Handbook of Schooling in Urban America

By Stanley William Rothstein | Go to book overview

11
Meeting the Needs of Girls in Urban
Schools

Charol Shakeshaft


INTRODUCTION

Girls enter kindergarten sure of themselves and their abilities. More developmentally advanced, they outdistance boys in both academic and physical tasks. Yet, by the time they become seniors in high school, females have fallen behind. They are no longer confident, nor do they value themselves. Between kindergarten and graduation, females have been bested by males on every physical, mental, and psychological measure of achievement and well-being. What is it about schools that puts females at risk?

Despite more than a decade of research and hundreds of studies that document the harmful effects of schools on girls, few educators have questioned a system that at best ignores females and at worst attacks them. Far from being teachers' pets, females are at risk every day in classrooms, in hallways, on playgrounds, and in extracurricular activities.

In the classroom, girls learn that they aren't important. Because teachers spend most of their time with boys--answering their questions, encouraging them to do a good job, and trying to shape their behavior so that it is acceptable for school--girls become invisible. Boys receive the majority of all kinds of attention from teachers and peers, both positive and negative. Girls are ignored. The message to girls is that they are worthless.

When girls aren't being ignored, they are being excluded or harassed. In math, science, and computer classes, females learn they don't belong. Even in the traditionally female academic subjects, they learn that the stuff of instruction is not about their lives, since women's history and literature are the exceptions rather than the rule. Females still read about the lives of males and learn that these lives are what made America great. Although females are told over and over that "he" means everyone and mankind includes them, what they internalize is that they are not the main event, only a sideshow.

-175-

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