Martin Luther King Jr.: civil rights activist, nonviolence champion, Nobel Peace Prize awardee, assassinated martyr. Help students understand why the that holiday honors his life goes beyond having a day off school!
“Awareness is the greatest agent for change” (Eckhart Tolle). That’s why we’re contributing to the dialogue on gender differences in education.
#1: Challenges exist for both genders
Author and literacy advocate Pam Allyn has written several powerful articles that rally the public to recognize educational barriers to girls’ education across the globe, such as this one here, here, here, and here. She urges us to take action on terribly serious realities, including the fact that two-thirds of those who are illiterate are female. She has established “LitWorld’s girls’ LitClubs that meet around the world, sometimes in secret, to read together and write together” (“For These are All our Girls”). With all this action on behalf of girls, one might expect that Pam’s work is limited to that sex. But it’s not.
She has also written Best Books for Boys, in which she highlights several obstacles to boys’ reading, including the following: “the testing mania and the idea in our culture that learning is symbolized by children sitting quietly in their seats has been, in some cases, defeating for active boys” (p. 21). She regularly writes articles about all children, and the stories they have to share (such as this one, or this one). She even founded the Books for Boys literacy program.
There’s an important pattern here: one of recognition and action for all children. Those of us involved in children’s education must be willing to acknowledge that academic barriers exist for boys and girls alike.
#2: The challenges for each gender are different
Evidence of the unique educational challenges for both genders is mounting. We list a few points below.
Girls often receive cultural messages that undermine their self-images as learners, explorers, and thinkers. A recent commercial by Verizon illustrates this:
In the developing world in particular, girls are also faced with lower rates of enrollment due to a variety of cultural reasons. GirlEffect.org released a powerful video highlighting that cycle:
Boys often receive cultural messages in the classroom that passions and dispositions common to their gender do not belong. A recent video by Prager University summarizes the way this impacts boys’ education:
The rates for post-secondary degrees are consistently lower for males than females. Some of these numbers are shown in the infographic by National Student Clearinghouse below:
#3: 76% of teachers are female (source)–and that really matters!
Author Leonard Sax extensively researches gender differences, and has cited several ways female teachers might pay closer attention to the differing needs of their male students. One such difference lies in what’s more visually appealing to females than males. Says Sax:
“…boys are more likely to draw a scene of action, such as a monster attacking an alien; girls are more likely to draw people, pets, flowers, or trees, with lots of colors. The people in the girls’ pictures usually have faces, eyes, hair, and clothes; the people in the boys’ pictures (if there are any people) often are lacking hair, clothes, often the boys draw mere stick figures in one color. How come? The usual answer “Because that’s what we teach them to do” is unpersuasive, as I explain in Why Gender Matters. On the contrary, many of these boys insist on drawing these pictures not because teachers tell them to draw such pictures, but in spite of the teacher’s repeated pleas, “Why do you have to draw such violent pictures? Why can’t you draw something nice – like what Emily drew?” (source)
Another difference he discusses is hearing, even citing it as a possible contributing factor for the more frequent ADHD diagnoses for boys over girls. “…the average boy may need the teacher to speak more loudly–roughly 6 to 8 decibels more loudly–if the average boy is to hear the teacher as well as the average girl hears” (source). Teachers need to be aware of such differences to ensure they do not unintentionally favor their female students.
Awareness Point #4: Comparing which gender struggles more is unproductive to progress
As author William S. Wilson wrote:
“Comparisons deplete the actuality of the things compared.” (from “Conveyance: The Story I would Not Want Bill Wilson To Read”)
Articles like Bryce Covert’s “Enough Mansplaining the ‘Boy Crisis’ — Sexism Still Holds Back Women at Work,” offer criticism when concerns are raised for one gender, because they feel the other gender is more victimized. However, such comparisons undercut our collective efforts for children; we need “all hands on deck” in order to address the educational struggles facing all our youth. With objectivity and compassion, let us endeavor to understand and improve the state of education for children everywhere.
Those over at the National Education Association recently posted an article on how teachers can avoid conflicts with their students by decreasing power struggles. We take their advice and add our own thoughts below:
I think we’ve all either been the problem student or had to deal (directly or indirectly) with the problem students. We’ve all seen how teachers react, and learned which reactions deal with the students poorly; but how can teachers react to problem students in a way that uplifts, inspires, and corrects?
The tips the NEA gives are broken up into Dos and Don’ts. As we go through their list of just the dos (let’s focus on the positives), we’ll add explanations and illustrations.
Engage students from the beginning by providing a “hook” to keep them interested.
According to a Dr. Robert Feller of the University of Washington, helping students stay interested decreases potential disruptions. Retired teacher LaNelle Holland said:
Attention grabbers may be used to provoke thought, facilitate active learning, or just share experiences.
Another retired teacher, Diane Postman, suggests that being able to connect with a student on a personal level can help a teacher make “allowances or adaptations” to fit the individual needs of the student. This can create trust between a student and their teacher, which is likely to ward off disruptive behaviors. On the topic of creating trust with students, Ben Johnson, who is a superintendent in Texas, had this to say:
We earn our students’ trust by showing them respect in the form of meaningful, challenging, and rewarding learning activities that are worthy of their time and best efforts.
Students in their early years of school are naturally trusting, and — please don’t take this the wrong way — we abuse that trust in the name of socialization and classroom management. In essence, we teach them to obey rather than to explore. As students get older, they often trust less and start behaving…like our…suspicious visitor. Most will take what we offer but will not allow a learning partnership.
Trust works the other way, too. As teachers, we have learned to distrust our students. All it takes is one disruptive young person to ruin it for the rest of the students that follow. We don’t want to get burned again, so we tighten the rules and narrow the focus. We develop an attitude that we can’t trust our students to learn independently. Especially in the early grades, we feel it is our responsibility to control every aspect of their learning activities so things don’t get out of hand, or so they don’t make a mess. 
Turn the misbehavior into a teaching moment.
Taking time to immediately stop the confrontation is key. Showing the student in a polite manner that conflicts can be stopped before they escalate shows them an example of handling a situation in an adult manner; however, you don’t want the student to feel unheard, so in some cases is might be appropriate to set up a time to meet with the student privately to discuss the behavioral problem, such as after the period is over. To continue the trust you’re hoping to build with the student, remaining respectful is of utmost importance.
Frank Iannucci, a math and computer science teacher from West Orange, New Jersey, says teachers should immediately stop the confrontation and arrange to discuss it with the student in a mature, adult manner, regardless of the age of the student, after the period.
The most important thing is to be respectful and gain respect from love not fear! Thanks for reading and we’ll see you guys soon!
Some of us are lucky in that we really luck out with roommates. Some of us are lucky in that we get such terrible roommates that we have fantastic stories for the rest of our lives. Moving in with strangers (or almost strangers) is one of the quintessential “college life” experiences, so how can you make sure it doesn’t end in flames?