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GENDER BIASES IN EDUCATION: THE NOBLE AND GREENOUGH SCHOOL

Welcome to my page!

UN Sustainable Development Goal 5

In 2015 the UN created an agenda, approved by all UN Member States, for that develops a better environment and a better Earth for the year 2030. The agenda consists of various categories that all work towards a different goal that will better the world by 2030. The UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 urges gender equality throughout the world; though I specifically targeted gender inequality within education. My project targets gender biases against women, but that isn’t to say there is not gender biases against men and boys in education. In fact, many studies have acknowledged “the same [types of] biases have been implicated in teachers unconsciously undermining boys’” in specific learning fields, contributing to “boys’ lower academic performance[s].” However, we have to remain realistic and honest, recognising that for the vast majority of the time, women and girls lose the battle for equal education.

While most of Goal 5’s work is to ensure basic rights to women across the globe, part of its focus is getting women involved in politics and other powerful workforces. The reason why I decided to explore education was because I firmly believe without equality in education beginning at the youngest ages, we will never be able to achieve a world that promotes gender equality in any workforce.

A video created by the UN Sustainable Goals committee under Global Goal 5: Gender Equality

Get An Understanding

We all know gender bias exists. Most of us will have figured this out by a young age, though we won’t really understand why until we’re a bit older. However, in my time studying gender, sexism, biases, and more, I’ve found that it’s particularly hard to get a grasp for the gender biases we see in education.

The society we live in now doesn’t have sexism in the exact way that it did 100, 50, or even 20 years ago. The modern-day sexism that I’ve seen has always been implicit and subtle, micro-aggressions. This is what we see in education: implicit biases mostly against girls.

I’ve come to realise the phenomenon of gender essentialism, which assigns roles and characteristics to the male and female sex, bleeds into, not only our social life, but also into how we learn, how we’re educated. Unfortunately, from gender essentialism comes the social construct of gender, which is what determines how we, as humans, view the same sex or genders and the opposite sex or genders. The question is: which pieces of gender essentialism are reinforced and promoted in our schools, and why? This is what my project explores!

A quick video explaining the gender theory that gender is a phenomenon created by society!

What is the gender bias phenomenon, and why is it so prevalent in education?

Gender bias, defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, is an “unfair difference in the way men and women are treated”. While that seems like a definition that could cover various aspects of life, many scientists have specifically explored the issue of gender biases within education.

A study done by the American Association for University Women provided statistics and data about the status of girls in the United States’ public education system. The report concluded that “the education system is not meeting girls’ needs”, claiming for too long girls have been left out of the education discussion, and it is time to “move them from the sidelines to the center of the education-reform debate.” (McKee 1)

This is not a new discovery. A journalist of the Hartford Courant reported that multiple studies concluded part of the reason girls are being left out of this “education debate” is because they aren’t paid nearly as much attention as boys (Frahm). One study outwardly claimed “teachers spend significantly more time in class with boys, one of many ways America’s classrooms are biased, or even hostile, to girls” (Frahm). Another study validated this claim by debunking the notion that girls are favored in the classroom, dubbing it to be a misconception (Robinson-Cimpian). Another study went a step further, finding that, actually, in certain subjects (specifically the STEM field) most teachers, without any background knowledge, will rate boys’ capability to be higher than girls (Robinson-Cimpian).

But it doesn’t stop there. Gender biases has a serious impact on girls’ academic performance and their self-esteem. Because teachers don’t place as much faith in female students as they do in male students, girls are taught (and begin to believe) that they are not as intelligent, worthy, or capable as their male peers (Chemaly).

How Did My Research Impact My Investigation?

Each study I found contributed something different to my investigation. Many sources gave me a good understanding of where strengths and weaknesses lie in teaching girls which helped me develop probing questions when interviewing teachers. Additionally, the constant reports on how girls have been falling behind in areas such as self-esteem and confidence in the classroom gave me something to look for in my classroom environment observations.

Though, one of the last studies that I looked at reported that Black female students face a disproportionate amount of discipline (Chemaly), and while I believe tackling race would get me into an entirely different type of study, it was a factor that I felt could not go ignored as I conducted my project. As I proceeded, it was another thing I made sure to look for as I observed the classroom environment.

Identifying as a girl or woman…
Has a teacher ever reprimanded you for one behavior, yet did not take the same action against a male student guilty of the same behavior?
Yes
No
Created with QuizMaker
Have you ever felt insecure in a math or science class setting in school?
Yes
No
Created with QuizMaker
Identifying as a man or boy…
Have you ever felt you had to change a bit of yourself in order to fit into a “masculinity box” during the academic day?
Yes
No
Created with QuizMaker
As a student…
Have you ever noticed unequal representation in terms of how your school advertises its male and female sports teams?
Yes
No
Created with QuizMaker
In any one of your classes, has there ever been a trend of boys speaking more often than girls?
Yes
No
Created with QuizMaker
In any one of your classes, has there ever been a trend of girls speaking more often than boys?
Yes
No
Created with QuizMaker
Which gender have you found to be the most disruptive in your classes?
Boys
Girls
Created with QuizMaker
Do you find certain behaviors are maintained only by boys or girls?
Yes
No
Created with QuizMaker

What Are People in the Community Saying?

In order to gain more insight about gender biases (or lack thereof) at the Noble and Greenough High School in Dedham, MA, USA I interviewed two classmates and two teachers. For reference, it may be important to note that Nobles is a predominantly white community, though it is fairly balanced in terms of gender. Here is what people thought:

Teachers

Ms. Sokoll is a full time librarian, though is often a substitute teacher for English and History classes. She also appears in classes to educate students on proper research, citations, and things of that sort.

Is there any time in your teaching day where you intentionally gear your teaching towards boys or girls?

  • “No. I don’t acknowledge the gender binary, so I don’t think there’s a certain way to teach boys and a certain way to teach girls. I think everybody learns in their own individual way.”

Do you find that one gender dominates the other in terms of speaking up in class?

  • “I don’t think so… I would say that it’s about equal how much everyone talks.”

Which kinds of behaviors in the classroom do you find are specific to boys? Which to girls? How does this impact your teaching?

  • “Not rowdy… But maybe boys would be more joke-y, more energetic. But Nobles is weird because nobody is ever really rude or disruptive.”

Have you noticed a segregated classroom based on gender?

  • “Yeah, I feel like a lot of classrooms have girls on one side and boys on the other. I certainly notice that at faculty lunches. “

Mr. Marchant is a full time Spanish teacher at Nobles.

Is there any time in your teaching day where you intentionally gear your teaching towards boys or girls?

  • “No… But I am conscious when I’m using images in class; visuals that I have both men and women boys and girls depicted in those images.”

Do you alter the way you teach because maybe boys need this tactic and girls need this?

  • “I don’t think so. I think it more depends on the student’s background and capabilities rather than gender.”

Do you find that one gender dominates the other in terms of speaking up in class?

  • “If I think of my most active participants, I would say there’s one boy, one girl. But I call on people, mostly; it’s very rare that I open [the discussion] up.”
  • “One of the challenges that’s worth mentioning is in previous years I’ve had a much smaller number of students who identify as girls. In one class I had 11 students and 8 were boys. That does play a factor and is worth mentioning.”

Have you noticed a segregated classroom based on gender? Do you allow this to happen, or do you urge students to “switch it up”?

  • “Absolutely. My students who identify as boys sit on one side, my students who identify as girls sit on another, unless I force them to change seats. I do that sometimes, but not all the time… If there’s gender integration, it’s because of a forced mixing of the genders.”
  • “As a [class] dean, though, it is worth mentioning that in class meetings, the students will sit along gender lines. Very divided.”

Students

Annie Ellison is a self-identifying woman and is currently a senior at Nobles.

Annie Ellison is a self-identifying woman and is currently a senior at Nobles.

Do you ever feel that at times in assembly things are specifically geared towards boys? Towards girls?

  • “Things aren’t specifically geared towards anyone, but people are uncomfortable when girls get up on stage and do different things. Guys can get away with doing weirder stuff, but if a girl did something like that people would be like, ‘ew what the f*ck’”

Do you find that there are specific behaviors in assembly that are maintained by only boys? Only girls?

  • “Not really… But I feel like you see more girls to get up to talk about clubs and stuff. If boys ever get on stage to make announcements like that… they’re either a finance bro or a sport related thing… You’re more likely to see guys talk about more stereotypically dude things.”

Have you ever noticed a trend of boys speaking more often than girls in class?

  • “Yeah, I feel like I notice guys talking more. Also, guys talking over girls more. It’s frustrating though because if a guy monopolises the conversation he’s opinionated, but if a girl… gets really passionate it’s like, ‘why is she so heated, why does she care?’ But if a guy gets passionate it’s more like, ‘oh wow it’s so cool that he cares so strongly.”
  • “But at the same time it’s weird for guys to care too much. It can be uncomfortable for boys to do something that’s seen as less masculine, but I also think that can come down to a popularity thing, not just gender alone.”

Have you ever felt like you’ve had to alter a bit of yourself in order to satisfy gender stereotypes/expectations?

  • “In class discussions I’ve definitely felt I’ve had to reign it in a little bit, because people are like ‘oh that crazy b*tch.”

Which gender have you found to be the most disruptive and rowdy and in the classroom?

  • “Guys, obviously. But I also think this comes down to the biological science; guys are less mature. Not to say this is an excuse, though.”

Why do you think this is?

  • “Guys are conditioned to feel like whatever they have to say is really important and relevant, so they’re comfortable speaking out in a situation where a girl wouldn’t.”

Lucan White is a self-identifying boy who is also a current senior at Nobles.

Do you ever feel that at times in assembly things are specifically geared towards boys? Towards girls?

  • “I can’t think of a specific moment, but I’d say yes… When it’s about messes and stuff, it’s towards boys. Or when talking about prom it’s usually towards girls.”

Have you ever noticed a trend of boys speaking more often than girls in class? Have you ever noticed a trend of girls speaking more than boys? Why do you think this is, and which classes for both questions?

  • “Yeah, I’d say last semester in English I saw more girls talk than boys. We did a lot of discussions on books. My guess is that the girls read and the boys didn’t.”
  • “…The boys [will] speak up if they’re outnumbered but the girls wouldn’t do that, specifically in my Spanish class. But, the girls’ personalities in general are shy, in my [Spanish class] specifically. If there’s any outgoing girl, they’ll talk a lot. But if it’s someone more introverted they’re less likely to talk.”
  • “For boys to speak up no matter the ratio, I think… boys are just more confident… They have less anxiety around them. Girls have more on their plate to worry about, just thinking about gender roles.”

Which gender have you found to be the most disruptive/rowdy in the classroom? Why do you think this is?

  • “In younger grades, boys. But in senior year girls are really coming out of their shell and are really loud and just living. In my Spanish class… [the girls] are always cracking jokes and not paying attention. But I think that’s because it’s senior year.”

Has there ever been a time when you felt that teachers tolerated bad behavior from boys but didn’t from girls? Or vice versa?

  • “Yeah. In my math class right now the boys get away with everything and the girls get yelled at for talking.”

So, What did I see in my high school experience?

Based on what I’d heard from my peers, it seemed like an average day at Nobles consisted of some gender biases, both in the classroom and in social life; and as I conducted my own observations, my goal was to figure out which parts of that average day supported one gender more thoroughly than another, whether that was during morning assemblies, class time, or during extra-curriculars.

As a student at Nobles myself, there’d never really been a time where I had ever felt like a classroom was dominated by boys or by girls. I’ve also never felt that a teacher had an unequal tolerance for rowdiness among students; if a teacher cracked down, it was on everyone. However, I didn’t restrict my search to my classes; I observed a junior and senior neuroscience elective as well as a freshman geometry class. Students in the neuroscience class were gender-integrated, and boys and girls were equally participant and disruptive. The geometry class was also mixed, though I happened to know that the teacher gives assigned seating. Frankly, I don’t believe they would have been so eager to mix among each other otherwise. The freshmen were all equally reserved, though the class consisted mainly of the teacher introducing new topics, so there was never much room for discussion or talk.

All in all, I found that while there are certainly times where gender inequality and gender biases are present, an average day at the Noble and Greenough School is as gender-fair as a high school can get. Perhaps that’s because we are a private school, and the people here are selected; or perhaps it’s because I live in the most liberal state in the country. Either way, while there’s certainly gender biases in education on an international scale, the best examples will not be found at Nobles.

What We Can Do to Help

While a private school in northeastern America may have its flaws, it is nothing compared to what girls in third world countries endure daily. Currently, more than 130 million girls are not in school (EFAGMR). All around the world, girls are not getting the education they need and deserve.

  • In primary school alone, there are more than 31 million girls who do not attend school, and of these, more than half will NEVER go to school (EFAGMR).
  • ⅔ of the approximate 774 million illiterate people in the world are women (EFAGMR).
  • In countries like Somalia, Niger, Liberia, and Mali, at least 75% of girls aged 7-16 have never been to school (EFAGMR).

But…

  • If all women and girls had primary education, child deaths would be reduced by 15% (EFAGMR).
  • If all women completed secondary education, childhood deaths would be reduced by half, saving at least 3 million lives (EFAGMR).
  • If all women had primary education, teen pregnancy would be reduced by 10%, and if all women had secondary education, teen pregnancy would be reduced by 60% (EFAGMR).
  • If all girls had primary education, child marriage would be reduced by 14%, and if all girls had secondary education, child marriage would be reduced by ⅔ (EFAGMR).

While a lot of these numbers may seem discouraging, our hope is not yet lost because WE have the power to fix these numbers, and here’s what we can all do to help: FEAL. Fundraise. Educate. Advocate. Lead.

  1. Fundraise
    • If you’re part of a large community(ies), fundraising will come easy. I know in my high school bake sales are always popular (especially on days where fish is served for lunch!). And, if people know their money is going towards a good cause, they’ll most likely be more than happy to help. Pick a cause that works towards getting girls into education, )or start your own) and donate!
  2. Educate
    • Education is perhaps the most important factor in LEAF. If the public doesn’t know what’s happening throughout the world, they won’t know that they can help. Use social media to educate your followers and your communities about the dangers of not educating girls all over the world. And then, educate them on how they can help!
  3. Advocate
    • Advocacy can begin with a single tweet and go all the way up to protesting, marching, rallying, and petitioning. You can make a call to a US ambassador to the countries which girls are most impacted as well as the US ambassador to the UN. You can also use hashtags to start your own movement on social media, showing that you support girls all over the world who want a basic education.
  4. Lead
    • Being a leader can manifest in many different ways. You can start small, create a new club at your school that’s dedicated to getting women and girls into education, and build from there. Advertise yourself and you’ll gain more traction. If you want to go bigger, get a group of friends to create your own organisation and advertise yourself some more! It’s up to us, the younger generations, to ensure that all women and girls are able to access education by the time we’re older. WE are the future, it’s time we make the future our own.

If we all work to do these things, we’ll not only educate the world, but we’ll educate all women. And when we educate all women, the world becomes open to EVERYONE, finally.

#BeLikeHer #WeAreWomanHereUsRoar

Works Cited here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/10-MaOZNNTy8IXsQp1k8YbwkMK1tw3a2FQluXg88aJOk/edit

OR:

Beyoncé. Freedom, The Global Goals. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BMgV8jj9IU

Chemaly, Soraya. “New Reports Reveal How Teachers’ Hidden Biases Are Hurting Our Girls.” Time, Time, 12 Feb. 2015, http://time.com/3705454/teachers-biases-girls-education/

Frahm, Robert A. “BOYS GET MORE ATTENTION IN CLASS THAN GIRLS, NATIONAL STUDY FINDS.” Hartford Courant, 12 Feb. 1992. https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-xpm-1992-02-12-0000204148-story.html

“Girls’ Education: The Facts.” Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Oct. 2013, pp. 1–3., doi:10.3897/bdj.4.e8027.figure3a. https://en.unesco.org/gem-report/sites/gem-report/files/girls-factsheet-en.pdf

GoldieBlox, Be Like Her. Jul 18, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TC9AgWYLYlQ

McKee, Alice. How Schools Shortchange Girls. American Association for University Women, 1992, www.aauw.org/files/2013/02/how-schools-shortchange-girls-executive-summary.pdf.

Robinson-Cimpian, Joseph P, et al. “Teachers’ Perceptions of Students’ Mathematics Proficiency May Exacerbate Early Gender Gaps in Achievement.” Semantic Scholar, American Psychological Association, 2014, https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0709/f13ba582e510689449b942610a5218761461.pdf

“Take Action | Girl Up| Advocate – Fundraise – Join.” Girl Up, www.girlup.org/take-action/#sthash.ZXgjGC4d.dpbs.

Wylde, Ashley. Gender is a Social Construct. Dec 7, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-rRjjQJcTQ

SOURCES CONSULTED:

Annie Ellison

Mr. Marchant

Ms. Sokoll

Lucan White


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COMMENTS: 10
  1. April 27, 2019 by Sean Kim

    Hey Noa! I really enjoyed reading your project! I feel like it’s prevalent in many schools, and as a boy, I definitely have noticed this phenomemnon. There is such a strange double standard for girls and boys alike, and each gender is put up to a certain standard and are expected different things. A boy can be punished for something a girl could easily get away with, but it also happens the other way around. I think you did a great job tackling this issue!

    • April 28, 2019 by Noa.Fay

      Hey Sean,
      Thanks so much for reading my investigation! I’m glad you’ve noticed this thing before; it makes my investigation all the more legitimate and credible! Again, thanks for looking at it and commenting!

  2. April 28, 2019 by Ellie Pearson

    Noa- I loved how you interviewed both teachers and students! It’s nice to get a varied sample space and it shows how different perspectives can really affect the answers to questions. I also loved your survey. It got me thinking about your topic a lot more and how it’s so common in every school, yet nobody really talks about it. Even in places where girls and boys are being given equal opportunities in schools, gender biases continue to prevail. Thank you for bringing this topic into light!

    • April 30, 2019 by Noa.Fay

      Hey Ellie,
      Thank you so much for commenting on my webpage! I so appreciate it. I’m glad you liked that I interviewed teachers because I made a point to do that in order to get that variety! I’m also glad this presentation got you thinking more about this issue!! That was exactly my goal:)

  3. April 30, 2019 by Ayako Anderson

    Great work, Noa! Very informative presentation. From the rich data you collected, I learned about the potential huge impact in society and in the world if all women are educated.

    I can think of two particular places at Nobles where one gender is dominant over the other. One is our GOA enrollment. Female students are more likely to take a GOA course. Why do you think that is? (I don’t have a good answer.) The other is Computer Science courses at Nobles. Historically, in these classrooms, you see way more boys than girls. I doubt there are the cases of gender biases, because students are self-selected, but the imbalance between the genders is very intriguing to me.

    • April 30, 2019 by Noa.Fay

      Thanks so much, Ms. Anderson! I’ve also noticed the disparity in male and female students enrolling in GOA classes; thanks for bringing it up. I’m not really sure why that is… Perhaps because it requires a certain amount of travel outside one’s comfort zone and that traditionally does not coincide with what we know as hegemonic masculinity. I also have noticed the disparity between male and female students in Computer Science classes, and I think that gets down to the issue of getting girls into STEM. Society teaches us that the brainiacs go into STEM, and society also teaches us that girls are NOT brainiacs (when, in fact, we certainly are!). In intellectual and progressive institutions, though, I see this beginning to change. It’s a real movement, getting girls into STEM.

  4. April 30, 2019 by Anna Sander

    Hey Noa! This is a topic I also care a lot about. I think it’s really interesting that your surveys all have 100% of people voting “Yes” on each one! That really highlights the pervasiveness of this problem.

    • April 30, 2019 by Noa.Fay

      Hey Anna,
      Thank you so much for commenting on my post! I’m glad you also care about this topic; it’s obviously very important to me, so I’m happy to know other people take an interest in it:)

  5. April 30, 2019 by Mahek.Uttamchandani

    Hey Noa! The work and effort you put into this project is incredibly visible in the sense that you thought out every nook and cranny. This also a topic I’m extremely passionate about, so to see you think about both sides of the story shows how important perspectives are to every individual. Additionally, seeing that on your surveys almost 100% of people have voted “yes” shows how prevalent this topic truly is.

    • April 30, 2019 by Noa.Fay

      Hi Mahek,
      Wow, thanks so much for commenting on my work ethic, here! I’m glad you can tell I did a lot to prepare for this because I really did! I’m glad you are also passionate about this topic, and I’m glad you noted the survey responses. They’re definitely INCREDIBLY interesting.

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