Gender & Education: 4 Crucial Points for Change

“Awareness is the greatest agent for change” (Eckhart Tolle).  That’s why we’re contributing to the dialogue on gender differences in education.


#1: Challenges exist for both genders

Author and literacy advocate Pam Allyn has written several powerful articles that rally the public to recognize educational barriers to girls’ education across the globe, such as this one here, here, here, and here.  She urges us to take action on terribly serious realities, including the fact that two-thirds of those who are illiterate are female.  She has established “LitWorld’s girls’ LitClubs that meet around the world, sometimes in secret, to read together and write together” (“For These are All our Girls”). With all this action on behalf of girls, one might expect that Pam’s work is limited to that sex.  But it’s not.

She has also written Best Books for Boys, in which she highlights several obstacles to boys’ reading, including the following: “the testing mania and the idea in our culture that learning is symbolized by children sitting quietly in their seats has been, in some cases, defeating for active boys” (p. 21). She regularly writes articles about all children, and the stories they have to share (such as this one, or this one).  She even founded the Books for Boys literacy program.

There’s an important pattern here: one of recognition and action for all children.  Those of us involved in children’s education must be willing to acknowledge that academic barriers exist for boys and girls alike.

#2: The challenges for each gender are different

Evidence of the unique educational challenges for both genders is mounting.  We list a few points below.

GIRLS:
  • Girls often receive cultural messages that undermine their self-images as learners, explorers, and thinkers. A recent commercial by Verizon illustrates this:

  • In the developing world in particular, girls are also faced with lower rates of enrollment due to a variety of cultural reasons.  GirlEffect.org released a powerful video highlighting that cycle:

BOYS
  • Boys often receive cultural messages in the classroom that passions and dispositions common to their gender do not belong. A recent video by Prager University summarizes the way this impacts boys’ education:

  • The rates for post-secondary degrees are consistently lower for males than females.  Some of these numbers are shown in the infographic by National Student Clearinghouse below:
National Student ClearingHouse
National Student ClearingHouse

#3:  76% of teachers are female (source)–and that really matters!

Author Leonard Sax extensively researches gender differences, and has cited several ways female teachers might pay closer attention to the differing needs of their male students.  One such difference lies in what’s more visually appealing to females than males.  Says Sax:

“…boys are more likely to draw a scene of action, such as a monster attacking an alien; girls are more likely to draw people, pets, flowers, or trees, with lots of colors. The people in the girls’ pictures usually have faces, eyes, hair, and clothes; the people in the boys’ pictures (if there are any people) often are lacking hair, clothes, often the boys draw mere stick figures in one color. How come? The usual answer “Because that’s what we teach them to do” is unpersuasive, as I explain in Why Gender Matters. On the contrary, many of these boys insist on drawing these pictures not because teachers tell them to draw such pictures, but in spite of the teacher’s repeated pleas, “Why do you have to draw such violent pictures? Why can’t you draw something nice – like what Emily drew?” (source)

Another difference he discusses is hearing, even citing it as a possible contributing factor for the more frequent ADHD diagnoses for boys over girls.  “…the average boy may need the teacher to speak more loudly–roughly 6 to 8 decibels more loudly–if the average boy is to hear the teacher as well as the average girl hears” (source).  Teachers need to be aware of such differences to ensure they do not unintentionally favor their female students.

(For more on the ratio of male teachers to female teachers, check out our post, “Elementary teachers less than 25% male in US”).

Awareness Point #4:  Comparing which gender struggles more is unproductive to progress

As author William S. Wilson wrote:

“Comparisons deplete the actuality of the things compared.” (from “Conveyance: The Story I would Not Want Bill Wilson To Read”)

Articles like Bryce Covert’s “Enough Mansplaining the ‘Boy Crisis’ — Sexism Still Holds Back Women at Work,” offer criticism when concerns are raised for one gender, because they feel the other gender is more victimized.  However, such comparisons undercut our collective efforts for children; we need “all hands on deck” in order to address the educational struggles facing all our youth.  With objectivity and compassion, let us endeavor to understand and improve the state of education for children everywhere.

Featured Image Credit: 

UNICEF Ethiopia

Published by

Mary Wade

I taught 5th grade at a PYP International Baccalaureate school in Utah for 4 years, and am currently on extended parental leave until my kids start school. In between the roller-coaster adventures of motherhood, I enjoy educational blogging so I can stay in the loop and keep learning! Snapshot favorites: Student voice & choice. Twix bars. Global classrooms. Calvin & Hobbes. Outlandish sewing projects. Teachers learning from teachers. Modeling daring to students.

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