Jan Arnow


Chapter 4


Growing Up Equal: Gender Fairness in the Classroom


More than two decades have passed since Congress prohibited sex

discrimination in education by passing Title IX of the Educational

Amendments. Yet stereotyping by sex and its sister corollary -- gender

bias in education -- continue to create a 51% majority of second class



Early Gender Socialization

Gender roles are waiting for children at the instant of birth.

Studies have shown that parents' expectations shape behavior from the

earliest moments. Babies in blue diapers are often characterized by adults

as active and loud; those in pink are described as quiet and sweet; and

those in yellow so confuse the observer that many ask about the sex of a

child in order to know how to treat it.


Infant girls are usually touched and talked to more by their mothers, while

baby boys are influenced to explore and play independently. The children

learn early that the two genders have different territories -- a special

room or chair is set aside for the use of the men, while the women's places

-- the kitchen, for example -- are usually public and open to invasion.


Even as very young children, they are often unconsciously encouraged to

embrace sex-stereotyped roles through their toys and games. Boys learn

about three-dimensional structures, velocity and angles through their

action toys and building kits, math concepts which become a solid

foundation of their practical knowledge. Girls are prompted to express

themselves verbally, and learn to explain processes they cannot "see" with

words. Stereotypic storybook characters and language, different methods of

disciplining, separate treatment in activities involving risks, emphasis on

physical appearance for girls, divergent expectations regarding

assertiveness in social interactions and peer pressure to conform to

stereotypic images all contribute to the control of a girl's alternatives

and, more importantly, her motivation to choose. By the time school

begins, many children have spent five years at home where their parents and

others have telegraphed alarm if the male children haven't developed their

tendencies to "be all boy," and the girls to be feminine.

Sexism in the School


Once they enter school, the hidden curriculum -- unbalanced staffing

patterns, unequal distribution of power and authority within the school,

invisibility of women in curricular materials, disparate student-teacher

interaction patterns, deductive reward systems -- maintains and extends

this socialization pattern. There is no shortage of role models in most

schools to indicate to girls that, in many areas, education is a spectator



Girls in Math and Science

As we near the turn of the century, science and business leaders

are expressing increasing concern about the projected shortages of

scientific and technical personnel. Their anxieties are justified: our

nation's economic and political vitality is directly linked to our ability

to enlarge the talent pool of students planning careers in math, science

and technology. Since more than two-thirds of new entrants into the labor

force will be women and minorities by the year 2000, why are barriers still

erected which prevent more girls from gaining the skills they need to enter

these critical careers?


Research indicates that despite little difference in gender achievement in

math and science in the lower grades, the success levels of girls in these

areas begins a steady decline once they enter middle school. By the age of

seventeen, boys score considerably higher on tests in these subjects.


Aside from early gender socialization that denies girls experience and

skills in problem solving through the use of tools and mechanical objects,

they face other forms of discouragement that prevent them from fulfilling

their potential. Why girls find math, science and technology achievement

elusive results from a number of factors:


* Most math curricula in the early grades focus on

interactive memorization ability; many girls achieve at that

point because they arrive at school with those skills.

Boys regularly receive remediation to help them develop

and improve those capacities in the early years. In

middle school, the focus shifts to higher order, abstract

concepts that depend on spatial visualization and other

skills with which boys come to school. There is no

parallel shift in remediation. Girls are not generally

encouraged to develop their higher order math skills in


the same way that boys were assisted in the early grades.

Consequently, girls are less likely to persevere and

extend their math education, and most either take more

rudimentary courses or drop the subject altogether.


* Evidence shows that boys and girls approach learning

from different perspectives and employ different learning

styles. Most girls prefer to use a conversational style that

cultivates group accord, a process through which ideas

build on one another. Boys learn through argument,

individual activity and independent work, skills they learn

early on. Their classroom style of public debate in which

they challenge one another in order to learn is in direct

opposition to the learning style of girls in which mutual

support and the building of collaborative knowledge are

fundamental aspects. Yet the mainstream model of

education in math, science, and technology classes

supports the learning styles of boys and leaves out a

large percentage of the learning community, including

girls, whose learning styles are neither recognized or



* Sex-biased career counseling often prevents girls from

getting information about career possibilities requiring

competence in advanced mathematics or science. Nor

are they exposed to role models of women who are

engaged in successful math or science careers.


* Parents of many girls involuntarily fail to provide support

for their daughters' interest in math or science.


* Girls frequently believe that neither math or science

have any relevance in their lives.

Even computers, frequently cited as the vehicle for overcoming a wide array

of inequities, have been unequally utilized:


* Computer science is often narrowly identified with

mathematics which reinforces its stereotype as being a

discipline that is more accessible to boys.


* Limited equipment and software in schools has led, in

many cases, to scheduling patterns that limit computer

use to those students who exhibit more success in using

them rather than to the slower or more average students.

Setting difficult prerequisites for computer courses, and even

for the use of the school's computers also deprives average and

slower students of computer opportunities.


* Software that incorporates stereotypes and uses of

technology that reflect subtle biases further reinforce

girls' negative attitude toward computer science.


Gender Teaching

The importance of how children are taught is at least as important

as what they are taught. Teachers are often unaware of how aspects of

their behavior communicate expectations that can easily derail girls'

academic achievement.


Children's success in school is related to the amount as well as the type

of attention they receive from their teachers, regardless of whether the

attention is negative or positive. Studies have found that males receive

more attention from the teacher than do females in classrooms from

preschool to the university. More attention is paid to boys by teachers



* Often expect them to work more independently, ask them

higher order questions, and criticize them more for

misbehavior, even when they are acting no worse than

the girls;


* Call directly on boys more than girls;


* Recognize boys more when they volunteer in class;


* Are more inattentive when girls speak;


* Nod and gesture more in response to boys;


* Give more patronizing or impatient responses to girls;


* Allow girls to be interrupted more by other students and


physically "squeezed out" by boys in the laboratory,

computer room, in demonstration projects and on field



* Assume that assertive and direct boys are more

knowledgeable than hesitant, polite or shy girls;


* Underestimate the competence of girls, especially

minority girls;


* Get to know boys informally more than girls.


The surprising fact is that not only do boys demand more attention, but

that teachers of both sexes actively solicit their responses more than

those of girls!


The recent pioneering studies on gender bias in schools conducted by Myra

and David Sadker and the investigation into gender teaching by the American

Association of University Women shows that what people once assumed to be

innate gender differences are in fact produced by adults' different

behavior toward boys and girls, behavior of which most adults are unaware.

The studies show that these subtle classroom behaviors contribute to girls'

tendency to lose interest in the school and career tracks traditionally

associated with boys. They also show that the demands on women and men in

the workforce are very different than they were even a generation ago, and

that gender-stereotypic responses to boys and girls are detrimental to both.


Boys are Affected by Gender Bias, Too

What has not been acknowledged until very recently is the degree to

which gender-stereotyping and gender bias limits males as well as females.

Sex role socialization subordinates people to preconceived, limiting forms

of conduct, academic achievement and employment regardless of personal

strengths, motivation and professional or vocational dreams.


In the case of men, some of these stereotypes are actually

life-threatening. The indicators of physical and psychological trauma men

experience in order to achieve, acquire prestige and money, and prove their

manhood are becoming well known. Being a man, for many, is a high-risk

lifestyle that places extraordinary demands on their health and happiness:


* The annual death rate for cancer is nearly one and a half

times higher for men than for women;


* Death rates from heart disease are twice as high in men

as in women;


* The ratio of ulcers in men versus women is two to one;


* Within a few years of divorce, the divorced mens' death

rate is three times the death rate for divorced women;


* Men are four times more likely than women to be the

victims of murder;


* The rate of successful suicides is three times as high for

men as for women;


* Men are the victims of on-the-job accidents at a rate which

is at least six times higher than that for women;


* Men are three times more likely to be arrested for

drunkenness than women.


* Men in the United States can expect to live an average of

eight years less than women.


No one is immune to the subtle pressures of sex role socialization. As

boys and girls prepare for life in an adult world, neither are convincingly

provided the option to be and do what they want to be and do.


Sexual Harassment

Another gender-related and growing problem that can undermine the

effectiveness of schooling for both boys and girls is sexual harassment.

Several factors complicate this issue including the pervasive uncertainty

about just what constitutes sexual harassment; the fact that males and

females have different perspectives on the issue; and that each case will

vary based on the facts and the relationship between the parties.


The law regarding sexual harassment is based on Title VII of the Civil

Rights act of 1964 and Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendments.

Guidelines from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can

serve as a starting point in understanding this sometimes clouded issue:

Sexual harassment refers to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual

favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when (1)

submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term

or condition of one' employment, (2) submission to or rejection of such

conduct is used as a basis for employment decision, or (3) such conduct has

the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with one's work

performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work



In a landmark case, Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson (1986), the Supreme

Court said that for claims of sexual harassment based on a "hostile

environment" to be actionable, they must be sufficiently severe or

pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and create an

abusive working environment. Sexual harassment, however, need not involve

conduct that is explicitly sexual in nature but may include "any harassment

or unequal treatment of an employee or group of employees that would not

occur but for the sex of the employee or employees" (McKinney v. Dole



Although most sexual harassment cases occur in the general workforce, the

courts have stated that there is no substantial distinction between the

work environment at large and the school environment that would prohibit

sexual harassment in the former while abiding it in the latter. Therefore,

school personnel -- including superintendents, principals, administrators

and other supervisory staff, and teachers -- can be liable and held

responsible in sexual harassment lawsuits for their own harassing

activities and for their failure to address claims of sexual harassment by

others for whom they are responsible.


Sexual harassment, of course, is not limited to the adult population. In

fact, according to the survey conducted by the American Association of

University Women and described in their report, "Hostile Hallways -- The

AAUW Survey on Sexual Harassment in America's Schools (June 1993), it is an

experience common to the vast majority of eighth to eleventh grade students

in America's public schools, often begins several grades earlier, and is on

the rise in both middle and high schools.


Exposure to sexual harassment can negatively effect the emotional, social

and physical sense of well-being of both girls and boys. Some victims

describe feelings similar to those identified by rape victims. Other

reactions often expressed by victims of sexual harassment are anger,

frustration, depression, anxiety and a sense of self-blame, any of which

can further cause a decrease in the ability to concentrate, high

absenteeism and a severe drop in learning potential.


Rather than view the increase in complaints and reported cases of sexual

harassment with the urgency it deserves, however, many school

administrators continue to treat the incidents as harmless, if at all. But

like any other infraction of human rights, this lack of serious attention

to a serious problem sends a clear message of tacit approval to children,

girls in particular. And along with that message comes another informal,

yet crystal clear bit of information: that school, or at least those

classes where they are most likely to be harassed, are not places for them.


The Call for Equity

Just as all aspects of the school are potential carriers of

inherently damaging race and ethnic-oriented messages, they are also

potential carriers of equally damaging, implicit or explicit

gender-oriented communication. The challenge to parents, school personnel

and community leaders is clear: we must not allow anything to threaten

equity in education for all children if we are to compete effectively in

the global marketplace of the next century. It is not sufficient to

balance the opportunities and equalize the workforce for adult women. From

the earliest ages, we must encourage a belief in equity for all children,

including girls, and prevent them from encountering the barriers that allow

them to doubt their own capabilities.




Gender-Fair Teaching

* Examine your attitudes carefully. Do you believe females are generally

not as skilled in math and science and do you play that out in your

interactions? Do you allow male students to control the dialogue? Do you

interact with male students more than with female students? Do you

discourage autonomous behavior and risk taking in girls?

* Restrain students who dominate class discussions by not allowing

interruptions, limiting the time a person may hold the floor, or limiting

the number of times a person may speak.

* Coach those who speak hesitantly and with too many qualifications by

videotaping their participation, letting them rework their wording, and

then practicing a more assertive delivery.

* Watch your vocabulary. Children do not necessarily translate the word

"man" to mean both "man" and "woman." Nonsexist language is critical to

any change in gender teaching, as is the use of words that indicate

aggression -- "take a stab at it", "rip it apart", etc.

* Allow girls to express their feelings, including anger. Adolescent

girls become resentful if their anger is silenced, and can become defiant

for this reason.

* Really listen to the girls. Encourage them to talk and to express their


* Discourage the image of the "perfect girl" who must become the perfect

woman who never expresses anything other than good feelings for everyone.

* Be honest and don't present yourself as a superwoman. When female

teachers, administrators and principals present themselves as always being

"together," their actions indicate a personal submission and they advance

the silencing process.

* Discourage gender stereotyping by not scheduling male- and

female-preferred courses in the same time slots during the day.

* Raise the level of awareness of school boards, school councils,

superintendents and professors in schools of education about the positive

results of equity training for teachers, counselors and administrators.

Provide them copies of the AAUW report on gender teaching. Encourage

release time, sabbaticals and funding for teachers to attend seminars,

workshops or to take graduate courses in gender-fair education.

* Conduct research within your own school on teacher/student interaction.

Provide teachers assessment tools to check their own behavior in their


* Develop a list of local women with expertise in educational issues for

your elected officials to use in considering as appointees to boards of

directors and education posts. Encourage women candidates who are

supportive of gender-fair teaching to run for positions that influence

educational policy.

* Review the books available in school and local libraries. Make sure

that children and parents have access to gender-fair, multicultural

materials. Provide up-to-date lists of appropriate books and materials to

the librarians on a regular basis.



* Review curricula and textbooks used throughout your school district in

terms of gender fairness. When you report your findings to the committee

or board responsible for textbook and curriculum adoption, be prepared to

make recommendations for change.

* Stress the necessity for a gender-fair curriculum that is fully

integrated at your school, not an add-on.

* Find ways to teach mathematics equally to young children through play,

using situations that introduce girls and boys to a variety of career

options early. Show girls especially that math and science can have

relevance in their lives.

* Inform all students about the work of outstanding women mathematicians.

* Use hands-on activities, visual representations and physical materials

to demonstrate abstract concepts.

* Use group problem solving and collective brainstorming as part of your

daily classroom agenda.

* Create a mathematics environment that includes and supports student

examination of real life situations, such as those found in the media,

concerns about social issues, and so on.

* House the computer center away from the mathematics department.

* Institute "girls only" days in your computer lab. Invite the most

popular girls in the school to form a girls' computer committee to do

something about the problem of equity in technology.

* Have a wide variety of software available, including graphics, writing

and art programs. Limit game playing which attracts boys and tends to

exclude girls.

* When you see a girl enjoying something on a computer, invite her to

bring her friends to try it next time. Allow them to work in pairs or in

groups. Set up the computer lab so that there can be eye and voice contact

even if they are each working on their own computer.

* Ask older girls to introduce the use of the computer to students in the

lower grades.

* In history classes, have students consider what women were doing during

the time period they are studying. Sometimes women were doing much the

same thing as men, as shown evidenced by their roles in the organization of

trade unions in the late nineteenth century. Or they may have done

something completely different, as during World War II when women entered

the workforce in great numbers, many for the first time.

* In literature, focus part of the time on women writers of the past and

present who actively influenced their contemporaries and descendants.

* Women artists have practiced throughout history. Include them in

chronological and stylistic surveys. Or study them as the subject matter

of art and in their role in the field of art. Discuss the importance of

their traditional creative expressions such as needlework and quilting.

Apply the same approach in the performing arts -- study the effects of

women in music, theater, dance and the institutional constraints on their

becoming "great" artists.

Sexual Harassment

* Encourage the school board or local school council to provide awareness

training for teachers, counselors, administrators and students on sexual


* Help your school demonstrate their strong commitment by developing and

enforcing a clear policy on sexual harassment. Make sure the policy:

* explains what sexual harassment is;

* gives some examples of unacceptable conduct;

* clearly describes the grievance procedures and other avenues

 for recourse;

* specifies what disciplinary action will be taken; and

* is publicly posted and publicized widely.

* Make sure all students and staff know how to detect harassment, and know

how to report it.

* Identify and train a few people in the school who can function as

complaint managers -- people who are authorized to receive confidential

complaints and begin the process of dealing with them in a sensitive manner.

NOTE: The text above is from the recent book, Teaching Peace: How to Raise Children to Live in Harmony -- Without Fear, Without Prejudice, Without Violence_ by Jan Arnow (Perigee/Berkley, © 1995 Jan Arnow, ISBN #0-399-52155-0, $12.00). In each chapter there are additional charts, quotes and sidebar sections that have not been uploaded. If you are interested in seeing these additions, please contact the author directly (email: jarnow@iglou.com); (snail mail: 2025 Maryland Avenue, Louisville, KY, 40205); (telephone: 502-454-0607); or buy the book! 

This is copywritten material. Please do not distribute without the author's permission.


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