Gender Bias- From Colonial America to Today’s Classrooms by Touro GSE TESOL Candidate Amanda Giarrizzo

In order to detect gender biases in curriculum materials, there are seven components to analyze: invisibility, stereotyping, imbalance and selectivity, unreality, fragmentation, linguistic bias, and cosmetic bias.
“Occasionally, teachers divide their classrooms along gender-segregated lines in groups, work and play areas, and seating; more frequently, students gender-segregate themselves (Banks & McGee Banks, pg. 147).”

For EDPN 671 Theory and Practice of Bilingual and Multicultural Education, I focus on Domain 2. Culture: Candidates know, understand, and use major concepts, principles, theories, and research related to the nature and role of culture and cultural groups to construct supportive learning environments for ELLs.

Standard 2. Culture as It Affects Student Learning – Candidates know, understand, and use major theories and research related to the nature and role of culture in their instruction. They demonstrate understanding of how cultural groups and individual cultural identities affect language learning and school achievement.

Supporting Explanation.

Candidates recognize that language and culture interact in the formation of students’ cultural identities. They further recognize that students’ identities are tied closely to their sense of self‐worth, which is correlated to their academic achievement. Candidates know that all students can learn more readily when cultural factors are recognized, respected, and accommodated, and they demonstrate that knowledge in their practice. They further understand that students’ academic achievement can suffer if classroom instruction does not respect students’ cultural identities.

Here a reflection by Amanda Giarrizzo who is currently in her 5th year of teaching and 3rd year as a Special Education Teacher. She currently teaches 3rd grade ICT at the Jamaica Children’s School in Queens. This is Amanda’s last semester as a graduate student in the Touro TESOL Masters program.

Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives, Chapter 6: Gender Bias- From Colonial America to Today’s Classrooms

(Banks, J. A., & McGee Banks, C. A. (2010)

by Amanda Giarrizzo

When comparing Colonial America classrooms to today’s there are many differences. In Colonial America, few girls were able to attend school. When the girls did attend school, they were not receiving the same formalized instruction as boys. The boys would learn writing and concepts necessary in order for them to further their education; on the other hand, girls would learn how to become housewives. The girls would be taught how to be in the kitchen and caretaking skills. During this time, gender biases originated. Over time, slowly but surely, women were extending their educations. However, they were still not equal to males. Title IX was a big stepping stone for females, not only in education but in the world. Title IX of 1972 states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance (Banks & McGee Banks, pg. 140).” Title IX support women in sports, education, employment, and health.”

Unfortunately, despite the advancement of women gender bias still exists in classrooms today. The main two places where gender biases exist in schools today are with the curriculum and interactions. Curriculum content is an extremely influential part of student’s lives because this is what helps them understand concepts. However, if the curriculum contains gender biases, then students will think that biases and stereotypes are typical and accepted. This is why educators must assess curriculum materials and determine if they are gender fair. Many books in curriculums nowadays present gender biases, by including male dominance, women and men in “traditional” careers, male aggressiveness, boys causing trouble, male-centered stories, brave boys, and helpless girls.  In order to detect gender biases in curriculum materials, there are seven components to analyze: invisibility, stereotyping, imbalance and selectivity, unreality, fragmentation, linguistic bias, and cosmetic bias. Invisibility refers to the fact that within the materials there is not teaching about certain groups or events. Stereotyping refers to pointing out certain roles or having “stereotypical” traits portrayed by certain groups of people. Linguistic bias refers to using language/words to create a bias between groups of people. Imbalance refers to holding a single interpretation of any issue. Unreality refers to ignoring the full reality of nations. Fragmentation refers to separating discussions into different viewpoints. Lastly, cosmetic bias refers to creating a false picture of the material presented inside of a text. For example, the pictures on the outside of the materials may pretend to be diversified, but the actual content does not connect (Banks & McGee Banks, pg. 143-144). The other place that gender biases exist in classrooms is social interactions. Teachers may not even realize they are being gender biased during classroom routines and activities, but it is likely. Instances, where teachers do not redirect certain students for talking out of turn, can turn into a gender bias. For example, the author discusses an instance wherein a classroom boys are calling out and responding to each other’s answers, without raising their hand and being called on. It is not until a girl calls out that the teacher redirects the students to raise their hand (Banks & McGee Banks, pg. 145-146). This is considered bias because the boys did not get redirected, but the girl did. “Occasionally, teachers divide their classrooms along gender-segregated lines in groups, work and play areas, and seating; more frequently, students gender-segregate themselves (Banks & McGee Banks, pg. 147).” This is another example of how gender biases exist in classrooms. It is essential we limit these instances, in order to promote gender fairness.

In the end, there are a few steps that can be taken in order to create a gender-fair classroom. Steps that are important to take include analyzing materials and textbooks that you are teaching from. In order to stop biases, we need to show them to students and confront them. It is encouraged to do so when engaging in everyday content lessons.  Another suggestion is for your students to create a list of famous men and women. As a class, you should analyze the data gained and identify patterns. If you notice that you are not equal with learning about both genders, then make a change. Third, it is important to analyze your own classroom groupings and seatings. It is important to diversify these groups by all different factors, in order to ensure equality. Fourth, it is important to enforce a no tolerance rule with negative language use. It is imperative to create an environment where everyone is accepted; promoting acceptance can guide the way for students to be respectful to all. Lastly, extend your own knowledge and professional learning on gender equity. It is imperative to understand gender fairness, in order to reinforce it (Banks & McGee Banks, pgs. 151-152). To conclude, it is essential we analyze our curriculum and interactions with our students in order to promote gender fairness. Once these are monitored and actions are taken, gender equity in classrooms will be more noticeable.

  1. Initial Emotional Response (surprised, embarrassed, sad, inspired, excited, puzzled, etc.)

I was surprised to find out about the different ways gender bias is identified in school. I was excited and inspired to read about the history of women overcoming and lessening biases in different environments. I was inspired to hear about ways to create a gender-fair classroom.

Learning Process

  1.  Prior Assumptions or Opinions about the described highlight

I assumed that gender bias in education, meant to only have one gender of students participate in activities. I also assumed that it meant that one gender was becoming overrepresented during classroom discussions. I figured that gender bias could be considered when there are boys teams vs. girl teams, or solely boys tables and solely girls tables within the room. I essentially assumed that the gender bias had to specifically segregate the two genders.

I believed that gender bias also included when someone makes comments about gender and stereotypes, such as women belong in the kitchen, men are the alphas, men need to work, women can’t do that. All of these are showing a bias against the other sex because they are saying one sex is more prevalent in instances than the other.

  1.  Source of Assumption or Opinion

I assumed that gender bias meant to only have one gender of students participate in activities because of the definition of the words gender and bias. The word gender refers to someone’s sex: female or male. The word bias refers to being in favor of or against one specific group. In this case, I assumed that gender bias in education meant that the teacher would be in favor (bias) of one gender of students having them be the ones to participate in activities, participate in classroom discussions, sit at tables together, complete tasks in groups together, or have teams together. Another reason why I believed that this was gender bias, was because in high school my 7th grade Social Studies teacher was sexist (or showed gender biases). In his class, the girls would try to participate and raise their hands to volunteer many times; however, the teacher chose a boy majority of the time. The teacher was a football coach and knew many of the boys from there, he would choose his players more often than anyone else. In addition, there were many instances throughout the year, where the teacher would not allow females to use the bathroom during his class. However, the teacher would allow the boys to use the bathroom and get water. This experience made me aware of some forms of gender biases that are present in classrooms.

My assumption of gender biases having to do with the language people use against someone’s sex came from personal experiences and previous education. When I was in highschool I learned about different biases and stereotypes that exist within the world. Within my history classes, I learned what a bias was and how people use language in order to show they are biased. I was able to apply that knowledge to understand that using derogatory language towards a gender, would be considered having a bias.

5. Assumption/Opinion Check – Validation/Invalidation

My assumption what gender bias in education meant, only having one gender participate in classroom activities was validated in a few different ways when reading the Bank’s. The text states:

“Occasionally, teachers divide their classrooms along gender-segregated lines in groups, work and play areas, and seating; more frequently, students gender-segregate themselves (Banks & McGee Banks, pg. 147).”

This shows that gender segregation is a form of gender bias. In the chapter, the author discusses an instance wherein a classroom boys are calling out and responding to each other’s answers without raising their hand and being called on. It is not until a girl calls out that the teacher redirects the students to raise their hand (Banks & McGee Banks, pg. 145-146). This form of bias shows a male-dominated conversation and different expectations for students of different genders. This example supports gender bias being only one gender participating in classroom activities specifically, discussions.

My assumption of gender bias having to do with the language that people use against someone’s gender was validated many times throughout the chapter. The text states,

“Linguistic Bias: Words Count- Language can be a powerful conveyor of bias in both blatant and subtle forms. The exclusive use of masculine terms and pronouns, ranging from our forefathers, mankind, and businessman to the generic he, denies the full participation and recognition of women. More subtle examples include word orders and choices that place males in a primary role, such as “men and their wives.” (Banks & McGee, pg. 145)”

This paragraph describes how word choice, which is language, can be used to show a bias against someone’s gender. In addition, the textbook gives suggestions on how to create a gender-fair classroom. Within the suggestions, there is one that refers to the language used within your classroom. “Do no say “boys will be boys” to excuse sexist comments or behaviors… As a teacher, you are the model and the norm setter: “If you do not tolerate hurtful prejudice, your students will learn to honor and respect each other.” (Banks & McGee, pg. 152)” This shows how language can represent gender biases.

6. Realization/Aha Moment or Epiphany

Now I realize that there are many different ways that you can be gender-biased in a classroom. I realize that not being consistent with enforcing expectations for all students, can be considered a gender bias. I now know that I have to be more consistent with instructing ALL students to follow the same set of rules, at all times. I know that I cannot have some students speak out (and not redirect them to follow the expectation) but then redirect another student for doing the same thing. This instance is considered biased and now I know that no matter what the situation I need to reinforce the expectations.

I also realized that some of the texts and materials that are used to instruct the students are gender biased. The chapter book Peter Pan is one that I used to teach my students about character traits, motivation, and actions. Throughout this book, there are many examples of gender bias. Within Peter Pan, Wendy is portrayed as the mother of the boys. Peter asks her to stay in Neverland in order to take care of the Lost Boys. This supports the stereotype that all women should become mothers and stay home taking care of the men/boys. Due to this stereotype, the book is gender biased.  Furthermore, the Lost Boys, Wendy’s brothers, and Peter Pan are always the ones to fight off the bad guys and protect Wendy. This could be viewed as a gender bias as well, signifying Wendy can’t defend herself or that the men always have to be the protectors.

I am also thinking back to when I was in high school. We read books such as to Kill a Mockingbird. Within To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout was considered a tomboy because of the way that she dressed, she wore overalls all the time. In addition, she was considered a tomboy because of the way she played, she enjoyed being outdoors and participating in activities that took place outdoors. This is gender bias because it is portraying girls as not being allowed to enjoy the outdoors and dress in a certain way.

Another realization is that most content I teach provides an imbalance of genders. If I asked the students (like the text suggested) to create a list of famous men and women, they would probably write down more men. This shows me that our curriculum is gender bias toward women. Moreover, during the winter break, my students were tasked with researching a famous African American for Black History Month. 11/12 of the boys in my class researched and completed their project on a male and 8/9 girls researched/completed their project on a famous woman. This could be because the girls wanted to learn about more women since they don’t. It could also be that the boys are more comfortable learning about men.

7. Implications for future teaching practice

In the future, I will alter a few approaches to my teaching in order to foster a gender-fair classroom. First, I will definitely be sure to reinforce following the expectations for all students. I will try to not let any friends speak out of turn, without being redirected to follow the expectation. This may sound something like, “Please make sure you follow the expectation of raising a quiet hand to speak. When you do so, you may share your answer.” In order to ensure and monitor that I am following through with this expectation, I will use a talking piece for classroom discussions or questioning. During this time, only the person who is holding the talking piece (because they have met the expectation on how to raise a silent hand) will be able to share their response/thoughts. Having this talking piece will hopefully help me redirect other students to follow the expectations, and minimize the number of times I show bias with redirecting some students, but not all.

Another way I can foster a gender-fair classroom is by infusing more women profiles in our social studies curriculum. I only spent one day talking about women in history, for the month of March. The students were able to choose an influential woman from a list, research her, and provide some facts about her on a worksheet. The students were then tasked with creating a postage stamp to represent that woman and why she is important. I feel as though, one day was not enough to suffice for the amount of learning about men we do. I believe that during March, Women’s history month, the students should be learning about influential women that helped shape today’s world. In order to not stray completely from the Social Studies curriculum, I figured we could research important women in the different cultures we are learning about. For example, we are learning about China right now. We can research influential women that contributed to China’s success or influential Chinese women in our country, who are successful and important. If this is not an option, we should at least be spending two weeks researching women influencers. This will create a gender-fair classroom because most of the people we seem to focus on in history are men.

Reference:

Banks, J. A., & McGee Banks, C. A. (2010). Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives (7th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.