Gender Bias in School


Though I haven’t yet seen the movie Boyhood, it is on my list. So when I saw the article – “Boyhood is Also Wise about Girlhood” in The Wall Street Journal – it caught my eye. The article identifies how adults treat and interact with Mason, the main character, and how this varies from how they interact with his older sister, Samantha, through their growing up years. It purports that Mason is given more opportunity to be himself and become what he dreams to be, while Samantha is judged for focusing on herself. Some of what the article describes is deeply engrained in the movie storyline. That is, who the adult characters are and their personal issues, and how that impacts how they treat Samantha and Mason. Nonetheless, it raises several interesting points.

Are boys and girls treated differently during the formative years, and what, if any impact does this have on their learning, school performance and ultimately contribution to society and success as an individual?

I’ve thought for some time that our K-12 public school system favors girls and directs itself to how girls learn. That is, generally speaking, girls are more focused than boys in the elementary grades, and can sit quietly for longer periods of time. Also, girls can more easily work together – share ideas about what they’re thinking – than boys who generally want to play and rough house. Throughout the early learning years, reading, writing and listening are skills girls acquire and adapt to more quickly than boys. For this reason, girls outperform boys with higher grades in all subjects. However, girls today lag behind boys in math and science standardized college entrance exams. There is a slight increase on some state standardized tests showing girls’ improvement in these areas and in some cases testing higher than boys. Nonetheless, girls aren’t entering the fields of science, technology, engineering and math – STEM. Unfortunately, even with so much attention and focus now put on supporting and encouraging girls to enter STEM fields, the numbers haven’t changed much since 2000.

We are making some progress in working through our gender biases in trying to provide equality of learning and opportunity to male and female students. However, there still is an inclination to project our long-held belief of how boys and girls learn and who may have natural ability toward one area of study over another. We need to neutralize our approach to teaching and learning, starting in the early grades, and work to ensure this non bias can be carried into the workplace.

Thanks for reading!

Ruth Kustoff

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