Are All-Girl Schools Better?
Feb. 1988 Better Homes & Gardens
SEXISM IN OUR SCHOOLS: TRAINING GIRLS FOR FAILURE?
by Mary Conroy
The first day of school began with a simple request. The boys were asked
to sit in the front of the room; the girls were assigned desks out in the
hall. Then the teacher closed the door on them and started class.
The case may be fictional, but the pattern is not. For all the attention
girls receive in school, they might as well be confined to the hallway.
According to education professors Myra and David Sadker of American
Univerisity, teachers interact more with boys at every grade level. It
doesn't matter whether the teacher is male or female; classroom scales tilt
firmly in favor of the boys. Over time, that imbalance could put your
daughter at real risk.
WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE? . . . Girls start school with higher
achievement. But by high school graduation, boys outperform them on most
standardized tests, even in so-called "female" areas like English.
Such test scores make a big difference: girls are less likely to be
accepted by prestigious colleges. Those who do get in lose out on
scholarships. In New York, for instance, 67 percent of Empire State
Scholarships go to boys and 27 percent to girls, according to Fair22st, the
National Center for Fair and Open Testing. (Names for the other 6% could
have been male or female, so FairTest didn't include them.)
HOW DOES IT HAPPEN? It's not that teachers deliberately exclude girls,
says Dr. Barbara Kerr of the Univerisity of Iowa, author of _Smart Girls,
Gifted Women_. "Teachers are making a great effort to overcome sexism,"
she says. Most teachers aren't aware that they treat boys and girls
differently, according to Kerr.
Yet studies clearly show that they do.
FEEDBACK. Teachers praise boys far more than girls, the Sadkers say. Boys
also receive more criticism. The benefits: Boys get more encouragement
and more chances to improve. They also learn how to handle criticism.
ATTENTION. The Sadkers found that boys call out for teacher attention
eight times more than girls. And boys get it: when they speak out of turn
in discussions, teachers accept the remarks as contributions. When girls
do the same, teachers tell them to raise their hands.
INSTRUCTION. When students need help, teachers give the boys more detailed
directions, but actually do the work for the girls. Thus, boys learn to be
competent and girls learn to be helpless, say the Sadkers.
LITERATURE. Children's books still portray a lopsided view of the world.
In those that have won the prestigious Caldicott Medal, 10 boys are
pictured for every girl.
COURSE SELECTION. Schools still discourage girls from taking math,
science, computer, and vocational classes, according to the Project on
Equal Education Rights of the Legal Defense and Education Fund of the
National Organization for Women.
REMEDIAL ASSISTANCE. Girls don't get special help for learning or behavior
disorders until they are older and further behind in school than boys with
similar disabilities, according to Dr. Jane Mercer of the University of
California at Riverside.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?
OBSERVE HER CLASS. Spend a day at school. Keep a tally of how many times
boys and girls get to answer questions. If the class is fairly evenly
divided between boys and girls, they sould answer roughly the same number.
Meet with the teacher and tactfully discuss the results.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE SEATING AND GROUPING. When students choose their own
seats, the girls cluster together and just don't learn to work with boys.
Many teachers also pit boys against girls for competitive games. "When I
taught seventh grade, I used to hold spelling bees with the girls against
the boys," Myra Sadker says. "But I would never go into a class and say,
'It's going to be blacks against whites, or Jews against Christians,'" she
CHECK THE BULLETIN BOARDS. "Very often a teacher with no intention of
being unfair uses pictures of male athletes and male political figures,"
says Myra Sadker. If all the posters show heroic men, girls get the
message that only men can be winners.
EXAMINE THE TEXTBOOKS. Count the number of women pictured in a history
book; compare with the number of men. Petition the school board to change
books if you're not satisfied. If no textbook is satisfactory, as the
teacher to consider assigning a biography of a successful woman.
URGE THE SCHOOL BOARD TO HIRE FEMALE ADMINISTRATORS. When girls always see
female teachers and male principals, they learn that caring is only for
women and leading is only for men, Kerr says. Ask your board to recruit
administratos from the large pool of already qualified women.
ASK THE SCHOOL PRINCIPAL TO OFFER RETRAINING WORKSHOPS. The Sadkers found
that only a few days of intensive training can dramatically change
teachers' habits. Ask your principal to use teacher workshop days in
non-sexist teaching techniques.
HELPING GIRLS AT HOME
USE A "CAN-DO" ATTITUDE. Daughters especially tend to imitate their
mothers. If you say, "This is a hard problem, but I bet I can solve it,"
instead of "Math just isn't my thing," your daughter will notice and follow
TEACH YOUR DAUGHTER TO GIVE HERSELF CREDIT. Studies at Georgia State
University show that most girls don't credit themselves for their own
success. When they do well, they say they were lucky. That only makes tem
feel more helpless. When your daughter does well, help her say, "I got
that grade because I'm smart."
RECOGNIZE YOUR GIRL'S MATH ABILITY. Dr. Jacquelynne Eccles of the
University of Michigan says that parents underestimate their daughter' math
talents and overestimate their sons' ability, even when both bring home the
same grades. When a girl earns good grades in math, parents credit the
marks to hard work; when a boy does the same, parents call him gifted. ...
WHAT ABOUT ALL-GIRL SCHOOLS? The best time for girls to learn to work and
play with boys is in grade school. By playing with boys, girls learn to
explore. Iowa's Dr. Kerr recommends such groups as coed soccer teams,
which teach achievement, unlike girls' groups that teach nurturing.
However, your adolescent may be better off in a girls' school, according to
many educators. At that age, peer pressure to conform combines with the
need to be popular. Even assertive girls fear that showing their
intelligence will repel boys.
But girls' schools remove these pressures. Free to take risks, young women
develop leadersip skills that carry over to adult life, according to
studies from the Women's College Coalition and George Washington
University's Dr. Elizabeth Tidball.
In fact, new studies show that today's graduates of women's colleges are
tomorrow's leaders: *They are two to three times more likely to be high
career achievers than women graduates of coed colleges. *They are
represented in Congress and on the boards of Fortune 500 companies at a
rate six times higher than could be predicted by chance. *They are twice
as likely to earn doctorate degrees as other women graduates of coed
colleges. *They appear on Business Week's 1987 list of top corporate women
at a rate six times beyond their numbers in the population. . . .
FOR MORE INFORMATION To learn more about how sexism affects girls, read
_Smart Girls, Gifted Women_ by Barbara Kerr. (Ohio Psychology Press)
To learn how it affects boys, read _Ties that Bind_. Send $2 to PEER, 1333
H St., NW, 11th Floor, Dept. BHG, Washington, DC 20005.
To read more, watch for the Sadkers' _How to Raise a Successful Daughter_.