural for girls and boys and hence broaden opportunities for children.
Gender and Identity in the Primary Grades
“Girls are usually sitting in a tree when they are told, ‘Girls don’t climb trees’. . . Women who do not climb, literally or figuratively, come to feel it is natural to the female sex that women do not ‘climb’” (McIntosh, 2000, p. 1). This quote represents an important connection between the messages girls and boys receive about what they can and cannot do and the abilities they refine as they mature. How do teachers and the classroom climates they create encourage girls and boys to move beyond gender-stereotyped expectations and expand their abilities? This section explores the effects of sex-role stereotyping and social roles on the behavior of girls and boys in classrooms.
Bad Boys and Silent Girls
Social stereotyping and bias influence children’s selfconcepts and attitudes toward others. Although sweeping generalizations currently categorize the lives of little boys and little girls, this research paper seeks to highlight the tendency toward oversimplification that the field of gender equity— well-intentioned and significant—has wrought upon classroom contexts.
At age 30 months, children are learning to use gender labels (boy-girl) and by 3–5 years of age, children try to figure out if they will remain a boy or a girl or if that is subject to change. They possess internalized gender roles (DermanSparks, 1989) and arrive at school having already acquired a set of values, attitudes, and expectations of what girls and boys can do. Research findings reveal that teacher attitudes and interactions and the ways in which the classroom community is established can reinforce prevailing gender norms, positing masculine as opposite to feminine, or they can expand the boundaries of sex role stereotyping by providing all children with a wide range of experiences and possibilities. We know that the differences among boys and among girls are far greater than the actual differences between the sexes (Golumbok & Fivusch, 1996). Much of what we know as gender teachings may be unnatural for individual children of either sex. For example, a very artistic boy may be discouraged from refining his talents by adults whose expectations are that as a young boy, he should be playing ball rather than drawing pictures.
Consequently, a gender agenda becomes crucial to the primary teacher as he or she sets out to actively listen to the voices of girls and boys and empower them with new possibilities. Children differentiate between appropriate behaviors for girls and boys in the areas of physical appearance, toy choices, play activities, and peer preferences (AAUW, 1993; Sadker & Sadker, 1986). Consequently, children are placed in a suboptimal position—wanting to participate in activities that they perceive they should not want because of their sex. These conflicts between personal likes and doing what they are led to think they should do need to be made visible in the primary grades and throughout schooling.
Unfortunately, much of the gender equity research has revealed that boys dominate and silence girls and that teachers collude with this agenda. This teacher collusion— allowing boys to dominate—ignores the complexities of small children’s behaviors, conflicts, and needs for acceptance.Agender agenda in a primary classroom would include using gender-inclusive language, arranging the primary classroom in a way that encourages mixed-gender play, and providing children with classroom rules that disallow exclusions by gender. For example, explicitly stating that all children can play with all toys in all activity areas and that no children may be kept from playing because of something they cannot change—such as gender, skin color, or disability are two rules that provide children with the freedom to explore all areas and try out many different roles (Schlank & Metzger, 1997).
Karen Gallas (1998), however, in her extended classroom research work with her own first and second graders, reminds us that the construction of a gender-balanced classroom is a goal that reflects incomplete understandings of classroom life and denies the cultural dynamic of today’s classrooms (p. 3). Although proactive methods of instruction to promote gender consciousness and employ gender-neutral materials are tools that can help teachers, Gallas asserts that in fact the social climate of the classroom is highly complex and that teachers are well served by exploring the conditions within their own classrooms that promote certain social relations over others. In other words, to be gender equitable, primary teachers need to know how the dynamics of gender identity and power relations plays out in their specific classroom contexts. There are no simple formulas for creating equitable classroom environments.
Gallas’s research presents a more complex response to creating equitable climates; she describes the underlying causes of boy dominance in her 7- and 8-year-olds and the purposes they serve for attaining power in the classroom (Gallas, 1994, 1998). Boys appear to suffer more from their early indoctrination into school structures than do girls. Sitting and listening for long periods of time is seen as possible—even easy—for girls and torture for boys.Working quietly on a project and taking turns almost seems to satisfy the girls, whereas it becomes an occasion for shouting out, pushing, or running for the boys. Gallas describes the so-called bad boys in her first- and second-grade classes as those outspoken boys who use physical and verbal intrusions in the classroom to rebel against prevailing power. She notes, as others have (Best, 1983; Paley, 1993; Sadker & Sadker, 1994), that while signaling their power, these boys are also lost to the community of learning. Boys who are more physical and verbal also tend to spend more time attempting to garner adulation from the less aggressive boys and popular girls; consequently, they pay the price of isolation from the community of the classroom.
As they [bad boys] develop and refine their ability to use language to critique, judge, and embarrass, they also disrupt instruction, intimidate classmates, and force a code of detachment on themselves that denies their potential as learners and thinkers. (Gallas, 1998, p. 35)
Silence can be another way to negotiate power in the gender relations of the first-grade classroom. The gender stereotype pervading elementary school classrooms provides images of silent girls and bad boys. Boys may be quiet and shy, but they are rarely silent, whereas girls who are silent or whose voices are so low they are barely audible are not uncommon. One oversimplification of this phenomenon includes the belief that girls are silenced by the boys and somehow—if the teacher only intervenes—the girls will no longer be so quiet. Another oversimplification describes the gendered dichotomies of classroom discourse as originating in the classroom, as though the gender relations suppress the girls’ voices. There is a lack of research on girls’ silence, and an acceptance of their silence in the early grades remains. As a result, early childhood teachers see the need to manage the boys while the girls remain compliant and quiet. Teachers do not attempt to examine the possible causes of the girls’ silences because the silences are not seen as problematic.
In fact, girls’silences serve to isolate them from a learning community and leave them out of the loop in the same way that boys’ aggression isolates boys. Some classroom researchers have observed that for girls, the shrinking from the limelight of the classroom is connected to many complex factors—not just the reluctance to call attention to themselves. For some girls, remaining silent in the face of a classroom dynamic that includes outspoken and judgmental boys can be the only way they feel psychologically safe.
Bad boys, like most children, are not naturally mean-spirited; they are experimental. They are small social scientists studying the effects of their behavior on others. (Gallas, 1998, p. 44)
Hence, the status of dominance among the children often determines who gets to have public voice in the classroom. Understanding how a child’s classroom status can determine how that child gets to dominate the public voice in the classroom allows teachers the opportunity to reflect on those who are most frequently heard in the classroom—not only as a taken-for-granted gender issue, but also through the lens of social relations within and between genders in the classrooms. Because having a public voice is important to the development of all children, studying the classroom contexts that provide or discourage opportunities for voice is a necessary prerequisite to exploring the inner lives of silent girls and mediating the behaviors of outspoken boys.
Although researchers have observed patterns of girl and boy behaviors in early childhood environments that conform to gender stereotypes (i.e., boys in the block corner, girls in the doll corner), it is necessary for the classroom teacher to interrogate those separations and actively research the underlying subtexts of the classroom environment in order to provide greater possibilities for girls and boys. Equitable environments seek to uncover the needs and social issues behind these gendered behaviors, and—rather than provide equal treatment—seek ways to encourage all children to see themselves as contributors to the classroom community. This task often requires offering different experiences to girls and boys in the effort to level the playing field for all students.
Because each classroom is unique, the social relations that inform the dynamic give rise to what Gallas (1998) calls an evolving consciousness. Understanding this consciousness through the lens of gender is one way for a teacher to be an active facilitator of equitable classroom environments.
Gender Equity in Early Childhood Pedagogy and Curriculum
As part of the formal curriculum of the primary grades, researchers have explored ways in which teachers can introduce gender-equitable activities into the formal structure of the classroom curriculum. Peer discovery learning at activity centers is commonplace in early educational environments. Exploring the structure and content of the activity centers through the lens of gender reveals possibilities for organizing the classroom for more cross-gender play ideas. For example, placing the teacher’s desk in close proximity to the block corner to encourage girls’ participation in block building is a strategy informed by the finding that many girls like to stay around the teacher in the early grades (Greenberg, 1985). Further block-playing incentives include an everybody plays with blocks day every 2 weeks or a girls’only or boys only day with the block corner, the science center, or any other area that appears underutilized by girls or boys. To provide a variety of experiences for both girls and boys, teachers are encouraged to be vigilant that both girls and boys experience the sand table, water table, computer, crafts, and math centers. Further, renaming the center for playing house or dolls as the drama center and equipping it with boys’ and girls’ clothing, construction hats and tools, puppets, and anatomically correct dolls removes the gender stereotype and encourages boys as well as girls to participate in creative role-playing. It is useful to avoid action figures and glamour dolls that reinforce anatomical stereotypes and extremes (Mullen, 1994). Vivian Gussin Paley (1993) describes the ways in which framing the early childhood context around these types of interventions enables girls and boys to broaden their experiences.
In girls-only science talks, Gallas (1994) drew out primary girls’ thinking about natural phenomena in ways that would go unexpressed in a mixed gender discussion. However, some studies reveal that when gender segregation happens without the teacher’s sanction, it can be detrimental to student learning. In a study of first graders engaged in writers’ workshop processes, conferencing about written work became divided by gender; boys excluded the girls by refusing to conference with them and girls conferenced only with girls as a way to avoid rejection (Henkin, 1995). The boys’ literacy club was the dominant feature of this classroom, and the unspoken rule of the boys’ club was that any member had to be a boy of who the leader approved. The girls and two boys in the class were excluded. Interviews with the boys revealed that they believed the girls were simply not adequate partners, but none of the girls challenged the boys’ statements about why girls made poor conference partners. Boys deemed girls as inadequate because the girls’ interests were not in sports, inventors, or science—they only wanted to write about babies, a prince, and a princess.
These girls were only in first grade, yet they had already experienced bigotry and rejection. Henkin concludes that discrimination among students in elementary classrooms merits a closer look. Educators need to be aware of who is being included, who is being excluded, and how exclusion affects the self-concepts and literacy development of their students. In this first-grade class, little boys felt better than and superior to the girls, deeming girls’ interests as less valuable. The girls were puzzled and hurt. However, excluded boys also suffered academically and socially. The classroom dynamic that went on was unnoticed at first by the teacher; that boys conferenced only with boys and girls only with other girls was not immediately salient to the teacher-researcher. Of significance is that the initiative of single-sex writers’ workshop conferencing was begun by the boys in this study because the girls were “simply not adequate partners” (Henkin, 1995, p. 430). At this early age, writing about babies and other so-called female writing interests was not valued by the boys, whose stories included adventure and sports. Even when girls wrote about sports, however, they were not deemed good conferencing partners.
Curriculum research in the early years points to the development of reading skills. Selection criteria for appropriate literature for young children has undergone great change as the field of gender equity in education evolved from the 1980s to the present. The advent of literature-based reading programs called into question what the children were reading. The gender roles of literary characters have great impact on small children. Hence, gender-neutral and nonstereotyped literature choices for young children have emerged, with significant implications. Curriculum transformation work explored later in this research paper examines the importance of providing children with windows into the worlds of those different from themselves and mirrors in which students can see themselves reflected in the school curriculum while exploring the lives of others (Style, 1998).
The metaphor of curriculum as window and mirror is applicable to all disciplines and has particular significance for early childhood education, in which stories, acting, and reading aloud play central roles in the classroom discourse. How are the protagonists presented in each story and in what ways do they reinforce or depart from gender stereotypes? The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) maintains ongoing lists of appropriate children’s literature that posits both girls and boys as capable of strengths conventionally associated with the other gender (NCTE, 1995).
The importance of attending to gender-equitable early educational environments cannot be overstated. In the daily classroom interactions, teachers can challenge stereotypes about what girls and boys can and cannot do. Simple grossmotor tasks like moving a pile of books from one place in the classroom to another can be attended to by a boy, a girl, or both. Comforting a child in distress can be encouraged for the boys as well as for the girls (Chapman, 1997). What evolves as acceptable behavior for boys and girls in early years of schooling can be reinforced in later grades.
In early childhood environments, academic researchers and teacher-researchers describe gender separations that influence performance in many academic areas. The implications are often hierarchical—male interests and classroom behaviors often dominate the classroom contexts. The formal curriculum taught in the classroom comprises the guts of any school. It is the most important of the messages that we as educators send to students, parents, and ourselves about what reality is like and about what is truly worth teaching and learning (Chapman, 1997, p. 47). As we examine gender equity issues in middle and high school, the formal curriculum becomes more critical, revealing to students and their teachers what it is that is supposedly worth knowing while signaling less value to what is omitted. The omissions, called the null curriculum or the evaded curriculum, deliver powerful messages by their absences.
Gender Equity in the Middle Grades and High Schoolyears
For many years, early adolescence has been identified as a time of heightened psychological risk for girls (Brown & Gilligan, 1992). At this stage in their development, girls have been observed to lose their vitality, their voice, their resilience, their apparent immunity to depression, their selfconfidence, and often their spunkiness (Gilligan, 1982; Orenstein, 1994; Pipher, 1994). These events are often invisible in middle grades classrooms as teachers and students alike see this passage as normal behavior for girls at this time and not influenced by culture, the hidden curriculum, or gender socialization, underscoring the importance of defining and redefining a gender issue in the classroom (Koch & Irby, 2002). How does understanding the psychology behind this passage help teachers to create more equitable middle grades and then high school classroom environments?
In analyzing women’s development, Brown and Gilligan (1992) and others (Belenky, Clinchy, & Tarule, 1986; Gilligan, 1982; Miller, 1986) found that an inner sense of connection with others is a central organizing feature of women’s development and that psychological crises in women’s lives stem from disconnections. Women often silence themselves in relationships rather than risk open conflict or disagreement that might lead to isolation. In tracing this process backwards through adolescence, researchers learned that the desire for authentic connection, the experience of disconnection, the difficulties speaking out, and the feeling of not being heard or being able to convey one’s own experience even to oneself accompany the preadolescent girl’s passage (Brown & Giligan, 1992).
Girls at this middle grades stage begin to question themselves as they struggle to remain in connection with others and see themselves in relation to the larger culture of women. Adolescent girls’ inner conflicts about their abilities to belong, to achieve, to look right, to be popular, and to hear and validate their own voices while maintaining relationships are manifested in classrooms and often result in silences. Schools and specifically classrooms become places where early adolescent girls become reluctant to confront and publicly engage with others (Orenstein, 1994). Even girls with strong self-concepts will silence their inner voices for the sake of securing relationships. In a course for teachers that addressed gender issues in the classroom, one female teacher identified with the experiences described in the course readings by Brown and Gilligan (1992) about the psychological development of girls at puberty. What follows is an excerpt from a prolonged exchange about girls at puberty. The teachers’ reflections were posted to a shared Web site. This woman’s contribution to a discussion of the reading was supported by many of her female peers. It is included here to illustrate a shared understanding among White middleclass women as they reflected on their own early adolescent experiences.
Speaking as a white, middle class Caucasian woman who went through puberty, I was not at all surprised by reading that girls becoming quieter and more passive within the classroom after puberty because I remember what they are going through. It does not mean that the girls withdrew from life and social activity. In actuality, they were still vocal and showing confidence within their social groups and around females, but not inside the classroom. Basically, when puberty starts the awareness between the sexes greatly increases and the females especially become self-conscious about the changes. Around this time boys and girls start going on dates and hanging out in mixed groups. Middle school was a time of fitting-in and wanting to be popular. Students dressed the same and acted the same because being different was not socially accepted. Girls were unsure about themselves and the changes they experienced and wanted to fit-in. Being vocal inside the classroom would leave them open to criticism. They wanted to be asked out by the ‘cool’ boys and being too involved in school or showing how smart/‘stupid’ they were could deter the boys from liking you. The boys also wanted to fit-in and did not want girlfriends who were outspoken or smarter than them because they would end up feeling peer pressure or being ousted from their own group. Plus, since we are all socialized from the time we are born about the proper behaviors for males and females, when puberty hits these notions are magnified because we just came into our womanhood and manhood. Girls act more feminine and play up the ‘girlie role,’ and boys act more manly so that the opposite sex will notice and like them. No way would a girl take on what is considered a masculine quality in the classroom and risk rejection. Not until later on in high school when the females felt established within the school and their friends did many of us show our other sides and how we were unique and confident. Well, that was what it was like for many of the people I grew up with. There were exceptions and outspoken girls, but I don’t think they were as outspoken as their personalities really were. . . . It is up to us, the teachers, to show the students that it is acceptable for everyone to show who they are and act in both masculine and feminine ways without fear of being rejected for their differences. (Web-based discourse, excerpted from Koch, 2001)
Brown and Gilligan (1992) conclude that authentic relationships with women are important to help adolescent girls hold onto their authentic inner voices. They refer to “resonant relationships between girls and women” as crucial for girls’ development and for bringing women’s voices fully into the worldsothatthe“socialconstructionofreality—theconstruction of the human world that isinstitutionalized by societyand carried across generations by culture—will be built by and acoustically resonant for both women and men” (p. 7). Examples of girl-women pairings include big-sister/little-sister connections between middle and high school girls and young women in college and graduate school. Further pairings are cited between women scientists and aspiring girls in science at the middle and high school grades (Clewell et al., 1992).
One classroom researcher used these findings to actively listen to and for the voices of her seventh-grade girls in English class at an all-girls school (Barbieri, 1995). By providing venues for their private communications with her, Barbieri was able to delve more deeply into their authentic beliefs about themselves, writing, poetry, and the literature they would grow to love and critique. Barbieri used dialogic journals that were maintained with her all-female classes. The student journals, in which she wrote responses, became a way to make personal connections with each of her female students, providing her middle grades girls with an adult female connection. Barbieri explored the lives and work of important women writers, thus providing women’s voices for the newly subverted adolescent voices of her students and once again providing women with whom her students could connect. In coeducational classes, the importance of these teaching strategies signals that both males and females are heard at deeply important levels. Not allowing the young adolescent girls to remain silent means more than coaxing their participation. It means finding ways to authentically include their voices without risking their withdrawal by promoting open confrontation in the classroom. It means seeking inclusive curriculum and pedagogy that honors all students’ lived experiences. In short, listening for girls’ voices at the middle and high school levels provides a richer educational experience for all students.
In a fifth-year language arts class in Britain, the teacherresearcher studied the experiences of students reading a story of a boy who was transformed for the day into a girl (Wing, 1997). This examination of the story Bill’s New Frock (Fine, 1991) promoted extensive study of gender stereotypes and adult expectations of different genders’ behaviors. The findings revealed that unraveling socially constructed systems of opportunities for males and females can be quite complex. This classroom teacher learned that the classroom environment she created provided a safe space in which the students could discuss their reactions to the story. They revealed their attitudes about gender stereotyping, and by identifying with the main character Bill, they expressed unhappiness with their own treatment in school. For example, the fictitious Bill encountered boundaries on the playground when he was a girl that were absent for him as a boy. Girls in the class felt aggrieved by the amount of space they were allowed on the playground and by their exclusion from football on the grounds because of their gender. Both girls and boys were surprised by the extent to which adult treatment differed for Bill when he became a girl for the day. This analysis revealed the depth of discourse that emerges when the hidden curriculum and the evaded curriculum become part of the formal curriculum.
In a 2-year exploratory study of risk taking in middle school mathematics, a girls-only seventh- and eighth-grade math class in a coeducational middle school was studied (Streitmatter, 1997). Through observations and interviews, this study found that girls were more likely to ask and answer questions about subject matter in the girls-only math class than they were in their other, coeducational classes. The girls reported that their ability to learn math and view themselves as mathematicians was enhanced by the girlsonly setting. The girls in this setting took academic risks repeatedly during their work with the teacher and each other. They experienced more personal freedom and were less fearful of participating or of having the wrong answer than they were in coeducational classes. The girls expressed examples of peer behavior in their other classes that was belittling of them. The girls in this study expressed their perceptions of boys’ expert status in math, which ultimately had the effect of silencing them. In their single-gender class, there were no self-proclaimed experts and there was much collaboration. Although it is not a prescription for singlegender schooling, this study poses questions for the classroom teacher about climate and pedagogy in mixed-gender classrooms. If math class lends itself to encouraging stereotyped male expertise to the exclusion of females, teachers must develop strategies to ensure cooperation and collaboration in the coeducational setting. Furthermore, the classroom teacher in this study became aware that her pedagogy differed in the mixed-gender seventh- and eighth-grade math class. This teacher acknowledged working differently with the girls-only group, allowing herself to delve more deeply into the processes of mathematics; no reason was determined for why this was so.
Unmasking the Hidden Curriculum
Using case studies and a gender-equity CD-ROM, researchers discovered ways to make students more aware of gender-equity issues and to give them tools to resolve these situations (Matthews, Brinkley, Crisp, & Gregg, 1998). Although this study took place with fifth graders, it has implications for upper middle school grades. Students examined gender-equity materials over the course of a year; the materials included specific scenarios depicting stereotypical classroom behavior—that is, boys shouting out answers and not getting reprimanded and boys taking charge in a group science experiment. Open-ended discussions and structured questions followed the case study examples. Furthermore, the students took pretest and posttest questionnaires exploring the interactions in their classrooms and their beliefs about jobs and abilities. One question asked the fifth graders to name the best students in their class in math, science, social studies, and English. Boys named only boys to math and science, while naming girls and boys to the other subjects. Girls indicated girls or boys equally in math, science, and social studies, and they named girls only in English. This finding is consistent with many other findings (Sadker & Sadker, 1994); this study also suggests the importance of gender equity as a shared agenda in the classroom. Those classrooms in which a gender agenda is overt and in which curriculum interventions are explored on behalf of males and females learning more about themselves, their own interactions, and those who have been omitted from curriculum have an excellent track record for fairness and equity (Logan, 1997; Orenstein, 1994).
Logan’s middle school interventions promote awareness of self and other through a myriad of experiences, stories, role-modeling, and even quilt-making exercises that allow students to explore the realities of their gendered lives. In one exercise, she asks her students to imagine that they wake up the next day as a member of the opposite sex. “Now make a list of how your life would be different” (Logan, 1997, p. 35). Through a carefully structured discussion, students come to see that they are more similar than different; this is a step toward mutual respect and an understanding of the power of communication.
One middle school classroom researcher approaches gender issues in a language arts classroom by using sentence starters such as Being a female means or Being a male means according to their gender. Then students respond in terms of the opposite sex. This method begins the discussion, which quickly uncovers the expectations each gender has for its own and for the other gender (Mitchell, 1996, p. 77). Additionally, inviting middle school students to analyze picture books through the lens of gender proves powerful as students research the images and draw conclusions about the messages.
Girls are not the only ones harmed by gender-role effects in language arts (McCracken, Evans, & Wilson, 1996). Some areas of the language arts curriculum—notably, journal writing—pose problems for boys in ways that they do not for girls. For example, boys have difficulty getting started and sounding fluent. Language arts students are often asked to be reflective and responsive in their writing, and boys often need support to find facility in this type of reflective writing.
In middle school science classrooms, boys traditionally monopolize the teachers’ time as well as the lab equipment, and girls encourage them to do so (Orenstein, 1994; Sadker & Sadker, 1986, 1994). The costs of this behavior are high— both for a society that ultimately loses potential scientists and for the girls themselves, who find they are rewarded when they deny their intelligence and individuality (McCracken et al., 1996). Referred to as gender-binding, these practices require resistance on the part of teachers and middle school girls. Creating cooperative settings in middle school science in which mixed-gender groups have assigned tasks that rotate with each lab activity is one structure that helps. Authentic expectations for everyone’s active participation are shown to promote participation. Bringing real-life conflicts and stories into the middle school science curriculum is good science education and encourages girls’ participation (Koch, 1998c). Furthermore, posters of men and women and curriculum material that make connections between science and daily life encourage female participation and enhance the quality of instruction (see Linn, 2000).
Research demonstrates a decline in middle school girls’ ability or willingness to express individual opinions that pose even the slightest possibility of creating real conflict with their peers. Research also demonstrates that some middle school teachers scold girls for speaking in a disagreeable or strident manner (Brown & Gilligan, 1992). An implication of this finding is that middle school teachers need to encourage their female middle school students to risk making their peers angry; these teachers also need to teach their female students how to be assertive and articulate without being or feeling hostile. This task is not simple; it requires research into successful strategies on behalf of listening to all students. Barbieri (1995) and Logan (1997) offer important suggestions for voice and identity.
Furthermore, studies have shown that even when teachers reflect knowledge of gender-equity issues in the classroom, they are not always able to translate the knowledge of the issue into changes in their behavior (Levine & Orenstein, 1994). Teachers themselves have been socialized to believe certain stereotypes about genders and have also had some of the same experiences that their students are having; gender equity in the classroom should therefore be a shared goal for teachers with their students.
Body Image and the Secondary School Student
In the United States, magazines, billboards, movies, television shows, commercials, and MTV send a message that being thin is the central attribute of beauty for women and will eventually lead to success and happiness. Although this obsession with weight loss and being very thin is associated with middle grades social behavior for girls, there is evidence that discussions about weight begin in earlier grades. A second- and third-grade teacher reports the following excerpt.
‘I need to lose weight,’Kayla was saying. Another second grade girl chimed in ‘So do I. I’m way too fat.’My students’conversation shocked me . . . Linda, a third grade girl who is thin to the point of looking unhealthy, grabbed a piece of paper from Kayla. ‘I’m the one who needs this.’ ‘No, I need it!’ insisted Rhonda. The hotly contested paper turned out to contain the name of an exercise video that my second- and third-grade class had seen in gym. Although the video was for health and fitness, not weight loss, the girls were convinced that the video would help them lose weight and were frantic to get hold of it. (Lyman, 2000)
By middle grades the thinness crisis often reaches out-ofcontrol proportions, as mostly White middle-class girls strive to be beautiful in the way that beauty is socially constructed to mean acute thinness. Teenagers are under a lot of pressure to succeed and fit in. Many spend a lot of time worrying about what others think, and they desperately try to conform to society’s unattainable so-called ideal body image. Young teenage girls are led to believe that if they are thin, they will be accepted. Because many teenagers buy teen or fashion magazines regularly, the images of emaciated models appearing in those magazines only reinforces their belief that in order to be happy, successful, and accepted, they must be thin. As recently as 5 years ago, African American girls were immune to such pressures; however, as young Black models increasingly adopt White images for beauty, more middleclass teenage Black girls are aspiring to what was formerly a White middle-class image of beauty.
Many teenagers believe that dieting is a normal way to eat. Teenagers with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa have distorted perceptions of their body weight and shape— they persist in believing they need to lose weight even when they are seriously underweight. More than one third of all middle grades girls believe they are overweight (Giarratano, 1997).
The classroom teacher needs to be aware of the complexity of anorexia nervosa and bulimia. The underlying causes that promote excessive weight loss are complex issues found in the personal, peer, family, and societal influences on a particular teen. Most teens with eating disorders try to avoid conflicts at all costs, so they usually do not express negative feelings and try to wear a happy face all the time to try to please people. They end up using food as a way to stuff down all those negative feelings, and purging usually gives them a sense of relief—almost as though they are releasing all those built-up emotions (Thompson, 2001).
There are at least 8 million individuals with eating disorders in the Unites States; the most common disorders are anorexia nervosa, characterized by starving oneself, and bulimia, characterized by binging and purging. These disorders affect 10–15% of adolescents, and 90% of those affected are girls. Anorexia nervosa can and does cause serious medical problems; it is estimated that 5–18% of those who become anorexic will die because of medical problems associated with malnutrition. Signs associated with anorexia nervosa include a sickly and emaciated overall appearance, lack of energy, loss of ability to concentrate, and loss of hair. Binge-purging results in damage to the esophagus, internal bleeding, and severe electrolyte imbalance; it also can lead to heart failure. The young woman who is bulimic is often of normal weight and uses gorging and vomiting or excess laxatives to maintain her weight. Hence, bulimic teens are less visible at first glance unless they also have anorexia. Forty percent of individuals with anorexia are also bulimic.
Eating disorders pose a significant gender issue for secondary school teachers and students. It is not often addressed in school curriculum; hence, as a result of the evaded or null curriculum, girls with eating disorders go unnoticed, or it is perceived as normal for girls to be abnormally thin or constantly dieting. Teachers need to take an active role in preventing eating disorders by educating their students about the dangers of excess dieting and binging and purging. Teachers and school counselors should also be made aware of the signs to look for. Researchers have established protocols for addressing the problem in the context of the classroom.
If a teacher believes a student to have anorexia nervosa or bulimia, the student should be approached. Teachers need to talk to her or him, state their concern, and suggest a chat with a counselor or parent. Educators should be prepared to offer local resources for treatment and avoid making any comments about the student’s eating behavior or subsequent weight gain. Most important is that research indicates the value of letting the student know that the teacher cares (Michigan Model, 2000).
Sexual Harassment and the Middle and High School Grades
Understanding the impact of body image on adolescent development is related to learning about another increasingly common phenomenon in schools—the occurrence of sexually harassing behavior in classrooms, hallways, on school grounds, and in school buses. Ignoring this phenomenon or worse—coding the occurrence as normal for girls and boys— gives tacit approval to disturbing behaviors that limit the educational possibilities for girls and many boys.
School is a harassing and unkind place for students . . . [they] tell us they feel powerless and are looking to the adults in schools to behave like adults and to enforce a climate that is healthy and supportive. (Shakeshaft et al., 1995, p. 42.)
Sexual harassment was defined for a recent survey as “unwanted and unwelcome sexual behavior that interferes with your life. Sexual harassment is not behaviors that you like or want (for example, wanted kissing, touching or flirting)” (AAUW, 2001, p. 2). School sexual harassment has a negative effect on the emotional and educational lives of students. Sexually harassing behaviors happen in hallways, stairwells, and classrooms. The importance to educators of knowing and understanding the risks of coding sexist behavior as normal cannot be understated. Although boys are increasingly becoming more victimized by sexually harassing classroom and school incidents, they remain less likely than are girls to have this experience.
According to a recent Harris Poll (AAUW, 2001), 8 in 10 students experience some form of sexual harassment during their school lives. Slightly more than half the students polled say they have sexually harassed someone during their school lives; this is significant in view of the finding that 9 in 10 students report that students sexually harass other students at their school. Moreover, a sizable number of students surveyed (38%) report that teachers and other school employees sexually harass students. In the last 8 years this percentage has declined (from 44% in 1993).
According to the students surveyed, sexual harassment— words and actions—in school happens often, occurs under teachers’ noses, can begin in elementary school, and is very upsetting to both girls and boys. This report (AAUW, 2001) is a follow-up to the first nationwide survey on sexual harassment in schools, also commissioned by the AAUW Educational Foundation and researched by Harris Interactive (then known as Louis Harris & Associates, 1993). Eighty-three percent of girls and 79% of boys report having experienced harassment. The number of boys reporting experiences with harassment often or occasionally has increased since 1993 (56% vs. 49%), although girls are still somewhat more likely to experience it. Seventy-six percent of students have experienced nonphysical harassment, whereas 58% have experienced physical harassment. Nonphysical harassment includes taunting, rumors, graffiti, jokes, or gestures. One third of all students report experiencing physical harassment often or occasionally. Although large groups of both boys and girls report experiencing harassment, girls are more likely to report being negatively affected by it. Girls are far more likely than are boys to feel self-conscious, embarrassed, and less confident because of an incident of harassment. Girls are more likely than are boys to change behaviors in school and at home because of the experience—including not talking as much in class and avoiding the person who harassed them. Nearly all students (96%) say they know what harassment is, and boys’ and girls’ definitions do not differ substantially.
Most harassment occurs under teachers’noses in the classroom and in the halls. Students are perpetrators, too. Slightly more than half of students say that they have sexually harassed someone during their school lives; this represents a decrease from 1993, when 59% admitted as much. In particular, boys are less likely than in 1993 to report being a perpetrator (adapted from www.aauw.org and AAUW, 2001).
Findings from the Harris Poll survey studies have led to more stringent legal guidelines for sexual harassment cases. The Supreme Court ruling of May 1999 held school districts liable for damages under federal law for failing to stop a student from subjecting another to severe and pervasive sexual harassment. As a result of this ruling, school districts are developing policies to address sexual harassment events promptly and to protect targets of harassment from abusers’ continuing torment. These policies are made known to all school personnel, students, and parents. Classroom teachers must seek curriculum materials to address harassment issues—formerly a part of the hidden and evaded curriculums. Noted researcher in the study of school sexual harassment, Nan Stein, working with classroom teachers, has developed useful curriculum guides that provide teachers and students with activities and role-playing scenarios that can help students to address harassing behavior when it occurs. They are also useful guides for helping students to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Bullyproof: A Teacher’s Guide on Teasing and Bullying for Use With Fourth and Fifth Grade Students by Sjostrum and Stein (1996) and Flirting or Hurting: A Teacher’s Guide on Student-to-Student Sexual Harassment in Schools (Grades 6 Through 12) by Stein and Sjostrum (1994) help students to acquire strategies for coping with unwanted attention.
Gender Equity and the Formal Curriculum
Curriculum considerations inform all of precollege schooling, but influences become more pronounced in the segue from middle school to high school as students prepare for college, the workplace, or both. What are they studying? Whose lives are worth knowing about? How do they learn? How is knowledge viewed in the context of the classroom? In what ways does the curriculum reflect the human condition and provide windows and mirrors? “More than half of our culture’s population (all girls, and boys from minority groups) are trained and expected to look through windows at others who are viewed as the valid participants [on life’s stage as well as the playing field] . . . at the same time those whose (white male) experience is repeatedly mirrored are narrowly and provincially educated to see themselves (and their own kind) as the only real players on life’s stage” (Style, 1998, p. 155). A balanced education should be for all of us— “knowledge of both self and other, and clarification of the known and illumination of the unknown” (p. 155).
If educators are to fully represent the scope of the human condition through the topics addressed in the academic disciplines, then the very nature of and content of those disciplines needs to be explored though the lens of gender. In her seminal work, Interactive Phases of Curricular and Personal Re-Vision: A Feminist Perspective, Peggy McIntosh (1983) examines curriculum transformation as an interactive and iterative process that weaves forward and backward at the same time. McIntosh’s theory suggests new ways of seeing and coming to terms with what counts for history, language arts, science, mathematics, and more—in terms of whose voices are being validated and for whom are there mirrors. To begin her work, McIntosh (1983) asked, “what is the content, scope and methodology of the discipline?” Furthermore, “how would that discipline need to change to reflect the fact that women are half the world’s population and have had, in one sense, half the world’s experience?” (p. 2). In describing types of curriculum corresponding to five phases of curriculum transformation, McIntosh asserts their fluidity with the educator’s understanding that we should teach and learn between the phases in an attempt to address not only the absences in the formal curriculum, but also its very structure.
The following description is an overview of this theory of curriculum revision; it takes the reader through McIntosh’s five phases of curriculum development, moving further toward an inclusive body of knowledge with each phase. Using history as an example, these phases are seen as Phase 1: Womanless History; Phase 2: Women in History; Phase 3: Women as a Problem, Anomaly, or Absence in History; Phase 4: Women as History; and Phase 5: History Redefined or Reconstructed to Include Us All.
Hence, looking though the lens of gender, much of formal curriculum is seen as womanless. Students neither learn about women nor notice their absence. Students learn about laws, wars, and events in which power and politics appear to have been the only experience the world has had. This phase, referred to as Phase 1 curriculum, says that women and people of color do not matter; it is not important to learn about them. Phase 2 is reminiscent of the early textbook transformations that emerged after the women’s movement of the 1970s. There are images of women, but only those few who could reach this pinnacle of importance on White male terms. Are they valuable enough to include? Did they accomplish visibly significant tasks as defined by White men? This phase can be problematic for curriculum development because it overwhelmingly tells girls and women that only if they are good enough on criteria external to them and their experience will they be important enough to be studied.
Phase 3 curriculum addresses women in the curriculum by exploring the barriers they faced and historical discrimination against women. Phase 3 curriculum describes the ways in which women were denied access and discriminated against. The image of women as victims dominates Phase 3 curriculum; instead of being seen as the norm, women are viewed as a problem or anomaly. An example would be a curriculum that only addressed the women’s suffrage movement as a way to include women in the formal curriculum.
When we examine Phase 4 curriculum, we can begin to see women as history and explore the real work in the life of civilization. This phase addresses questions like What was life like in America during the War of 1812 and what were people doing? Students’stories and their interviews with others are part of the curriculum. For example, immigration is taught by reading about or having interviews with immigrants. The curriculum is viewed as the study of people—not solely the study of power, relationships, or rewards. Stories are integrated with personal knowledge so that reality is constructed from the ground up. “One key element of phase four curriculum is that the ‘other’ stops being considered something lesser to be dissected, deplored, devalued or corrected” (McIntosh, 1983, p. 19). When well done, McIntosh asserts, “phase four work honors particularity. . . . it stresses diversity and plurality” (McIntosh, 1983, p. 20). In Phase 4, curriculum relies on women’s experience by “developing ourselves through the development of others” (Miller, 1986).
Phase 5 curriculum revision is the hardest to conceive. “Human collaborative potential is explored and competitive potential subjected to a sustained critique” (McIntosh, 1983, p. 21). Phase 5 curriculum has promise for meshing privatesphere values with the public sphere. History can be explored through stories of ancestors’ experiences; knowledge of the world is constructed through personal experience, and curriculum honors all peoples’ contributions to the human condition. In this phase of curriculum transformation, the hierarchical distinctions between who is valuable to know about and who is not are deconstructed. McIntosh quotes Ruth Schmidt as remarking, “If you claim to teach about the human race and you don’t know anything about half the human race, you really can’t claim to know or teach much about the human race” (McIntosh, 1983, p. 23).
The formal curriculum is as much a classroom gender issue as teacher-student interactions and peer socialization. The topic of gender issues in the classroom cannot be oversimplified by critiquing prevailing stereotypes. The depth of the issues tells us more about the multilayered effects of curriculum and pedagogy on perpetuating belief systems that render females as lesser and male accomplishment and voice as dominant. For men and women, curriculum and pedagogical transformations to honor contributions—formal and informal—of females and males holds promise for excellent education, nonexistent without opportunities for equity. The following sections address curriculum and pedagogical revisions in science and mathematics classrooms that provide insight into making science and mathematics education more equitable.
Mathematics, Science, and Technology: Equity and Access
Traditionally, science, mathematics, and technology classrooms have been male domains. Although there have been great gains for females in mathematics and the life sciences in the past 15 years, physical sciences, computer science, and engineering fields still lag behind in encouraging the participation of girls and women (AAUW, 1998). Girls’ participation in Algebra I, Algebra II, geometry, precalculus, trigonometry, and calculus increased markedly from the early to mid-1990s; enrollments increased from 10% to 20% in the first half of the last decade (U.S. Dept of Education, 2000). However, data suggest a disturbing gap in the participation of female students in computer science and computer design classes. The gender gap widens from 8th to 11th grade. In 1996, girls comprised only 17% of the AP test takers in computer science. Girls of all ethnicities consistently rate themselves lower than do boys on computer ability (AAUW, 1998). Computer science has become the new boys’ club, so to speak; this is a red flag for educators and must signal that schools and teachers are ignoring a rich, necessary, and vital resource—both for the computer science field and for the high school girls themselves. In this century, the educational question that persists is What is wrong with the school when few girls participate in computer science? (Koch, 2001). Some of the persistent interventions reviewed in the following discussion to encourage more female participation in mathematics and science need to be applied to the computer science field. When teachers transform curriculum and pedagogy to encourage female participation, they improve the quality of instruction and the diversity of the curriculum. Many standards-based interventions in science have been suggested previously by equity educators as encouraging female participation (Campbell & Storo, 1994; Sanders et al., 1997). Equitable educational environments are apt to meet standards-based interventions on behalf of student learning.
A marked gender gap persists in physics, in which girls’ enrollments lag behind boys. In math and science, a more boys than girls receive top scores on the NationalAssessment of Education Progress (NAEP), a nationally representative test of specific subject matter given to students in 4th, 8th, and 12th grades. The gender gap increases with grade level. African American girls, however, outscore African American boys at every assessment point (AAUW, 1998; http:// nces.ed.gov).
A review of research within science and mathematics classes provides insight and hope for creating a more equitable climate of participation and a more engaging curriculum. Research demonstrates that when high school physics teachers give appropriate attention to gender issues in their classrooms, achievement and participation improve for all their students—especially for their female students (Rop, 1998). Creating a classroom culture that is emotionally safe for females and males alike and sanctioning risks and mistakes as vital to learning requires that teachers model ways to take individual risks (Kasov, as quoted by Rop, 1998). In high school chemistry and physics, assigning students research articles by women, taking a direct approach with females to actively encourage their participation in advanced science courses, and providing female mentoring are interventions that have proven successful. One such intervention for chemistry students includes creating electronic or face-to-face mentoring relationships with women chemists who have successful careers. High school chemistry teachers have reported that this intervention has resulted in encouraging young women to consider science as a career (Campbell & Storo, 1994; Kahle & Meece, 1994; Rop, 1998; Sanders et al., 1997). High school science teachers have learned that—in coeducational environments—often single-sex science lab groups are more effective for encouraging young women than are the mixed-gender groups (Rop, 1998). This and other studies revealed that in mixed gender groups, the girls are often the scribes or the recorders for the lab experience and the males are more often the doers; this situation is eliminated in single-sex lab groups.
Restructuring curriculum to provide a holistic view of the subject area encourages scientific study for both males and females. Integrating the history, social context, and social implications of scientific study by making connections to contemporary issues in the scientific field brings the physical sciences to life in important and meaningful ways. Making connections to lived experience is both an agenda for the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996) and for encouraging participation in the sciences.
Meyer (1998) found that feeling included is a necessary prerequisite to participation in school science. As a science education professor, she was engaged in teaching physical science to future elementary school science teachers. Renaming her university course Creative Expression in Science, she encouraged participation of her females in the physical science course. Engaging her students in deep and lengthy discussion and experimentation in a safe and inclusive environment has led to female students’pursuing science in ways that the students previously had not imagined. In one intervention, Meyer (1998) studied motion with her female students by swimming in the university pool, ice skating at the local rink, and doing simple gymnastics in the university gym: “In-class discussions were richly based on the movements we shared” (p. 469).
In studies, adult women reflect on their science experiences through personal narratives. These stories reveal both a sense of estrangement from the scientific disciplines as well as fear of making a mistake (Koch, 1998b; Meyer, 1998). Incompetent pedagogy and an inability to make connections to students’lived experiences can result in feelings of incompetence in science and—for women—a sense of feeling that “this is not your space” (Larkin, 1994, p. 109). In these studies, surveys, personal interviews, and analysis of personal narratives, sometimes called science autobiographies, reveal that the distance that many women feel from affiliations toward natural science is frequently a result of feeling like a deficient female. Although males may feel deficient in science, the images of scientific heroes and their stories create a culture of entitlement to success that allows males’feelings of incompetence to be separated from issues of gender. Many females feel that they are part of an aggregate group whose members are not supposedly good in science.
The rigor of natural science is not seen as a deterrent to female participation; rather, the method of teaching has emphasized a false disconnection between studying the sciences and understanding their contributions to society. In a recent study (Linn, 2000), researchers and teachers created important curriculum contexts for making science relevant to students’ lives. By integrating scientific controversies into the secondary science curriculum, students gained the opportunity to connect to a contemporary scientific controversy and began to see that scientists regularly revisit their ideas and rethink their views, empowering students to do the same.
I challenge all concerned about science education to remedy the serious declines in science interest, the disparities in male and female persistence in science, and the public resistance to scientific understandings by forming partnerships to bring to life the excitement and controversy in scientific research. (Linn, 2000, p. 16)
In one study, students were engaged in exploring a contemporary controversy about deformed frogs. By using selected Internet materials to construct their own arguments, students prepared for a classroom debate around two main hypotheses: the parasite hypothesis stating that the trematode parasite explains the increase in frog deformities or the environmental hypothesis suggesting that an increase in specific chemicals used to spray adjacent fields to the frog pond caused the frog deformities. In order to construct an argument, students examined evidence from research laboratories, discussed their ideas with peers, and searched for additional information. Using a Web-based environment, middle school students partnered with graduate students working in a laboratory at Berkeley as well as with technology and assessment experts (see http://wise.berkeley.edu).
In the study of this project, researchers interviewed and surveyed teachers and students prior to their participation in this partnership. They designed pre- and posttests, inquiry activities, and curriculum materials that ensured that curriculum and assessment were aligned. The classroom research continued to help teachers to refine the materials used for instruction. Prior to this scientific controversy unit, the students often reported that science had no relevance to their lives and that science was best learned by memorizing (Linn & Hsi, 1999). In the deformed frogs study, pre- and posttest assessments revealed that more than two thirds of the students were able to use the mechanism for the parasite hypothesis that they learned from the Internet evidence. The answers often revealed the complex use of language and showed that the students learned from reviewing and integrating Web resources. On all assessment measures for content, females and males were equally successful.
This scientific controversy unit about deformed frogs was carried out with diverse middle school students—half the students qualified for free or reduced-price lunches, and one in four students spoke English at home.As a result of this scientific controversy unit of study, more students participated in science, more students gained scientific understanding, and students became more aware of the excitement that motivates scientists to pursue careers in science (Linn, 2000, p. 25).
The skills that students acquired by working in these partnerships and critically evaluating and interpreting scientific data were contextualized and situated within the real world of science—ponds and frogs. Using McIntosh’s theory (1983), this Phase 4 curriculum brought science, scientists, and research to life in ways that allowed students to be participants and contributors, seeing themselves as valuable and capable of working collaboratively. This type of curriculum transformation works on behalf of all students by stating overtly that they and their thinking do matter. School science has been too removed from real-life experiences, and thus it has suffered from not attracting females; this type of curriculum transformation will potentially attract those who have seen themselves as other to the study of science.
Classroom researchers describe pedagogy and practices that are employed to encourage girls’participation in physics that reveal the importance of gender-sensitive classrooms for promoting girls’interest in physics (Martin, 1996). The learning environments that are most effective include respecting girls as central players—researchers refer to honoring their experiences and their within-group diversity by encouraging participation strategies, providing a safe classroom, highlighting the accomplishments as well as the barriers to women and science, and becoming involved in making connections between the physics and girls’ lived experience (Martin, 1996; Meyer, 1998). Requiring that students maintain reflective journals in the physics class has been seen as a useful strategy to engage all students in their thinking. Maintaining reflective journals in the physics classroom helps males and females integrate communication skills into the understanding of the physics concepts (Sanders et al., 1997). Results from gender-sensitive classes reveal that attitudes and achievement increase and speak to the importance of institutionalizing gender-equitable practices.
Mathematics educators have identified pedagogy and curriculum interventions that result in attracting more females to higher order mathematics while improving the quality of teaching and learning in mathematics (Fennema & Leder, 1990; Noddings, 1990; Reynolds, 1995). In fact, strategies advocated by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM, 2000), affirm the that gender-equitable teaching is a prerequisite to excellent practice. Such practices are similar for science educators—namely, making connections between mathematics and lived experience, working in cooperative learning groups, providing mentors and images of women in mathematics, coaching females for deeper responses to higher order questions, and holding out the expectation that females as well as males will be successful in mathematics.
Addressing cognitive research, Reynolds (1995) includes pointers for teaching mathematics to all students; suggestions include using a constructivist approach to teaching (Brooks & Brooks,1999).Thefollowingbehaviorsareexamplesofthose advocated on behalf of all students’ learning in mathematics:
- Considering problems of emerging interest to the students.
- Studying the big picture and situating major concepts.
- Seeking and valuing students’ points of view.
- Communicating both verbally and in writing.
- Giving nonjudgmental feedback.
- Reflecting and caring.
- Interacting in groups.
- Listening to each other.
- Honoring creativity (Reynolds, 1995, p. 26).
By making connections between previously documented gender-equity strategies for mathematics teaching and learning, Reynolds (1995) notes the overlap with constructivist practice. Furthermore, in addition to teachers’ monitoring their interactions with students to ensure that both genders receive comparable treatment with respect to student voice, extending wait time, and placing students at the center of learning, Reynolds notes that constructivist teachers are constantly monitoring student understanding, which is at the core of more gender-equitable settings. It is hoped that technology instruction will follow the lead of science and mathematics instruction by designing curriculum and pedagogical practices that increase possibilities for females’participation.
With each generation, gender images and gendered systems of privilege get revisited in schools and colleges. The impulse to repeat offenses because they appear invisible is pervasive in all schooling. As the new century begins, educators look anew at ways to improve the learning environments for girls and boys—for men and women.
In an intensive study (Hopkins, 1999) of working conditions for women academic scientists and engineers at MIT, it was revealed that women scientists experienced many inequities in their working conditions, allocation of resources, and salaries. The data were collected over several years and the analysis was intense. Women at several other institutions joined ranks with their colleagues in documenting differential research environments for men and women at their universities. In response to these data, the Ford Foundation has awarded a $1 million grant to MIT to promote similar efforts for equity at other campuses.
Creating a Gender-Equitable Culture in the Classroom
In all academic disciplines, research has shown that girls and boys as well as young men and women sitting in the same classroom and experiencing the same curriculum often receive differential treatment—usually unwittingly—based on their gender. Most teachers, both men and women, elementary and secondary, interact more with boys than with girls. In addition, both male and female teachers view girls as more independent, creative, and academically persistent, whereas boys are seen as more aggressive. Teachers who are successful in addressing classroom interaction strategies that further the growth and development of both females and males are ones who are aware of the research findings about gender and equity and who employ conscious strategies on behalf of creating equitable environments. These strategies include using nonsexist, inclusive language and avoiding sexist humor. Gender-equitable teachers encourage all students to participate in class discussions by employing specific strategies for calling on students. They tend to value creativity and multiple ways of solving problems, honoring differences.
In teacher sanctions, equitable teachers praise and affirm both girls and boys for performance and do not overpraise girls for their appearance. In their interactions, they coach all students to search for deeper meanings and provide role models for both males and females from all socioeconomic strata. Teachers can employ wait time to encourage risk taking when students are answering questions. By consciously addressing gender issues, teachers adapt instructional strategies to account for gender (i.e., girls-only science talks; mixed-gender writing groups).
Gender-equitable teaching involves monitoring the classroom discourse, understanding the context-specific complexities of dominance in classroom environments, and integrating cooperative learning into regular teacher-directed environments. It is necessary for teachers to hold out the expectation that both females and males can accomplish a task or solve a problem. It is important not to perform a task for a female student while expecting a male student to do it on his own. This practice leads to learned helplessness (Eccles Parsons, Meece, Adler, & Kaczala, 1982).
Gender-equitable teaching uncovers the hidden curriculum and enables teachers to identify bias and confront sexism in the classroom. Teachers must avoid comparisons of boys and girls regarding behavior, achievement, and attitudes. They need to ask students whether teachers are treating persons differently because of gender. Additionally, teachers should ask students to tell them when teachers are treating either group differently. Finally, teachers need to accept and encourage emotional expression from both girls and boys (adapted from Greenberg, 1985; Pratchler, 1996; Sadker & Sadker, 1994; Sanders et al., 1997).
The formal curriculum must be explored through the lens of race, class, and gender: Who is included and who is significant to learn about? Formal curriculum must reflect the lived experience of all students so that knowledge construction is a shared endeavor. Schools limit possibilities for gender equity when they fail to confront or discuss risk factors for students. Risk factors for students must be addressed through the formal curriculum. Deconstructing gender teachings means asking what programs, pedagogies, and curricula will best serve the needs of female and male students.
In teacher education schools, colleges, and departments, equity must be viewed as essential to professional education programs; gender-equity issues must be integrated into preservice training. Colleges and universities must confront the risks for girls and boys in school and develop programs to stem high dropout rates and address the underrepresentation of girls in computer science and physics. Understanding the importance of extracurricular activities for girls, schools should strive to recruit and retain more females in those activities. Researchers need to explore the overrepresentation of males in remedial reading programs and seek to learn the causes. “Research should analyze educational data by sex, race, ethnicity, and social class to provide a more detailed picture of all students” (AAUW, 1998, p. 10).
Examining school violence gives clues to the gender socialization of boys that alienates them from the dominant school culture. Examining risk factors for boys and exploring interventions on behalf of their healthy development must become a priority.
Studies of girls and schooling need to explore single-sex public schools for minority females, such as the Young Women’s Leadership School in New York City. What are the attributes of these environments that can be institutionalized in coeducational schools? In coeducational classrooms, researchers needs to explore girls’ silences and how entitlement to voice differs across ethnicity and socioeconomic class.
Studies need to examine how the computer science gender gap is affecting the educational gap, and they should identify useful interventions on behalf of girls and computer science. Female participation in physics and engineering requires further study because it lags seriously behind their participation in the life sciences. Nancy Hopkins, a noted biologist who led the MIT study on women scientists mentioned previously, stated, “It’s a different world now for women scientists, but the question is, ‘How do you institutionalize it so it will last for the next generation?’” (Zernike, 2001, p. A11). That, indeed, is the question that underlies gender issues in the classroom—what would institutionalizing this agenda look like? It is hoped this research paper gives some glimpses.
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