To understand the role that gender plays in education today, it is necessary to examine gender throughout the history of education. It is useful to focus on America’s educational journey, because it has enjoyed a relatively short and fruitful series of changes in terms of awareness and policy.
Girls look different, sound different, act different, and provide a different set of skills and abilities to partnerships. As early man discovered, specialization, some as hunters, some as gatherers, was efficient.
America has consciously included girls in education throughout our history.
Finishing Schools were primarily used by the well-to-do and continued to be the education of choice for some families after other options became available. The Free Online Dictionary defines ‘finishing school’ as “a private school for girls that prepares them for society by teaching social graces and accomplishments.” They are also called charm schools. Historically, this education was very appropriate for young women, preparing them for their future as wives.
Dame schools generally taught reading, writing, English, French, arithmetic, music, and dancing. Girls might also learn sewing, embroidery, and the like.
Although it must be acknowledged that women have had to push for greater educational opportunities, economic forces have proven to be powerful factors in social change.
Here again, we see education provided for girls alongside boys due to economic constraints. The difference in end result was in large part affected by greater social needs: women were valuable in the home.
Controversy surrounding Title IX seems primarily associated with athletics. Some schools blame the law for eliminating sports that girls were not interested in participating in, while others point out that women are increasingly involved in athletics and show an interest in areas that traditionally were ‘off-limits’ to them.
Government funding demonstrates a desire for equal education – the dramatic reduction in funding over time, however, tells another story. Challenges in the career field continue to limit women’s participation in these areas, suggesting gender equity is a larger social issue.
The initial push to combine schooling for boys and girls seems to echo the civil rights assertion that separate cannot be equal. For girls to receive a comparable education, they had to receive it alongside the boys. However, gender differences and stereotypes are so strongly ingrained in our culture that perhaps only by separating the sexes do we adequately set aside our preconceptions and teach the individuals.
It should be surprising that boys did so well before gender awareness was raised, given the brain-based research indicating that much of how public schools teach is structured best for girls. Brain-based research tells us that many stereotypes can be traced to actual brain structures and characteristics. Girls have strong language centers, while boys have a greater mind/body connection.
Although girls wanted bigger, prettier graphics in their computer software, their achievement was actually impaired by these changes.
Historically, families needed to prepare daughters for marriage. However, marriage has lost stability over time, so preparing a daughter for a stable future has shifted to include an adequate education. Perhaps in part because girls’ achievements may be undervalued, parents may push for more education for girls than for boys.
Given that economics has been more successful than funding, awareness, andtraining at reshaping education for boys and girls, it might be helpful to consider the economics of gender.
What girls typically express about their education is the impact of relationships they have with each other, with their teachers, and with the material. The good news is that relatively few changes in interactions and lesson activities will greatly improve education for boys and girls.
It is important to note that much has been made of boys’ falling test scores and college enrollments. Some would say that this is once again putting the boys ‘ahead.’ I think it is important to realize that no boy is 100% ‘boy,’ just as no girl is 100% ‘girl.’ Any changes we can make to improve education for one student will roll over to every student.
As teachers, there may be little we can do to change the home life of our students. These facts, then, are important to keep in mind for when the media comes shouting that boys are underserved in our schools. The hard truth is that our patriarchal society exacts a cost from both genders, and school can only influence society by bits and pieces.
Educating Girls An Overview ofGendered Education in America Photo Credit National Geographic, copyright National Geographic Society
History:Girls Are Different Photo Credit National Geographic, copyright Bambang Hidajat
“And since the Americans have bravelyestablished their liberties, (not withstanding the vainefforts of tyranny) we hope that their modesty willkeep them from exercising that despotism overus, which they so openly despised in their master. . . .and now, may they wish to see the fair sex on anequal footing with themselves, enjoying all theblessings of freedom.” - New York female academy student, 1794
History 1700s – Finishing Schools 1800s – Girls‟ Schools, Young Women‟s academies, and Coeducation 1972 – Title IX 1974 – Women‟s Educational Equality Act 1991 – How Schools Shortchange Girls 2006 – Title IX amended
From the 1700sFinishing Schools Arts, such as music, embroidery, drawing, and painting furniture Refinement and social graces Dancing Hosting a ball Etiquette and manners How to be a wife: cook, clean, and keep a household
1700-1800sDame Schools Instruction for a small group of children led by a woman in her home (in place of parents educating their own children) Equivalent to an elementary level education Begun in colonial times based on English methods Prepared boys for town schools or academies Girls might be allowed to attend town schools during summers or holidays
1800sWomen‟s Seminaries and Academies Colonial women were involved in family businesses and commerce Literacy was needed for all Movement for single-gender seminary or academy modeled after English finishing schools, to provide a “moral, literary, and domestic education” Prepared female teachers for Catholic girls‟ schools Women were the foundation of „good manners‟ and a positive influence on men
1800sCoeducation Taught boys and girls in the same schools Included secondary schools Common in the west due to small classes Tracked programs: College preparatory (boys) Vocational (girls, minorities) For girls through the 1960s: Nursing Secretarial Teaching Motherhood
History:Girls Are the Same Photo Credit National Geographic, copyright Wahyudi Andriano
1972Title IX Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, Congresswoman Patsy Mink “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…” BIG changes to school athletics Several states passed laws to include schools not receiving Federal funding
1974Women‟s Educational Equality Act “promotes education equity for women and girls through competitive grants.” Training for teachers to encourage gender- equity in classrooms Guidance and counseling to increase opportunities for women in technologically demanding workplaces Evaluating and replicating exemplary gender equity programs From $6 million in 1976 to just under $2 million in 2009
1991How Schools ShortchangeGirls, American Association of UniversityWomen Classrooms have progressed in terms of gender equity Girls‟ academic performance has increased Girls continue to face unique challenges Compared to male peers, girls have less self-confidence and lower self-esteem General inequity in society continues to impact education
2006: But, girls ARE differentAmendments to Title IX: separate gendereducation provide school districts with flexibility in the implementation of single-sex programs Coeducational facilities reinforce gender stereotypes through “gender intensification” – „poetry is for girls,‟ „computer science is for boys‟ Gender separate format can boost grades and test scores Teacher training is KEY in separate gender instruction
“We can conclude from the research that there aresignificant differences in how boys and girls learn. Thecognitive differences are brain based; behavioral differencescan be brain based or a result of responses from brain-based differences. The very architecture of the brain and theresultant differences in sensory perception and physicalskills differ markedly between the sexes in the classroomand in society.” -Virginia Bonomo, 2010
Sensory Differences Girls Boys Retain have 35% Sensory less Memory hearing Details Well Boys use Targets And Spatial Memory
HOWEVER! When developing computer software, educational tools, or curriculum, there is no lowest common denominator: Girls AND Boys Research BOTH genders and adjust the material to perform well with both Assessing these materials requires unbiased methods (no interviews)
“It is understandable why, when the statisticsemerged showing boys‟ underachievement, it wasconcluded that schools had gone “too far” in redressinggirls‟ inequalities. It is also understandable why these samemeasures were adopted to tackle the problems boys wereexperiencing with school. However, this meant that theconstruction of traditional gendered subjectivities of boysand girls were left unchallenged and, hence, the ongoingproduction of lower levels of self-confidence amongst girls.” -Christine Skelton, 2010
Implications Photo Credit National Geographic, copyright Joshua Kast
What Girls Want“When you compete with girls, youcompete on skills.” -„Debbie,‟ 2008Throughout the research, girls have wanted: Opportunities Respect Challenges Community RecognitionSocially, girls now have the abilityand, increasingly, the economic motivations topursue higher education
Identity EconomicsStandard Economic Theories + Individuals‟ Identities „Insiders‟ versus „Outsiders‟ In work: nurses and male nurses In school: jocks and drop-outs Identity utility: gaining or losing face through actions that agree with or disagree with identity Schools AND Companies must promote „insider‟ identity that is attainable regardless of gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status
In Coeducational Schools“Boys will be boys, right? If I laggedbehind, people would think I‟m not okay. It‟sthe same with boys and teachers. Teachersseem willing to push the boys more thanthey push the girls. Girls are just expectedto be good.” Gender equity means adjusting instruction for Each Student, regardless of gender There‟s no such thing as, or need for, „gender-blind‟ Boys need more Motivation, Activity, Efficacy Girls need more Support, Recognition, Community
What About All-Girl Schools? Research indicates positive outcomes: Self-confidence Encouragement Leadership Community Opportunities for public- speaking, technology, science, math, and writing Less disruption/distraction Ability to experiment with multiple roles (class clown, bully, sports champ) Skills transfer to coed high schools What about all-girl classes? • Research suggests school climate has a big impact despite individual class makeup
What About the Boys?Improvements for girls are always goodfor boys: their sisters, mothers, wives, anddaughters benefit, and: Valuing girls and traditionally „female‟ studies such as art and music provides boys greater access to some of life‟s finest things Improving teacher awareness of individual needs ultimately impacts every student, providing tailored instruction Feedback that validates students‟ efforts over abilities increases motivation Challenging students increases motivation
What About the Boys?Our biggest stumbling blocks: Research suggests that girls‟ educational attainment is strongly influenced by their mothers; boys, by their fathers. Boys who have no fathers need strong male role models and mentors. In peer groups, boys may be less likely to find encouragement to pursue higher education. Boys need „insider‟ identities. Parents are less likely to ask sons about school, and may have lower expectations for sons‟ academic achievement. Parents need to understand their impact.
Educating GirlsEducating EveryoneYounger and Warrington state that single-sexclassrooms experience success due to culture– an environment ofcollaboration, encouragement, and commonpurpose and values.Effective teachers view community as essentialto the inclusion and engagement of everystudent.Focusing on girls neglected social realities andhas gone as far as possible. Future effortsneed to acknowledge, and honor, individuals ofboth genders.