Gender Tales: Tensions in the Schools

Gender Tales: Tensions in the Schools

Gender Tales: Tensions in the Schools

Gender Tales: Tensions in the Schools


Most Americans believe that schools should develop the talents of all students, girls just as much as boys. We want all students, regardless of their sex or their race or their background, to have equal opportunity in our classrooms.

These are our ideals. Yet our classrooms usually mirror the same injustices we see in our culture. When we look at gender, the focus of this casebook, we see entrenched and upsetting patterns. Teachers give boys more attention than girls at every grade level. Boys get more of the intellectual jousting that develops a quick and lively mind. When researchers videotape their classrooms, even teachers strongly committed to women's issues are shocked to find that they, too, favor the boys. Why do they do so?

Some teachers take active steps to organize their classrooms in genderfair ways. They emphasize group projects in which all students must take an active role. They rotate leadership positions so that girls as well as boys must learn to lead the group. All too often, these teachers find that the girls, as well as the boys, resist. The classroom slips back into old and comfortable ways. What should the teacher do then?

We may all believe that boys and girls should be treated equally. When we get down to cases, however, we find that we do not agree on what equal treatment means. Schools are complicated places, and in many situations we face competing values. We want equal opportunity for boys and girls, and we want all students to be free of sexual harassment, and we want all students to develop their physical abilities to the fullest and to play a sport at the peak of the game. Should we then allow girls on the wrestling team?

Teachers must be sensitive not only to gender but also to students' cultural and economic backgrounds. Many teachers may believe in gender equality, but many families give boys precedence. Suppose a Chinese girl pours out her troubles to her teacher -- her parents favor her brother and threaten to spank her if she does not learn the multiplication tables over the weekend. Should the teacher do anything?

These are the kinds of real-world teaching dilemmas that teachers face when they set out to be fair and to develop the abilities of all their students . . .

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