"Peter Pan Isn't a Girls' Part": An Investigation of Gender Bias in a Kindergarten Classroom
Wellhousen, Karyn, Yin, Zenong, Women and Language
In 1992, The American Association of University Women published the report How Schools Shortchange Girls, which described discrepancies in the way girls and boys are educated in America's schools. Failing at Fairness.' How Schools Cheat Girls (Sadker & Sadker, 1994), soon followed with a thorough review of 20 years of research supporting the existence of gender inequities which begin in preschool and continue through higher education. Both of these publications brought national attention to the issue of gender bias in schools. The authors supported this claim by reviewing the research which can be categorized into three areas: teacher-student interaction, instructional materials, and instructional strategies. A review of these findings is presented here along with the research on the negative impact of gender bias.
One of the most powerful contrasts between the education of boys and girls is the quantity and quality of teacher-student interactions. In academic situations, boys are called on more often and are given more time to answer (Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, 1992; Sadker & Sadker, 1994), boys are asked more higher-level questions (Handley & Morse, 1984), boys receive higher quality interactions with teachers including praise and remediation, and they are challenged to find solutions to problems while teachers volunteer to assist girls (Sadker & Sadker, 1994). Gender-biased language and non-verbal communications used by both male and female teachers send distinct messages about gender roles to students. In nonacademic situations, teachers tend to assign classroom duties by gender, with girls more frequently assigned the role of helpmate (Grant, 1983). Also, girls are complimented on their hairstyles, dress, and neatness in school work rather than on academic accomplishments (Sadker & Sadker, 1994).
Gender inequities in schools continue to be perpetuated through gender stereotyped resources, instructional materials (Scott & Schau, 1985), and instructional strategies. Examples of bias in instructional resources include an absence or exclusion of females from books (Women on Words and Images, 1975, 1976; Weitzman & Rizzo, 1976; Applebee, 1989), stereotyping both sexes, degradation of girls, and isolation of materials which related to women (Hall, 1988). Gender biased language, which distorts students' perceptions of reality (Scott & Schau, 1985), continues to be used in published materials. Even though textbook publishers have authors' guidelines for using non-sexist language, the guidelines are not enforced (Wright, 1985). Design of classroom activities and specific teaching strategies can also be biased in favor of boys. There is a tendency for teachers to choose activities, presentation formats, and teaching strategies which appeal more to boys than girls (Fennema & Peterson, 1985; Greenberg, 1985).
Gender bias in the classroom has a documented negative effect on children. Girls become less involved and undemanding of teacher attention (Spender & Sarah, 1980; Sadker & Sadker, 1994). They may experience a diminished self-esteem and lack of confidence which results in lower levels of achievement (Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, 1992). Girls may limit career goals to traditional, domestic and nurturing careers, which are typically low-wage earning. Males are also shortchanged in gender biased classrooms as they are pressured to conform to male roles, some of which may be physically or emotionally harmful (Sadker & Sadker, 1994) and experience a decrease in nurturing related behaviors (Berman, 1986). They also develop a negative image of females in which they are viewed as being less capable (Sadker & Sadker, 1994).
Gender bias is so prevalent in American society and classrooms that it often goes undetected. In the fast-paced exchange between teachers and students, it is difficult to discern biased comments and actions. …