Researchers Claim Sexism in Schools Common
Teachers promote sexism in the classroom by the manner in which they evaluate, reward, and discipline students, according to the first-year observations of a husband-and-wife team studying sexism in education.
David Sadker, director of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Sex Equity, said teachers may be dealing with students in a sexist manner without realizing it, thwarting their educational growth in ways the teachers probably do not even recognize.
"Sexual bias is subtle. That's a point we have to make," Mr. Sadker said. "Teachers aren't aware that they are sexually stereotyping and they don't want to do it."
The problem is compounded because teachers themselves have grown up and developed their own attitudes and values within a society that has sexist attitudes, according to Mr. Sadker.
Mr. Sadker and his wife, Myra, who is dean of American University's School of Education, have received a National Institute of Education grant to investigate the nature of sex bias in the classroom and to develop treatments to eliminate that bias.
Four Areas of Bias
Based on their observations and study of the literature, the Sadkers have identified four distinct areas of sexual bias in the classroom--active teacher attention; discipline pattern; evaluation; and segregation by sex.
The two researchers are convinced that:
Teachers reward boys more, give them more extended directions on how to do things, counsel them more, and ask them more questions.
Teachers publicly discipline boys more harshly and severely than girls even when the infraction is identical.
Teachers evaluate the work of boys and girls differently. Girls are rewarded more often for form and neatness. On the other hand, boys are praised for the quality of their ideas.
Teachers sometimes group their students within the classroom on the basis of sex.
Mr. Sadker said when a boy makes errors, the teacher is likely to say he is not trying hard enough, that he can overcome it and that it is not inherent.
"Girls are less likely to get that attribution of effort," Mr. Sadker said, and the result is that boys leave school with higher self-esteem than girls.
Mr. Sadker said research has shown that teachers contribute to "learned helplessness" which afflicts girls more than boys. It is best illustrated, he said, by research conducted at the Coast Guard Academy shortly after female midshipmen were accepted.
In that study, the researchers observed Coast Guard Academy teachers giving detailed artillery instructions to male midshipmen but "doing for" the female midshipmen.
Mrs. Sadker said preschool teachers also have been observed completing tasks for girls but giving more detailed instructions to boys so that they could complete the tasks themselves.
In an experimental workshop last month,the Sadkers attempted to show teachers how they may be passing sexual biases on to their students and how the problem can be corrected. Forty-five teachers from schools in the District of Columbia, Prince William County, Va., and Baltimore volunteered to participate.
Teachers were shown, through the use of videotapes and instructional material, how to identify sex bias in the classroom. Mrs. Sadker said the participating teachers will be observed for the remainder of the year to determine if the training in "sex-equity skills" was effective.
The Sadkers are also establishing a sex-equity institute through a grant they applied for under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Academic High School in Washington will serve as the model school; there, teachers and aides will be trained in the skills and helped to put them to use in their classrooms.
The Sadkers, who have been examining sex bias in education for 10 years, will have a guide to the subject--Sex Equity Handbook for Schools--published next month.