Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gender Equity?


Today as I sat listening to Dr. Leonard Sax, author of "Why Gender Matters" and "Boys Adrift," I found myself reflecting on the issue of gender equality in schools. I struggle to understand what the term 'gender equity' should mean to education; what are the pedagogical implications of this term? Is our goal to preserve an educational environment that produces equal proportions of academically successful boys and girls, or should we be targeting an educational environment that promotes optimal academic performance of both boys and girls in a gender specific context without worrying so much which gender is 'in the lead'?

It's not a mystery that boys and girls are different. Gender differences are obviously very prominent within the human race. Generally speaking, boys and girls think, speak and act differently... in my opinion this is a reality worthy of celebration. A diverse environment that combines both the male and female perspectives seems to me to be one that would lead to some really good creative and integrative thinking. In the education system however, I'm not sure that we celebrate gender differences.

The pull toward the mean in education is an omnipresent reality. This  principle seems to overshadow how we look at the achievement of boys and girls exclusive of each other; we judge them both by the same criteria... we target an achievement curve based on a curriculum that doesn't delineate between the achievement of boys compared to girls; we teach and judge boys and girls on the same criteria. I think we may be doing a disservice to both as a result. What if educators were to know more about how boys and girls learn differently, and understand that because of this, they also need to be assessed differently? Would this new awareness lead to improved practise and more vibrant teaching?

Something Dr. Sax said this morning is resonating with me. He said "if you understand gender differences, you can then break down gender stereotypes." I believe teachers need to be more aware of the differences between boys and girls, how they learn and how they should be assessed. This 'understanding of gender differences' would serve not only to break down gender stereotypes, but also to facilitate the diverse, creative and integrative learning environment I believe we should be moving toward. Perhaps we should be less attuned to the gaps between performance based on non-gender specific outcomes, and more concerned about teaching in a gender specific context that recognizes and celebrates the nuances of the male and female perspectives. We should be taking measures and making adjustments to accommodate both boys and girls in school, and then observe how these efforts alter the achievement gap between them.
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