Gender-based stereotypes in schools

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MissyJ's picture
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Gender-based stereotypes in schools

A recent discussion within a group of moms with children in the public school system shared how they felt discouraged by what they viewed as influences towards particular studies that seemed more based on gender stereotypes vs. actual aptitude in the subject(s). For example, one parent of a 11 year old boy shared that her son absolutely loved to write... journaling creative stories, developing complete plot lines and characters, etc. His teachers, however, for the past two years have continued to push for his parents to pursue placement in a math/science magnet school in his high school years. Her son loathes math with a passion, but when she mentioned trying for the literature/arts magnet school instead she received discouragement.

Another parent - of a 13 yr. old girl, weighed in with the exact opposite experience. Her child was enrolled in another school; loved science and swears that she wants to be a veterinarian in the future. (She even volunteers for an animal shelter now.) Rather than encourage her dream, the mom shared that her daughter in continually persuaded to pursue an arts/literature based path.

Both of these parents and others insist that there is a definite gender stereotype influence within the school system (even if unintentional.)

The debate question is whether you (either personally, with your own kids, or by observing family/friends) do believe that gender stereotypes still are influencing how teachers react and encourage students today?

IF you feel that this is taking place, would you be a supporter then for sole gender classrooms (i.e. all girls; all boys) in hopes of enabling students to be more "well-rounded"? Why or why not?

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This has been happening sicne the beginning of the school system. I think things have gotten better but there is no reason to think it is gone completely.

I think sole gender education is fabulous, but I think it should be a choice.

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I teach at the elementary level and I really don't see gender stereotypes influencing students in any way. I teach the required standards and encourage all children to pursue what makes them happy.

As a high school student I never felt pushed in one direction or another. I remember being strongly encouraged to attend college, but that's the only form of pressure I really felt from my teachers and administration.

I can't say that gender stereotyping never occurs in any of our schools, but I'd like to think that it doesn't happen often.

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Gender stereotyping was incredibly common and accepted in my middle/high school. Then again, I went to a private conservative Christian school, so that is probably not surprising.

I'm ALL for single sex education and would love it if it were an option in our public schools. I agree with Lana though that it should be a choice.

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I can't really tell based on my own experiences.

I was very math/science oriented in high school and knew by my senior year i wanted to study Computer Science in college. I never felt any discouragement. My school was a private Catholic School, and it was also all female so not really comparable to a public school experience.

My kids so far are too young to be able to tell yet. Emma is 10 but she happens to have interests that are aligned pretty well with stereotypes. She is an excellent writer/reader. Interestingly enough, she likes math but its not her strongest suit so it will be interesting to see how it plays out as she gets older.

But in general i can easily believe this kind of stuff still happens. I think it mainly depends on the specific teachers you encounter over the course of your education rather than saying its the public school system in general.

I too though would be all for single gender classrooms as an option.

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I have not personally experienced this. In fact last year my DD had an incredible teacher who called her a "math genious" (my DD has always struggled in math) and she had her best math year ever!

And my DS#1's teacher this year wants him to keep working on his writing because he is a bit weak in that area.

So I guess I'm feeling pretty lucky that we've had some good non-gender biased teachers so far. That's not to say that gender biased teachers aren't out there - I'm sure they are - we've been lucky enough not to face them as of yet.

But I would all for one gender classrooms (by choice though). I would see no problem with that at all.

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I am curious, What is sole gender education? I have never heard of that before. Is it one class of all boys and one class of all girls? How would that help gender stereotyping?

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I don't thinl gender bias is as overt as it once was. I think stereotypes and prejudices change over time. I think sexism is definitely not as prominant as it once was but I do think the type that we deal with now a daysis very covert and much harder to pinpoint until the end result hits you in the face.

You can find current research on classroom managment and gender studies that show things like teachers calling on boys more then girls, giving more times to boys who don't understand lessons then they do to girls, books and toys in lower grade level classrooms that follow traditional gender lines, the inequal amounts of famous historical men that are covered as an integrated part in the curriculum then women, etc.

And the thing is that most of this stuff is not done purposely or even consciously.

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"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

I am curious, What is sole gender education? I have never heard of that before. Is it one class of all boys and one class of all girls? How would that help gender stereotyping?

Do you think Wellsley and Mt. Holyoke perpetuate gender stereotypes? I sure don't.

They have seperate sex private schools that do very well. I just don't think that only those who can afford that choice should get it.

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I was really good at Chemistry in high school. Had the highest grade in all 4 Chemistry classes taught at that school. This was rural Ohio in the mid nineties, which IME translated to attitudes straight out of the 50's for the rest of the country, so it's probably partially a regional thing.

I very vividly remember the teacher (who was also the wrestling coach, and also a complete jerk most of the time anyway) announcing, out loud, in the middle of class "It seems Miss Navarro is the ace to chase here, fellas. Are you really going to let a girl beat you at science?" Swear to god, that really happened.

Lana, I totally agree with what you said about the studies showing that boys are called on more often, et cetera. However, aren't there also studies that show that girls are now beating boys in college attendance and graduation?

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/10/31/60minutes/main527678.shtml

I actually would not want my son to attend an all-boys class. I don't think that segregation between different types of people is a great thing. I can understand why historically it has been done to try and remove some of the prejudices against people, particularly people who have historically been an oppressed minority (such as girls going to Wellsley, or African American men going to Moorehouse.) But in general, and as we move forward, I think it's better to try to take down the walls between people and figure out better ways of making sure that everyone counts in integrated school systems, rather than segregating them out.

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"culturedmom" wrote:

This has been happening sicne the beginning of the school system. I think things have gotten better but there is no reason to think it is gone completely.

I think sole gender education is fabulous, but I think it should be a choice.

Agreed. Recently we had a catholic middle school separate the traditional co-ed classes into sole gender classes - all classes - because of the differences in the way boys and girls at that particular age learn (I think at all ages they learn differently, but whatever), and because teachers, whether intentionally or not, tend to encourage boys more with exceling in math, science, etc. and push the girls more with social studies, arts, humanities, etc. I think it's also great for the girls who perhaps could do very, very well in algebra or chemistry but who feel intimidated by the boys now have perhaps more confidence to raise their hand in class.

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I'm not down with single-gender classes for my kids. I think it's a bandaid solution.

I think, hands down, the biggest gender problem in schools is the fact that there are so few male teachers, especially in early childhood and elementary. Kids of both genders need male role models, and some kids don't even have those at home.

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"blather" wrote:

I'm not down with single-gender classes for my kids. I think it's a bandaid solution.

I think, hands down, the biggest gender problem in schools is the fact that there are so few male teachers, especially in early childhood and elementary. Kids of both genders need male role models, and some kids don't even have those at home.

I agree that there should be more male teachers, but do you think that the current male/female teacher imbalance may, in part, be due to the fact that as younger students themselves they were encouraged in one way or another to follow a gender-based stereotyped 'job'? Boys became doctors, lawyers, tradespeople etc. and girls became teachers, nurses, etc.? Seems kind of cyclic, to me.

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I haven't experienced it in my upbringing, having a higher math aptitude. Actually, I had the opposite experience in elementary school where one teacher encouraged me to go as far as I could at my own pace - third grade. I finished the book early where the class only finished about 2/3 by the end of the school year. She is my favorite teacher. I switched schools in 4th grade. They encouraged me as well, but I hated it because of how the kids reacted to me being singled out.

With my older kids, I didn't experience it either. They all have an interest and aptitude for math and science. And all have been encouraged by their teachers to pursue it. They even went so far as to have heart-to-hearts when one of my dd's got lazy about her work because they knew her well enough to know that she was not meeting her potential at all. She thought she could skid by well enough with just good test scores.

I think the schools (at least around here) have come a long way. When my mom went to school in our area in the 60's, she was taking one of the first computer classes at her school which consisted primarily of boys and 4 girls. By the middle of the quarter, 3 of the girls dropped out because the teacher refused to call on them or assist them with their questions. When I took programming classes, it still was majority boys, but the teacher truly taught the entire class. I never got the feeling of being singled out or dismissed because of my gender in that class or any other math or science class for that matter even though all my teachers in those classes were male. History class though, that was another story. But I think that had more to do with the teacher being the hockey coach and letting "his boys" get away with not doing their work. I couldn't stand the guy.

As for single gender schools, I would be totally on board for elementary and possibly middle school years. But for high school years, I think they need the socialization from both genders in a school setting as much as they need academic studies. The foundations of academic interests would already be set by then so they should have a fairly good grasp as to what path their academic future will lean towards.

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"Claire'sMommy" wrote:

I agree that there should be more male teachers, but do you think that the current male/female teacher imbalance may, in part, be due to the fact that as younger students themselves they were encouraged in one way or another to follow a gender-based stereotyped 'job'? Boys became doctors, lawyers, tradespeople etc. and girls became teachers, nurses, etc.? Seems kind of cyclic, to me.

Oh it definitely is. I think teachers and nurses are traditionally seen as female jobs...and for a male to enter those fields, i think there is a bit of a stigma attached to it. (think Meet the Parents).

The motivation for women to enter 'male' fields is definitely there, but there seems much less motivation for men to do the same in 'female' fields...and possibly an aversion, even if its subconscious.

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I know this happens, but I'm grateful it doesn't happen in our school. My son's biggest interests are science, history, art, and writing. All are encouraged. In fact, I don't think any of the kids have any of their interests discouraged at all. And I have just been talking to two female high school seniors who are planning to go into engineering, and see additional opportunities in school because there aren't as many women applying. So what used to deter the girls is now encouraging them.

I'm not interested in single-gender education. I see how valuable the mix is for my kids. I don't like separation as a solution.

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"blather" wrote:

I'm not down with single-gender classes for my kids. I think it's a bandaid solution.

I think, hands down, the biggest gender problem in schools is the fact that there are so few male teachers, especially in early childhood and elementary. Kids of both genders need male role models, and some kids don't even have those at home.

I agree with this, especially for elementary. Maybe our school district is unique, but what I know in middle school and high school is that our school does have many male teachers, but they are dominant in the math, science, physical education, industrial tech, & history. The female teachers are found more in the languages, home economics, health, & arts. There is an equal gender split in the fine arts (band, orchestra, choir). This gender division is current today and was the same 20 years ago, which I'm guessing was the same even 40 years ago. Is that only because that's where the teacher's interest lie or is there more to it?

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"Beertje" wrote:

As for single gender schools, I would be totally on board for elementary and possibly middle school years. But for high school years, I think they need the socialization from both genders in a school setting as much as they need academic studies. The foundations of academic interests would already be set by then so they should have a fairly good grasp as to what path their academic future will lean towards.

I disagree with this. I didn't realize what i wanted to do with my studies going forward until my junior year of high school. I think thats pretty common. I think its even more common to get out of high school not knowing at all what you want to do, so from a guidance standpoint...i think the high school years are pretty key.

I also disagree with the need for socialization from both genders during the high school years for a couple of reasons

You can socialize with the opposite gender outside of school hours. Plus, segregated classrooms doesn't mean no time to socialize. There was another private school in my area that was segregated boys and girls but they were all on the same campus and there was time outside of the classroom spent together.

What is it that you think is going to happen to a high school kid who goes to class with only kids of their same gender?

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"culturedmom" wrote:

I don't thinl gender bias is as overt as it once was. I think stereotypes and prejudices change over time. I think sexism is definitely not as prominant as it once was but I do think the type that we deal with now a daysis very covert and much harder to pinpoint until the end result hits you in the face.

You can find current research on classroom managment and gender studies that show things like teachers calling on boys more then girls, giving more times to boys who don't understand lessons then they do to girls, books and toys in lower grade level classrooms that follow traditional gender lines, the inequal amounts of famous historical men that are covered as an integrated part in the curriculum then women, etc.

And the thing is that most of this stuff is not done purposely or even consciously.

Addressing the bolded. I am not disagreeing that it happens, as I see it all the time. But this is something that it addressed in teacher training (at least mine). So a conscientious teacher should be aware of these things and try to even things out in their own teaching. Interestingly, teachers tend to favor one side of the classroom over the other, does that mean we should only seat students on that side?

"blather" wrote:

I'm not down with single-gender classes for my kids. I think it's a bandaid solution.

I think, hands down, the biggest gender problem in schools is the fact that there are so few male teachers, especially in early childhood and elementary. Kids of both genders need male role models, and some kids don't even have those at home.

I agree with this. But disagree with people saying that boys are being directed away from teaching. I think it has to do with there being mostly female teachers. A chicken and egg sort of problem. If children only see female teachers, no one needs to direct them anywhere, they will naturally come to see teaching as a 'female' profession. I think girls come from a longer history of women pushing the boundaries and demanding equality, so it is easier for them to go into 'male' occupations.

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I was all ready to say that I think segregating the sexes is a bad idea, and then every example I could think of for my last post seemed to contradict that. Here is what I was going to say.

In terms of boys getting called on more, I have found (and keep in mind I am a sub, not a classroom teacher) that I lose the boys attention first when teaching in front of the class, and I am more likely to call on those students I am 'losing' to bring them back.

In terms of the boys getting more help time, boys who are having trouble tend to 'cause more trouble, talking, getting up, disturbing others then the girls who are struggling. Girls are more likely to sit quietly and just not do the work. So squeaky wheel and all, the boys tend to get more attention. (Talking generalities here)

So maybe, after thinking about it, I could see how segregated classes might be beneficial. I do think that 'socially' they could have some drawbacks though.

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"KimPossible" wrote:

What is it that you think is going to happen to a high school kid who goes to class with only kids of their same gender?

I think it reinforces the stereotype that boys and girls/men and women are very different and need to be handled/treated differently. I don't like that message.

I get that there are studies that show that there are some differences between the ways that boys and girls learn. But I think that the part of the story that those studies typically leave out is that whenever you are looking at two different groups of people (boys vs girls, black vs white, rich vs poor, whatever) what you typically see are two overlapping bell curves. I know, I know, the dreaded un-PC bell curve. But seriously, you see two overlapping bell curves, and the peaks of the curves kind of illustrate the differences between the two groups, right? But what they don't really address is that typically, the variation WITHIN the groups is far greater than the variation BETWEEN the groups. So you are more likely to see variation in learning styles between girls and between boys than between girls and boys. And so I think that separating them out doesn't really do much to tailor schooling to different styles of learning because you're still going to have your girls that would have done better under the more boy-centric style of teaching (presumably more physical) and boys that would have done better under a more girl-centric style of teaching (presumably more relational.) I think that answer is a better balance between the styles so that both girls and boys are exposed to both, because otherwise you then reinforce the separation and differences between them.

ETA: This is totally anecdotal, but I just realized that my DH and his sister flipped the gender expectations on their head. DH is an English teacher, and his sister is a mechanical engineer.

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"KimPossible" wrote:

I disagree with this. I didn't realize what i wanted to do with my studies going forward until my junior year of high school. I think thats pretty common. I think its even more common to get out of high school not knowing at all what you want to do, so from a guidance standpoint...i think the high school years are pretty key.

I also disagree with the need for socialization from both genders during the high school years for a couple of reasons

You can socialize with the opposite gender outside of school hours. Plus, segregated classrooms doesn't mean no time to socialize. There was another private school in my area that was segregated boys and girls but they were all on the same campus and there was time outside of the classroom spent together.

What is it that you think is going to happen to a high school kid who goes to class with only kids of their same gender?

Happen? Nothing, but growing up with only sisters, I know that it would definitely increase the possibility of those growing up with less male influence would see the opposite gender as more foreign in nature. Actually, segregation could increase stereotypes in forming perceptions about the opposite gender since they would not be present to show otherwise. So I just might retract my initial statement. I don't know.

I also don't know of many after school functions in elementary and middle school where kids are not segregated by gender. In our area, there are no co-ed after school sports, all the girl/boy scouts and like groups are typically separated by gender, the only ones offered that are co-ed in our co-ed public schools is the drama, speech, and knowledge bowls. It does expand a bit more in the special interest groups when entering high school. When talking segregating classes by gender, I never pictured them in the same school. I've only known them to be in separate schools entirely.

As for not knowing what you wanted to do with your studies, yeah that is common. But I'm guessing you already knew by then what classes or types of classes were your forte to know what general directions you wanted to pursue unless you equally excelled in all classes and loved absolutely each class you took. I know that these are reviewed in our schools as early as sixth grade and again before entering high school to know what electives to take and what level of the main required courses to pursue since they start some accelerated courses in seventh grade.

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"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

I think it reinforces the stereotype that boys and girls/men and women are very different and need to be handled/treated differently. I don't like that message.

I get that there are studies that show that there are some differences between the ways that boys and girls learn. But I think that the part of the story that those studies typically leave out is that whenever you are looking at two different groups of people (boys vs girls, black vs white, rich vs poor, whatever) what you typically see are two overlapping bell curves. I know, I know, the dreaded un-PC bell curve. But seriously, you see two overlapping bell curves, and the peaks of the curves kind of illustrate the differences between the two groups, right? But what they don't really address is that typically, the variation WITHIN the groups is far greater than the variation BETWEEN the groups. So you are more likely to see variation in learning styles between girls and between boys than between girls and boys. And so I think that separating them out doesn't really do much to tailor schooling to different styles of learning because you're still going to have your girls that would have done better under the more boy-centric style of teaching (presumably more physical) and boys that would have done better under a more girl-centric style of teaching (presumably more relational.) I think that answer is a better balance between the styles so that both girls and boys are exposed to both, because otherwise you then reinforce the separation and differences between them.

ETA: This is totally anecdotal, but I just realized that my DH and his sister flipped the gender expectations on their head. DH is an English teacher, and his sister is a mechanical engineer.

Interesting, I'll have to think about this more when I have time to think. I asked the question to Tracey because she said:

But for high school years, I think they need the socialization from both genders in a school setting as much as they need academic studies.

Her point was socialization specific. So i really want to know from her, what she thinks happens to people socially, when they don't socialize with the opposite gender in a school setting.

ETA: and i see she responded before i wrote this. Will have to go and read more later....gotta go!

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"Claire'sMommy" wrote:

I agree that there should be more male teachers, but do you think that the current male/female teacher imbalance may, in part, be due to the fact that as younger students themselves they were encouraged in one way or another to follow a gender-based stereotyped 'job'? Boys became doctors, lawyers, tradespeople etc. and girls became teachers, nurses, etc.? Seems kind of cyclic, to me.

While there is an imbalance in male/female teachers at the elementary level, it tends to switch in high school to closer to 50/50. But by the time children get there, they've been exposed to mainly female teachers.

As for the stereotypical female and male careers, my own education didn't seem biased. In the enrichment program, I was placed in the computers/science classes and the boys were in the writing. Some of the best writers in my classes were the boys. (I am still envious of their talent!)

However, a lot of my peers and I did choose careers in line with the stereotypes. My dad, sister, and I are all teachers, and my mom was an SDC aide, so maybe it's just in my blood. So somewhere along the line it does happen, maybe just more covert.

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"Beertje" wrote:

As for single gender schools, I would be totally on board for elementary and possibly middle school years. But for high school years, I think they need the socialization from both genders in a school setting as much as they need academic studies. The foundations of academic interests would already be set by then so they should have a fairly good grasp as to what path their academic future will lean towards.

I feel exactly the opposite. The younger grades are when kids need to learn to get along with everyone, that's when the socialization needs to be happening. The high school years are when they need to be able to focus on their studies and not on fighting over girlfriends or looking good for the boys. I went to an all-girls high school & it was fantastic. I loved not being teased because I was better in math & science than the boys, or being accused of being on my period if I grumped at someone, as I'd experienced in Junior High.