Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Multiculturalism/Gender Issues
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. 
Gender as a Factor
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).
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
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). 
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.
References: 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:
|Language Arts, Reading||89%||83%|
|Language Arts, Writing||90%||81%|
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
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. 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
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- Blair, H., & Sanford, K. (1999). Single-Sex Classrooms: A Place for Transformation of Policy and Practice. Retrieved September 19, 2007, from ERIC.
- (12/21/2003). Boys' Academic Slide Calls for Accelerated Attention. Retrieved September 21, 2007, from http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2003-12-22-our-view_x.htm. Retrieved September 21 .
- Datnow, A., Hubbard, L., & Woody, E. (2001). Is Single Gender Schooling Viable in the Public Sector?. Retrieved September 19, 2007, from ERIC.
- Dr. Sax, L., (2006) Why Gender Matters. Summary. Retrieved September 21, 2007, from http://whygendermatters.com/#1.
- Martin, Carol Lynn and Fabes, Richard A. The Stability of Consequences of Young Children's Same-Sex Peer Interactions. Development Psychology 37, 433. Retrieved October 22, 2007 from http://www.apa.org/journals/releases/dev373431.pdf.
- MSNBC NEWS, "More schools test single-sex classrooms." July. 6, 2006 November 12, 2007 <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13229488/>.
- Mrozowski, Jennifer. Public high school tries single-gender classes. Retrieved on October 22, 2007 from http://www.enquirer.com/editions/2002/11/12/loc_samesex12.html.
- Rhodebeck, Ashley. Beloit Daily News. Single-sex classes eyed. Retrieved December 6, 2007. from http://www.beloitdailynews.com/articles/2007/01/08/news/news04.txt.
- Virginia Department of Education. Retrieved September 21, 2007, from http://www.pen.k12.va.us/VDOE/Assessment/GenderPassRates02.html .
- Zwerling, Elizabeth. "California Study: Single-Sex Schools No Cure-All". Retrieved information October 22, 2007 from http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/571/context/cover/.