Boys doing poorly in school has been blamed on feminism, boys’ learning styles, brains… Now there’s clear evidence that it’s actually teachers who are the reason why girls are doing better than boys. (Yes, I’m being a little sarcastic.)
The research on gender differences in education is so inconsistent that it’s maddening. There may be tiny neurological differences between female and male brains, but those differences are often so exaggerated. Researchers themselves who study gender differences in the brain always caution that they don’t intend for their findings of these small population-level differences to be translated into educational change.
In the 1990s, when I attended Emma Willard School, the all-girls where feminist psychologist Carol Gilligan conducted much of her research, the talk in education was all about how “school shortchange girls.” Our educational system didn’t reward girls’ learning styles, girls’ interactional and moral reasoning styles. Schools were thought to be “failing at fairness” and penalizing girls. I did my first real research paper during my junior year of high school about gender bias in schools. Well, we’ve certainly come full circle. Now the popular media often seems to imply that it’s boys who are being crushed by schooling.
The latest study has been talked about here and here. Basically, it says that girls are awarded better grades by teachers in early elementary school because of their classroom behavior and noncognitive skills, like attentiveness and following directions, despite the fact that standardized test scores didn’t similarly reflect this gender disparity.
Even if this research were entirely true — that teachers give girls better grades because they’re more cooperative and may do better work, not because of innate skill, but because of work habits — I’m not sure what anyone can do about it. What are your observations about how girls and boys are treated in the classroom?