3 Signs of Gender Discrimination in the Classroom You Need to Know

There are 3 signs of gender discrimination in the classroom that you need to know which are behavioral discriminations, achievement discrimination, and developmental discrimination. This articles discusses each sign and provides key components you need to know to avoid discrimination against boys and girls in the classroom.

The differences between boys and girls are sometimes celebrated and sometimes lamented. Boys and girls do have differences, and historically, this has led to inequality. In the past the dominant belief was that a woman’s place was in the home, so girls didn’t need the same level and type of education as boys. And in many professions, women weren’t welcome and were told they couldn’t possibly handle the work.

Today, girls and women have many more opportunities. Women make up a large percentage (sometimes the majority) of college and university enrollment, and they have access to professions that were traditionally male dominated. Although great strides have been made in the realm of women’s equality, there is still a long way to go, hampered by the problem of cultural stereotypes that affect boys and girls from the day they are born. Examples include: pink clothes for girls and blue for boys; dolls for girls and trucks for boys; girls can cry, but boys cannot; and dance class for girls and football for boys. There are so many differences in the way that boys and girls are raised that, by the time they get to school, it can be very difficult for teachers to treat them equally and overcome the gender stereotypes they’ve already been taught.

Research shows many differences in the way boys and girls are treated in the classroom and shows that differences in treatment by teachers and other school personnel may be both conscious and subconscious. Teachers tend to pay more attention to boys than girls by having more interactions with them. They tolerate behavior in boys that they don’t tolerate in girls, and they tend to provide boys with more criticism and praise. Differences in the extra attention given to boys are due in part to the fact that boys simply tend to demand more attention, while girls tend to be quieter and more reticent. Boys tend to dominate classroom discussion, and they also access computers and technology more often than girls do.

The types and levels of courses predominated by males and females continue to differ. Boys are still more likely to enroll in mathematics, science, and engineering than girls and are more likely to take advanced courses in these subject areas. This enrollment pattern is not true for biology, English, and foreign languages, where more girls tend to enroll in advanced courses. Overall, women are underrepresented in professions that center on mathematics, science, engineering, medicine, and business leadership.

Some believe gender bias no longer exists and contend that boys are not more accommodated than girls in the classroom. They suggest that boys’ needs are often overlooked, because boys learn best when they have more frequent opportunities to get up and move around and engage in classroom debates—classroom activities that are often discouraged. Proponents also focus on the fact that the gaps in education levels between boys and girls have virtually closed since 1970. And now, even though girls still lag behind boys in mathematics and science, girls in high school do better than boys in reading, writing, and other academic subjects; earn more credits; are more likely to get honors; and are more likely to further their education at colleges or universities.

Although some might argue that it is difficult to see gender bias in schools, without question, in terms of money earned, there is a gender bias in the workforce. The average income of women with a high school diploma is 85% of that of men with the same level of education, and that figure drops to 80% for college graduates. The workforce data indicate that there is a level of gender bias in the school system, even if it is somewhat hidden. Gender bias is evident as students move into the workforce. Men are more likely to be given jobs with higher status and higher salaries than women.

Single-sex education (a school or program teaches only one sex) has often been mentioned as a remedy for the diminished self-concept girls must experience in schools where gender bias exists. Although Title IX, part of the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity, in 2006, the U.S. Education Department ruled that this did not apply to single-sex education, as long as attendance in such institutions was voluntary and students had access to coeducational classes and programs. As a result, single-sex education has increased in popularity, although its efficacy is debated. Many feel that girls have more leadership roles and more opportunities in a single-sex school, yet others argue that if co-educational schools were truly gender fair, there would be no need to separate girls from boys.

The debate about whether gender differences are determined more by biology or society continues, but one thing is clear: Gender awareness is central to working in schools where adolescents are the predominant school population. In the middle school years, parents and teachers often observe a distinct shift in interest levels and in personality among students, as raging hormones take over. Early adolescence is often spent in a cloud, struggling with questions of what it means to be female and what it means to be male. All too often, this has a profound impact on academic performance. Male and female brain development occurs in different areas of the brain, at dissimilar rates. This leads to disparity and discrepancy in the ability to master the material successfully. Moreover, middle-school students often appear to be frustrated with learning. The natural curiosity of elementary school children with their inquisitive enthusiasm for school suddenly disappears under distraction due to social and physical development, apathy, and a torrent of hormone-induced emotion.

Gender can be viewed as a social construct with culturally based expectations of appropriate behavior for girls and boys. Physiological differences in girls and boys also impact their learning and behavior. It’s important for teachers to understand both the social construct of gender and the physiological differences, to ensure that the school culture and climate support the development of girls and boys. School culture refers to the values, traditions, and infrastructure in each school. These characteristics govern how the school functions as an entity. School climate is a collective, descriptive label for the social interactions and relationships among students—with each other and with their teachers—and teachers’ interactions with their peers and administrators.

Recent studies have shown there are relatively few differences between the way that boys and girls learn. As a matter of fact, there are more differences within each gender than there are between the genders, especially for academic ability.

As a teacher, you should make a concerted effort to be gender neutral, realizing that boys and girls are equally capable of doing all things academic, with neither group having a distinct advantage. If we don’t create a gender-neutral environment in our classrooms, then we are doing our students a huge disservice and perpetuating self-fulfilling prophecies that may hinder our students from reaching their fullest potential.

Despite Eliot’s assertions, some differences between male and female learning may be rooted in physiology. Some studies have shown that the areas of the brain involved in language and fine motor skills mature earlier in girls than in boys. This may be one reason why more boys are identified with behavior issues, attention disorders, and learning disabilities. One solution would involve schools’ restructuring the environment to arrange more time for movement, and teachers’ becoming more noise tolerant. “Silent and seated” is not a comfortable learning condition for boys, whose brains require more physical movement.

Socialization styles also influence learning climate preferences among girls and boys. Girls tend to prefer a noncompetitive learning environment and cooperative learning situations. Boys enjoy the competition and find the win–lose structure motivational. Girls are more organized, take better notes, keep journals, set goals for themselves, and ask teachers for help and clarification. Boys do not take advantage of help as often.

By being aware of these signs of discrimination, Educators can work to create a learning environment that acknowledges these internal and external discriminations but strives to diminish them and ensure a classroom of equality.

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