Critical Issue: Alli Bernard

This summer, seven of our undergraduate teacher education students and one intrepid faculty member are spending a month in Peru studying the educational system and discussing their own philosophies of education. They are writing and reflecting on their journey, and we are following along! Read on for excerpts and blurbs from Dr. Gibson and the students’ blogs. You can read more on Marquette Meets Peru and check back for updates here.  

Alli Bernard

Although the education gap facing Peru is different than that of the United States, the idea is still the same. Boys and girls are not on the same level in terms of ability in performance in schools. And this is troubling.

There are many critical issues that plague the United States and the educational context. Among some of those issues include the gender gap in education and how it affects boys and girls in schools. The gender gap is an issue prevalent in all aspects of life in the United States, from the wage gap to representation in STEM or political fields. The gender gap in terms of education typically refers to the performance gap between girls and boys coupled with the biases teachers have for certain students in certain subjects. This gap is what continues gaps later in life, because education and school is the basis for the future. When girls and boys do not perform on the same level and are treated differently in schooling, it sets up for the gap to continue to grow. The need to close the gender gap in education is becoming greater so that all students can have an educational foundation that allows for future success in careers and life. I would also like to preface that this issue is looking at gender as a strictly binary construct. I know that gender is a construct and there are more than two genders (and that they are not strict in their constraints), but for the purposes of this exploration I will be looking at boys and girls.

Although it might make sense due to the gendered climate of the United States that the education gap would negatively affect girls, the truth of the matter is that both genders are affected in very different ways. As a group, girls “tend to have higher grades, take more advanced classes, graduate high school at higher rates, and participate in higher education” (Applerouth). In a June 2012 study by the U.S. Department of Education, statistics showed that girls outperform boys in almost every aspect of schooling. Girls were in more gifted and talented programs, less likely to be held back a grade level, outnumber boys in enrollment of AP science, and are suspended at lower rates than boys (U.S. Department of Education). The statistics here do not even touch on the subject of race, which has even more implications to the gender gap. White girls are still more advantaged than black, Latina, or Asian girls. What this data does show is that where girls as a group tend to succeed in school, the boys are experiencing a deficit in their education.

In current society, it is easy to look at how the gender gap only affects one group of people, without seeing how it affects everyone else. Without looking at the whole picture, it is hard to imagine what the gap looks like from all sides. Because the education gap is something that affects boys and girls in very different ways, it is imperative that all research and data looks at the gap from all angles. In order to fully address the gap, we need to examine all the areas where boys and girls suffer, in addition to where they both excel.

Unfortunately, much of the research shows that boys fall behind and do not excel at the same level because of outside factors. Their behavior is often less than ideal for a structured classroom environment, and they are often viewed as more difficult students because of their behavior. Disciplinary issues are one of the main problems that boys fall behind in school, especially compared to girls. Boys accounted for 71% of school suspensions (Applerouth). It only makes sense that this time out of school has a negative effect on boy’s education, because the more time they are not in school, the less they learn. This stems from the belief that many teachers hold, which is that boys are harder to control and discipline than girls, simply because they tend to move around much more and want to be active. This idea can start as early as preschool. This time out of school seems to be one of the main causes of the education gap, because while boys are being removed from school, girls are still in the classrooms learning. Because of this high rate of suspension, boys develop negative views of school and continue to act out against their teachers and administration. It is not that boys are not as smart or intellectual as girls, it is simply that their views of school and how they are treated by their teachers. This harsher discipline leads to a dislike and even distrust of school. Part of the reason that girls do not experience the same disciplinary trouble that boys do is because girls are often more successful in regulating their behavior, while boys are more impulsive.

At the same time, boys do succeed on many levels. Boys are starting to catch up and close the gaps. While girls had often done better at reading, a report from the Brookings Institution reported that boys are doing better than ever in terms of educational indications such as reading tests. While girls have remained on the same reading level since 1971, boys are reading much better than they did at the same time (Loveless). This means that while girls have remained consistently at the same level, boys are starting to improve their skills and close the gap. This could be due to greater attention being paid to this issue on the part of the teachers. No teacher should want their students to fail, regardless of their gender, so perhaps this improvement stems from the desire for all students to have the same education and perform on the same level.

Despite the advantages for girls, their self confidence is often pushed down and they tend to underestimate their abilities, typically in subjects such as math. This confidence gap becomes more prevalent as girls grow up and emerges around middle school when girls become more aware of the way they are viewed in society. One of the biggest misconceptions in school is that subjects like math and technology are for boys only, and that girls cannot succeed in these areas. While this definitely affects their views on these subjects, it also places an extremely gendered view on all other subjects. This tells girls from a very young age that they cannot and should not succeed in math, because it is a male dominated subject. This leads to the lack of representation in STEM fields, because girls had constantly been told that they are not good enough for math and science. Opposite this is the idea that humanities are more female dominated subjects, and that girls should be good in those while boys are not as much. This is especially true with English.

Much of the confidence gap also has to do with how society treats and views these school subjects in regards to gender. Males dominate STEM fields in all aspects, while females have to fight to be represented, and the opposite can be said for the humanities. This can cause the girls who are good at math and the boys who are good at English to feel ashamed or embarrassed of their skills. Because this often develops in middle school, it is especially rough because that is a time where students want to fit in and not stand out. This confidence gap and views toward math and science is one of the biggest shortcomings of education for girls.

This education gap is something that can be seen everywhere, and Peru is no exception. The Fé y Alegría school we visited in Andahuaylillas made gender equity a priority. However, because Peru is still a very much machismo society, much of the work of the school is with keeping girls in school and raising girls to be on the same level as boys. This is very different from much of the research of the United States, where boys are the ones who fall behind. In Peru, it was often not necessary for girls to have the same education as boys because they would be in homes and taking care of families. This idea is shifting, and many schools are starting to address it and work to level the playing field. By educating girls the same way they do boys, Peruvian schools are showing that they care about girls the same way they do boys. By shifting the idea of girls only being in the home, it is becoming more apparent that educating the youth is more important than anything. The education gap in Peru among boys and girls was greater than currently is, simply because girls were either getting no education, or were in school long enough to learn the basics of how to read and write. Schools like Fé y Alegría placing an emphasis on equity among education for boys and girls is a step in the right direction toward gender equity in general. As mentioned earlier, education is the basis for one’s career and future. Fé y Alegría recognizes this and in order to make their society more equitable, has striven to provide education for boys and girls that benefits both of them and allows for growth. They work to make sure girls stay in school and are given the help and support they deserve. Fé y Alegría recognizes where the gaps are and work to fill them in.

Although the education gap facing Peru is different than that of the United States, the idea is still the same. Boys and girls are not on the same level in terms of ability in performance in schools. And this is troubling. But it is not enough to simply point out an inequality; one must also provide suggestions for change. In this situation, the most obvious change would be to treat girls and boys equally in the classroom. However, this is not enough, nor does it get to the root of any problem. Additionally, treating them equally might not work, because it is assuming that they operate on the same level and should have the exact same teaching methods-essentially the opposite of differentiation. As teachers, we can recognize when we treat students differently and work toward equity. For example, punishing for misbehavior will not be the same across the board. Gorski and Swalwell give four abilities to developing equity literacy for teachers and students, which are, “recognize even subtle forms of bias, discrimination, and inequity; respond to bias, discrimination, and inequity in a thoughtful and equitable manner; redress bias, discrimination, and inequity, not only by responding to interpersonal bias, but also by studying the ways in which bigger social change happens; cultivate and sustain bias-free and discrimination-free communities, which requires an understanding that doing so is a basic responsibility for everyone in a civil society” (Gorski 37). Much of the gap comes from implicit biases teachers hold in regards to the differences between girls and boys. Female teachers often build stronger relationships and hold their female students with higher regard, while viewing their male students as troublesome. Gorski’s four abilities are something that all teachers should imbed into their pedagogy, because this can also be used for other identities, such as religion or race. By practicing these four abilities, teachers can work toward eliminating the biases and stereotypes of the genders, which is something that is a huge case of the education gap. Very little research shows that girls are smarter than boys (or vice versa) it is the biases and stereotypes working against them that contribute to the gap.

Sara Mead offers her solution as well, which is to look at each student as individuals and not in terms of their gender. She says that instead of learning about the differences in the brains, teachers need, “effective reading curricula, tools for diagnosing students’ reading difficulties and research-based interventions for struggling readers. She also needs tools to help differentiate instruction to student abilities and needs. And she needs effective behavior management strategies, as well as research-based approaches to help children develop their self-regulatory skills and ability to focus” (Mead). By doing this, the teacher can address where boys commonly struggle, but also where girls might also be struggling. This approach does not lump students based on their gender, but rather remembers that each student is an individual who does not always conform to how society believes they should. Tools such as what Mead suggests can help all students, regardless of gender, but also help to close the gap by recognizing where common shortcomings and downfalls are.

Teachers also need to be able to provide resources for their students. For example, showing female scientists and mathematicians and being patient with boys or teaching them how to study and learn can also help to show that there is more to both of them than the stereotypes pushed on them. By doing this, we make it clear that we want all our students to succeed, regardless of their gender. It is not enough to simply know that there is a gap, we must also actively work and educate ourselves on how we can best help and advocate for our students. By recognizing how we treat and talk about boys and girls in school settings, we can work toward closing the education gap.

Works Cited

Applerouth, Jed. “Troubling Gender Gaps In Education.” N.p., 2017. Web. 29 June 2018.

“Gender Equity In Education.” N.p., 2012. Web. 29 June 2018.

Gorski, Paul, and Katy Swalwell. “Equity Literacy For All.” Educational Leadership (2015): n. pag. Print.

Loveless, Tom. “Girls, Boys, And Reading.” Brookings. N.p., 2015. Web. 29 June 2018.

Mead, Sara. “It’s a Boy Thing (Or Is It?)” U.S. News. 29 June 2018.

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