School Climate & Safety

Should School Discipline Take Gender Into Account?

By Ross Brenneman — April 02, 2013 2 min read
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In an Education Week chat earlier today, Kelley King, the author of Writing the Playbook: A Practitioner’s Guide to Creating a Boy-Friendly School, discussed how schools can address the gender gap in both achievement and discipline. (The chat was thus appropriately named “Strategies for Addressing School Gender Gaps.”)

Here are some choice bits:

How do you avoid reinforcing gender stereotypes in your staff when developing these interventions?

King: “We talk about all kids being on a continuum of male-brained to female-brained and understand that there is a great deal of overlap there. In that way, we can identify girls who are more ‘male brained’ and boys who are more ‘female brained.’ At the end of the day, we individualize for kids using gender strategies that help all.”

How does the huge number of boys diagnosed with—and medicated for—ADD factor in here?

King: “When we teach in a way that requires kids to sit for long periods of time, operate verbally, engage in lengthy fine motor tasks, well, some kids will have more trouble with that—more often boys. And they are at risk of being identified as ADHD. Part of the problem is that sometimes we want to get all the little boys to act like the little girls. And that is not honoring the nature of boys.”

(Rules for Engagement interlude: King notes that a suspiciously high number of students have been diagnosed with ADHD. A New York Times article reported that 11 percent of U.S. children now have ADHD diagnoses. We’ve also previously covered doctors who dispense ADHD medication even if the formal diagnosis hasn’t been made.)

Should discipline techniques take gender into account, or should they be uniform? If they’re not uniform, how do you explain those differences to students?

King: “I think we have to have high expectations for all students and fairness in the system. At the same time, I think it is important to recognize that we need to connect with kids differently in order to help de-escalate situations and help kids problem solve.

“By that I mean, with girls, it might be effective to sit down and talk about what happened, next steps, ways to fix the problem etc. We should also have different strategies in our backpocket that would help a lot of boys. For example, let that boy cool off on his own for a little bit and then go for a walk while you discuss the problem, instead of sitting in an office and making eye contact the whole time.

“We also need to re-examine the value of zero-tolerance discipline policies because they have not been shown to make schools more safe over the last 10 years.”

(Rules for Engagement interlude #2: Zero-tolerance policies have resulted in the suspension or expulsion of millions of students in the past two decades. Opponents of such policies note a disproportionate effect on students who are black, Latino, or male, and those with disabilities.)

King went into a great deal of detail on those and other topics. Give the full transcript a read.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.