Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Multiculturalism/Gender Issues

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How have gender issues changed our views?

Students learn differently. That is plain. No one child learns the same way. Classrooms must be as diverse in technique as they are in population. A teacher must accommodate various needs and intricacies. They must allot time for independent study as well as collaborative group work. They need to cater to the visual learner and the auditory pupil; and they most certainly should be able to manage an array of behavioral situations. Unfortunately, there is not a single fail-safe method or any one best-technique to employ across the board in classrooms. For many teachers, the sticking point to a successful classroom is the latter. One cannot teach if the environment is not conducive to learning. So, what can be done to limit distraction and optimize instructional time?

Adolescent psychology is associated with the notable changes in the behavior and characteristics of adolescents, cognitive, emotional and attitudinal changes take place during this period, which can be a cause of conflict on one hand and positive personality development on the other. Due to the adolescents' experiencing various cognitive and physical changes, it is frequently notable that they start giving more importance to their friends, their peer group, and less to their parents/guardians, due to the aggregated influence of whom they might go on to indulge in activities not deemed as socially acceptable, although this may be more of a social phenomenon than a psychological one. [1]

Gender as a Factor[edit]

Ask any secondary teacher and they will tell you that a major factor in classroom behavior is male-female interaction. This is social as well as academic; and can be both positive and negative. To begin, let it be known that prior to the 20th Century classrooms were typically segregated by gender. This is due to post schooling societal roles. That is, schools geared their students towards their social sector—females for the home and males for the work force. There was simply no professional mobility for females and so they ‘needed’ different training than their male counterparts. It was only in the 21st Century that gender segregated classrooms began to combine. This, however, was due to deficiencies in educational funding not academic reform. It seems that prior to the 20th Century the interest of the students was the focus. It was understood that different populations needed different instruction. There was no misconception that all students could be lumped into one classroom and be successful. Unfortunately, like too often happens, economic interest took precedence over student interest. (Datnow, 2001).

Hormonal Havoc[edit]

There is no doubt that gender roles have transformed in the past 100 years. The professional sector is wide open for women and it is not uncommon for men to stay home. Thus, the need is less post-education and more immediate. As researcher, Heather Blair (1999), points out, “Adolescence is a critical time for the construction of gender identity, and often academic success can be jeopardized. [For example,] it is at this point where many girls begin to lose confidence in themselves as learners…and begin to question their own knowledge and authority” (p. 6). This is no secret. Adolescence is an awkward point in anyone’s life. One’s self image begins to develop. One’s sexuality emerges and hormones surge. Males and females often spend more time examining each other than they do their classwork or homework. What would happen if this factor were eliminated? Females could focus on their study rather than impressing the boy next to them and vice versa. As a middle school teacher, I have witnessed acting out on behalf of both genders in order to impress the opposite sex. It is like witnessing an awkward ritual; and it can lead to momentous disruption in instruction and learning.

Learning According to Gender[edit]

As if adolescence was not a big enough obstacle for teachers, they must also navigate the different academic needs of both genders. Educators must acknowledge the fact that the brain develops differently in either sex. For girls, the area of the brain used for language development forms before the area used for geometry and spatial relations; in boys, it is the other way around. Hence the stereotype that males are more skilled in math and sciences and lack in language skills. In a sense, this lends adolescent females to being more susceptible to emotions as the area of the brain used for language development is also used for processing emotions. In boys, this may not be true. One could suggest that the brain is just wired differently. For many boys, it is extremely difficult to articulate how they “feel”.

Some research also suggests that girls hear better. The hearing of a teenage girl is thought to be seven times more acute than that of a teenage boy. This may contribute to how males and females respond different to instruction and verbal interaction. Also, girls and boys respond differently to stress. This is true not only in the human species but in most mammals. It has been found that some stress can enhance learning in males but hinder it in females (Sax, 2006). [2]

According To Boy Brains, Girl Brains, An Article by Tyre, Peg in the Newsweek Magazine Moat Schools Are Girl Friendly, because the teachers, who are mostly women, teach the way they learn. So naturally a lot of things going on in the classroom, boys will not immediately be attracted to. A Whopping 70% of students who are diagnosed with learning disabilities are Male. Even 80% of High School Drop Outs Are Male. Shocking, Yet True. Also Less Than 45% of College Students Are Male. According To Gurian, To Change the Educational Gap, teachers should start changing their teaching techniques. Also they should take in consideration lighting classrooms more brightly for boys and speaking to them loudly, since research shows males don't see or hear as well as females. Boys are more-visual learners, so teachers should illustrate a story before writing it and use an overhead projector to practice reading and writing. As A Result of Changes presented by Gurian, Over 185 Public Schools Offer some form of single-sex education courses. To some experts, Gurian's approach is not only wrong but dangerous. Some say his curriculum is part of a long history of pseudoscience aimed at denying equal opportunities in education. For much of the 19th century, educators, backed by prominent scientists, cautioned that women were neurologically unable to withstand the rigors of higher education. A Professor at American University, Davis Sadker, Says, While it's true that brain scans show differences between boys and girls, , no one is exactly sure what those differences mean. According to Sadker, Differences between boys and girls are dwarfed by brain differences within each gender. Sadker States, if you want to make schools a better place, you have to strive to see kids as individuals.

   Tyre, P. (2005). Boy Brains, Girl Brains. Newsweek, 146(12), 59. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Granted research is ever changing, however, the proof is in the numbers. According to the Virginia Department of Education, in 2002 the pass rate for the Virginia Standards of Learning test is as follows:

Subject Female Male
Language Arts, Reading 89% 83%
Language Arts, Writing 90% 81%
Mathematics 74% 78%
History 68% 75%
Science 67% 73% [3]

In a poll conducted by USAToday in 2003, in 1,000 high schools polled in 26 states, it was revealed that:

84% of girls feel that it is important to extend their education past high school. Only 67% of boys agreed.

70% of girls thought it was useful to do well in school to achieve life goals; only 57% of the boys felt the same. USAToday Poll

These numbers are consistent across the board. These gaps in achievement rates are constant since 1998. Thus, there is a clear trend that goes beyond any one teacher or school but is inherent in the educational needs of either gender. This kind of data lends itself to the extremely controversial topic of gender segregated classrooms.

The Single Gender Classroom[edit]


Groups are emerging who feel that both genders would benefit from having separate learning environments. One particular researcher has listed the goals for both female and male students in their article, “Single-Sex Classrooms”. On the part of the girls, the author lists increased confidence and self image, improved capability in math, science, technology and typically “male” subjects as goals. Safety and freedom from harassment and bullying are also listed as objectives. Finally, parents and educators hope to see an increase in focus on schoolwork. For boys, the desire is to increase literacy focus and skills. Also, there is a desire to improve the male view of education and the role they see it playing in their future. For many boys their deficiencies in literacy are causing them to fail out as these skills are the foundation for most core subjects. Several districts across the coutry are launching pilot programs for single gender classrooms. These districts show that the female population is making gains in areas previously dominated by male students. (Blair, Heather) Because researchers can pinpoint deficiencies that seem to be gender wide, it is thought that separate classrooms would provide opportunity to remedy these shortcomings. Greater focus can be paid to methods that work best for certain groups of students.

“If you don’t understand those differences and you teach boys and girls as if they were the same, the end result is a kindergarten classroom where the boys tell you drawing is for girls and a middle school classroom where girls tell you computers are for boys,” said Sax, one of the nation’s leading proponents of single-sex education. “If you don’t understand gender differences, you end up furthering gender stereotypes” (MSNBC NEWS). This article was chosen because it further explains why students benefit from single-sex classrooms. While opposers think that this is just discrimination in the classroom, this quotation from MSNBC states that these classrooms are not formed to discriminate but to enhance each student’s learning experience. If students are taught the same information, just in a way that they can better understand, this creates higher test scores and confidence in the student. This is not to be a competition among the sexes, but a learning tool to give each student, boy or girl, the most efficient learning experience possible. If creating a single-sex classroom will help accomplish that, then by all means it is worth a try. The teacher from this article explicitly states how it is easier for him to come to class better prepared specifically for “them”, meaning his all boys’ math class. The material is specifically geared towards everyone in the classroom, but just because the instruction may be different in a single-sex classroom, the goal for every student to succeed remains the same.


As stated previously, single-gender classrooms are extremely controversial. Many in the education field feel as though research presented on behalf of single-gender classrooms is too new and often biased. Many educators feel like smaller class sizes would be of greater benefit to students and teachers. In this situation, individualized instruction is easier to give regardless of gender or student population. Logically, this makes the most sense. Fewer students mean fewer needs and more time. Moreover, researchers worry that segregating students by gender would only promote gender bias and stereotypes. Generally speaking, research shows that small coed rooms are ‘happier’ places. (Datnow, 2001)

Splitting students by gender may be beneficial to the students, however what if is not? Categorizing males as one thing and females as another, when it comes to education, makes no logical sense. We should be focusing on other ways to improve the students’ educational background. For instance, why break the students up by gender shouldn’t we be focusing on splitting them up by learning styles? Like stated in Beloit Daily News, boys do not necessarily learn better while standing up while females preferred sitting.

There are some potential unintended consequences that will be faced by teachers, parents and students. One of the consequences that these students would face is the socialization skills of boys in girls. If the boys and girls are separated, they will be less likely to play with one another during recess or associate with each other during lunch. Girls are more likely than boys to engage in social alienation in which they exclude others from their social groups and make use of negative gossip about others (Cairns, Cairns, Neckerman, Ferguson, & Gariepy, 1989; Crick & Grotpeter, 1995). Exposure to these different behaviors and interaction styles may promote the development of different skills, behaviors, and learning styles (Huston & Carpenter,1985; Leaper, 1994; Maccoby, 1990; Thorne & Luria, 1986) (Martin and Fabes 433). These students will not want to associate with one another and will only make friends with their gender. Same gender classrooms face the issue of stereotyping. Gender stereotyping, harassment and other problems common in co-educational schools do not necessarily disappear in single-sex schools, according to a major California study of the nation's largest experiment in public single-sex education.[4] In some cases stereotyping gets worse. This can be bad for the students because it gives them views about students that are not always true.


Theories in education come and go in waves. For better or worse, education is subject to trends. It is impossible to say if one way is the best way. There are too many variables to be conclusive. Demographics in students population is a huge variable. Not all students come from the same economic, social, or cultural background. Also, not all teachers are qualified in the same areas, have the same strengths and weaknesses, or share the same beliefs. Education is subject to individualized methods and practices. It is not an exact science. One must pinpoint the variable of most impact. Is it economic background, ethnicity, or gender as some believe? If gender is in fact the greatest factor in behavior and learning than single-gender classrooms may well be the answer.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Based on the research provided, males have a higher pass rate in math and science because...
A. The area of the brain responsible for emotional development is connected directly to the language sector.
B. The area of the brain responsible for spatial relationships develops first.
C. Boys are articulate by nature.
D. They relate better to instruction and the written word.

B. The area of the brain responsible for spatial relationships develops first.

Typically males suffer from a higher drop out rate than females. What factor may contribute to this statistic?
A. Historically, males have not been pushed to complete their education.
B. Education is dominated Female teachers do not relate well to male students and so do not promote success rates for male students.
C. Male students simply do not care.
D. Male students are not as strong in literacy, a fundamental skill, and so struggle more with core subjects.

D. Male students are not as strong in literacy, a fundamental skill, and so struggle more with core subjects.

Mr. Jones is a seventh grade English teacher. In his experience, male students do not do well on the Writing SOL test. So, he focuses on improving the skills of his female students to counteract the male’s low scores. How does this attitude reflect on single-gender classrooms?
A. This attitude reflects gender bias and stereotypes. If Mr. Jones were given a male class they would all flounder. Thus, opponents of this method may use this to further their argument.
B. It demonstrates how single-gender classrooms would be extremely effective in closing the gap in student achievement.
C. This situation does not reflect on the gender issue; but on Mr. Jones’ poor teaching methods.
D. This scenario support single gender classrooms as males will never be good on the Writing portion of the SOL test.

A. This attitude reflects gender bias and stereotypes. If Mr. Jones were given a male class they would all flounder. Thus, opponents of this method may use this to further their argument.

Which one the following activities is geared towards “female” learning?
A. Using graphic organizers.
B. Acting out a scene from a play.
C. Answering multiple choice questions.
D. Keeping a response journal.

D. Keeping a response journal.

Which one the following activities is geared towards “male” learning?
A. Using graphic organizers.
B. Acting out a scene from a play.
C. Answering multiple choice questions.
D. Keeping a response journal.

A. Using graphic organizers.

Adolescents have a harder time concentrating on schoolwork because...
A. The material is too advanced for their learning ability.
B. They are more interested in impressing one another.
C. The teacher is not trained to have control of his/her classroom.
D. Their home-life is not good.

B. They are more interested in impressing one another.

Advocates for single-gender classrooms, say that this type of classroom can be beneficial to the student by...
A. Providing needed attention for specific areas that one gender has trouble in.
B. Building confidence in learning abilities.
C. Increase focus on education.
D. All of the above.

D. All of the above.

Gender differences in learning are argued to be caused by...
A. The lack of support for boys in education.
B. Psychological development.
C. Poorly trained teachers.
D. The No Child Left Behind Act.

B. Psychological development.

Which is valid a reason to split classes by gender?
A. Boys like to walk around while learning.
B. Males and females have learned better in split up classes statistically.
C. Females and tired of males playing around in class.
D. Females and males and going through hormonal changes and get distracted.

B. Males and females have learned better in split up classes statistically.

Which is a valid reason that gender based classes is such a controversy?
A. Boys like standing up while girls like sitting while learning.
B. Boys and girls are more focused in certain subject areas.
C. Boys prefer sitting with their guy friends while learning.
D. Boys learn better with their hands than females.

B. Boys and girls are more focused in certain subject areas.

Which subject area do females statistically learn better in?
A. Reading and mathematics.
B. Reading and writing.
C. Mathematics and writing.
D. Reading and history.

B. Reading and writing.

____________ may often get worse in a single-gender classroom.
A. Stereotyping
B. Subjects
C. Studies

A. Stereotyping

Girls and boys will be ___________ to play with the opposite sex if they are gender separated.
A. More likely
B. Less likely
C. As likely

B. Less likely

_______ are more likely to engage in social alienation.
A. Boys
B. Girls

B. Girls

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal sample responses.

Based on information provided, do you think that gender is the variable of most impact in the classroom setting? If so, why and how might this be addressed? If not, what is and how should it be addressed?

This article brings up some very important issues that relate to today's classroom and educational programs. It was very interesting to learn about the different statistics and studies that prove that males and females learn and develop differently. We live in a world that constantly points out the “weaker” sex and tries to make one gender appear inferior to the other. Unfortunately, these kind of gendered differences are a normal part of our society and it may always be that way. Consequently, I do not think that classrooms should be segregated by sex because it would only yield the student’s socialization into our world. School is a place for education and socialization, so if we were to separate genders in the classroom we would only be keeping students from reality.

In my opinion, the real problem with today's classroom is the teacher-to-student ratio. No one can fully benefit from a class that includes over 25 students. Large class size makes it difficult for students to learn, it prevents one-on-one learning, and it stretches the teacher too thin. I know there is no easy fix to this problem because of lack of funding and available teachers, but this should not discourage the fight. We must remember that these students we are educating will be the future leaders of our generation, and we should prepare them to the best of our ability.

Gender plays a huge role in the classroom setting. It affects the way students interact with other students and the way students interact with teachers. For example, a male teacher cannot interact the same way with a female student that a female teacher may be able to, and vice versa. More so, the way adolescents interact with each other can be very disruptive to the learning environment. Often times, male students may compete for the attention of female students. This may start as a comment or horseplay but end in a physical altercation. Also, female students may find themselves dressing proactively or ignoring schoolwork in an effort to gain the attention of male students. This kind of behavior may or may not be a distraction to others but certainly hinders the performance of said student. Biologically, students of either gender may benefit from single gender classrooms as it eliminates these distractions and factors. In essence, the teacher will not be competing with hormones. Moreover, males learn better by using their hands and using manipulatives. Female students do well using literacy skills. Ideally, we would be able to match student needs with teacher’s strengths. Ultimately, I believe moving straight to single-gender classrooms is extreme. Perhaps, we could keep traditional classrooms but ensure they are gender balanced and have collaborative single gender groups within. This would allow coeducation, but also encourage female and male students to support their own learning styles.