Gender Equity In The Classroom

Gender inequality in the classroom is gradually declining yet still prevalent problem.

Gender inequality in the classroom is a gradually declining yet still prevalent problem in modern America. Even though legislation was enacted over thirty years ago to correct gender inequity in the classroom, this in and of itself was not successful in mending the problem. Recent studies and data overwhelmingly demonstrate that although significant strides have been made in this arena, there is undoubtedly more work to be done.

In Janice Streitmatter's "Toward Gender Equity in the Classroom," gender bias is defined as the underlying belief that males and females differ in non-physical ways such as talents and interests. Streitmatter believes that it is the unconscious application of gender bias in the classroom on the part of both the teacher and the student that perpetuates gender inequality. She therefore urges educators to question their conceptions of gender and examine them in relation to the teaching practice by pointing out that schools often reflect habits of the larger society. Consequently, educators must be sensitized to gender issues in both pre- and in-service teacher education programs.

Teachers have not exhibited the most respectable track record when it comes to data recording their behaviors towards male and female students. Numerous studies have shown that 1) boys get teachers attention by being straightforward and unreserved 2) Teachers praise boys more often, 3) Boys receive more academic help and 4) teachers are more likely to accept boys' ideas or opinions during classroom discussion.

Because of these inequities, boys call out in class more often than girls. In fact, according to Jeanne Gibbs in Tribes "A New Way of Learning and Being Together, studies show that boys talk more than girls in the classroom at a ratio of three to one." This is very likely because when boys get the teacher's attention by calling out, they are not reprimanded or corrected for doing so, thus boys see this as an encouragement in taking risks. When a boy calls out, teachers seem to accept the boys' answers or actions, whereas when a girl calls out she is reprimanded and is told that calling out is "inappropriate behavior". This sends a powerful message that boys should be assertive and girls should be passive, which leads Gibbs to ask, "Why do we wonder that girls, who are not as active in risk taking, are less likely to volunteer responses in class?". If teachers accept boys calling out and expect girls to be patient and raise their hands then girls will not develop risk taking in the classroom nor anywhere else in their lives. Gibbs says, "Bias and inequality are devastating to children's development and learning. They promote hostility, alienation, poor school performance, failure, and despair".

Other inequalities exist when teachers are willing to spend more time with male students to explain a problem or clarify a boy's difficulty; whereas the teacher is more likely to do the problem for the female student rather than give a detailed explanation. The result of this is that independence is internalized more powerfully in boys than in girls. Consequently fostering a child's individual strengths is not only a question of fairness, but also one of survival. Teachers unconsciously make males the focus of instruction, giving them more frequent and more precise attention. For some boys, this attention is unwanted. For some girls, the lack of attention may be unnoticed, or even desired but the impact can be costly. Increased teacher attention contributes to enhanced student performance, and girls tend to lose out in this equation.

Some researchers believe that gender inequality occurs in the classrooms because of the instructional design. According to Nancy N. Knupfer in a recent "Educational Technology" article titled Gendered by Design, many teachers unconsciously slip into stereotypical routines or practices that separate boys and girls. Knupfer states "Teachers still persist in the practice of forming lines, determining groups, and award winning prizes by gender". Educational inequalities are uncovered in the way problems, schoolwork, and exercise are often understood or related to boys' lives rather than girls' lives. Girls are less likely to take math and science courses and to participate in special or gifted programs in these subjects, even if they have a talent for them. They are also more likely to believe that they are incapable of pursuing math and science in college and tend to avoid the subjects. Furthermore, girls are more likely to attribute failure to internal factors, such as ability, rather than to external factors, such as luck.

Computer proficiency has joined mathematics as a limiting "filter" for students' educational and career choices, and a computer-related gender gap could have negative effects on girls' and women's education, occupations, and roles in society. Consequently, Knupfer points out the importance of encouraging girls and boys to participate in activities that are traditionally underrepresented by their gender, such as encouraging girls to participate in science, math and sports while encourage boys to pursue art, music and home economics.

By the time a child reaches school age, he or she is firmly rooted in a gender identity, which brings with it a whole set of expectations about behavior and character. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) in its highly publicized 1992 report How Schools Shortchange Girls declares "The educational system is not meeting girls' needs. Girls and boys enter school roughly equal in measured ability. Twelve years later, girls have fallen behind their male classmates in key areas such as higher-level mathematics and measures of self-esteem. Yet gender equity is still not a part of the national debate on educational reform".

Yet most of the research on gender socialization does not look at this early, pre-schooling development. The call for additional research is in this age group is immense, as is the need for increased awareness of the problems associated with gender stereotypes at the preschool age. Research into gender bias and girls has raised awareness, but many observers say inequities persist and the right solutions haven't yet been found.

Of additional importance is that curriculum materials which are biased in language, content, and/or illustrations reinforce the idea that some activities are gender specific. Since textbooks and all other educational materials used in the classroom can have a profound effect on the students, these materials should be screened for bias in text, logic and images. These types of solutions are imperative if the confusion and debate surrounding gender divisions and differences are to be adequately resolved.

The goal of any teaching technique is to set a tone conducive to learning and engage students in the learning process. Participation is essential to learning, and students who are actively involved learn more and are more satisfied with their education. Equality in teaching challenges educators both to treat all students equally and to recognize and accommodate different learning styles. Consequently, today's teachers must be educated as to the damage gender inequity can cause not only to students but also to society as a whole. Qualified educators should be able to recognize and correct gender inequity. Schools must strive to assist female, as well as male students by providing a broad and thorough education. While educators cannot magically erase all gender inequities or resolve all of the problems created as traditional gender roles disintegrate, they can achieve significant results by making a conscious and concerted effort to not only avoid gender inequities in the classroom, but to actively encourage the reverse of such inequities.

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