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Failing at Fairness
How Our Schools Cheat Girls
By: Myra and David Sadker

Review By: Sue Reichard


Art By: Olga Dunayeva
Art By: Olga Dunayeva

Each time a girl opens a womanless history, she learns she is worth less. Each time a teacher passes over a girl to elicit the ideas and opinions of boys, that girl is conditioned to be silent and to defer.

    Girls are the majority of our nationís school children, but they are second-class educational citizens. The problems they face -- loss of self esteem, decline in achievement, and elimination of career options -- are at the heart of the educational process. Until educational sexism is eradicated, more than half our children will be shortchanged and their gifts lost to society.

    Grim words to be sure, but in this book, 'Failing at Fairness,' the authors astutely explain the results of thousands of hours of observation. The findings are chilling.

    After two decades of research grants and thousands of hours of classroom observations the hidden sexist lessons still persist, observe Myra and David Sadker.

    Even though teachers who were observed knew exactly what they were being observed for, they still exhibited gender bias. This often revealed itself in giving boys more attention throughout the entire school day.

    As teachers use their expertise to question, praise, probe, clarify and correct boys, they help these boys sharpen their thinking, gain their voice and achieve more. When female students are offered less they achieve less.

    Like a thief in school, sexist lessons subvert education, twisting it into a system of socialization that robs potential. Consider this record of silent devastating losses:

    In early grades girls are ahead of or equal to boys on almost every standardized measure of achievement and psychological well being. By the time they graduate from high school or college, they have fallen back. Girls enter school ahead, but leave behind.
    In high school girls score lower on SAT or ACT Tests. The greatest gender gap is in Math and Science.
    Girls score far lower on College Board Achievement Tests.
    Boys are more likely to be awarded state and national college scholarships.
    The gap does not narrow in college. Women score lower on all sections of the Graduate Record Examination.

    In addition to the academic losses, girls suffer other difficulties:

    Eating disorders among girls in middle and secondary schools and in college are rampant and increasing.
    Incidents of school-based sexual harassment are now reported with alarming frequency.
    One in ten teen-age girls become pregnant each year. Unlike boys, when girls drop out, they usually stay out.
    As girls go through school, their self-esteem plummets, and the danger of depression increases.
    Economic penalties follow women after graduation. Careers that have a high percentage of female workers, such as teaching and nursing, are generally poorly paid. Most of Americaís poor are households headed by women.

    For almost two centuries American education barred girls from school. Women were viewed as mentally and morally inferior and were relegated to learning only domestic skills.

    The new democracy enlarged the European view of women. In America, the woman's role began taking on a new dimension. Americaís mothers were the nationís first teachers. People soon caught on to the idea that if a woman was to enlighten her children she had to first be enlightened herself.

    A female seminary provided education in the three Mís: morals, mind and manners. Some added a fourth, motherhood, as an idea to professionalize motherhood. This school was established by Emma Willard. Self-denial and strict discipline were considered important tools in molding devout wives and mothers.

    Slowly progress was made and, in 1972, Congress passed Title IX. This law made sex discrimination in schools illegal. Federal dollars flowed for sex equity research and training. In 1978 Congress broadened the Civil Rights Act to include educational services to eliminate sex bias. Athletic programs were developed and improved. Teachers began to shatter gender lines between home economics and industrial arts.

    School is a place where students, male and female alike, should feel safe. Studies show this is far from the truth. Sexual persecution of girls starts at an early age. In some elementary schools, there is skirt flip-up day, in others the girls refuse to wear clothes with elastic waistbands because the boys pull down their slacks and skirts. Groups of boys in some high schools claim tables near the line where food is purchased. When a female student walks by, they hold a card with a number on it, one for an unattractive girl and a ten for a superstar. In some schools there is Grab a Piece of Ass Week or lists that circulate proclaiming The Twenty Sluttiest Girls in School.

    The authors of the book also state that several examples where schools are making a conscious effort to stop these practices. Some of the acts of sexual harassment are directed to female students by male teachers.

    Most test used to assess ability are unfairly biased against women. Boys typically score 50-60 points higher on the Scholastic Assessment Test. Few people are aware of this. Boys see the SATs as an image bigger than life.

    On tests required after college such as the GRE, women consistently score lower than men. Women striving for admission to Americaís most advanced or competitive graduate programs are harmed by the gender gap in standardized testing.

    Critics blame sophisticated test biases for these problems. Boys answer more questions correctly when they include male characters; girls achieve more on questions with female characters or an equal number of males and females.

    ETS, who devises most tests, doubts that improved tests will dramatically alter the gender gap because the gap is not a function of the test, but a function of the different educational experiences boys and girls receive. An example of this being, boys still take more high school math and science courses and this imbalance contributes to higher male test scores.

    The chapter in the book on the miseducation of boys was of great interest. The authors state that boys appear to be the favored gender, heirs apparent to society's rewards. They are the recipients of the lionís share of teacher time and attention and the featured figures in most textbooks. Gender bias is a two-edged sword. Girls are shortchanged, but males pay a price as well.

    Boys rise to the top, but also fall to the bottom. They are more often labeled as problems in need of special control or assistance, boys are more likely to fail a course, be held back or drop out of school. Girls' losses are suffered silently, while boysí problems are heard throughout the school.

    Raised to be aggressive, independent, boys enter schools that expect them to be quiet and passive. To keep the balance, schools go the extra mile for males and give them more resources and attention. Boys learn to be cool; donít show emotion; repress feelings by aggression; compete and win. They internalize this script; boys learn to look down on girls and to distance themselves from anything feminine. Conforming to this stereotype takes a psychological toll:

    Boys are three times more likely to become alcohol dependent and 50% more likely to use illegal drugs. Men account for 90% of alcohol drug related arrests.
    Risk taking behavior leads to death from car accidents and teen-age boys are more likely to die from gunshot wounds than from all natural causes combined.
    Males commit suicide two to three times more frequently than females.

    Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said that if a fish was an anthropologist the last thing it would discover would be water. We have grown up taking gender bias for granted. We donít even notice it!

    More and more parents, teachers and students are taking measures for gender equity in the schools. The Girl Scouts now scrutinize its material for subtle sexism. The American Association of University Women are also doing studies and taking measures to make people aware of gender bias in the classroom.

    I would highly recommend this book be read by all teachers, parents and others concerned with equality in education. The book was a well-balanced work citing examples of inequity towards males as well as females. The book not only criticized but found possible solutions or at least starting points to educate and make aware anyone involved in this issue.

Very interesting book, Sue.


Sue Reichard

Sue is married and the mother of 4 children, 1 son and 3 daughters. Her family lives in beautiful Bradford Country in NE Pa. They have a 10-acre homestead and an old farmhouse which they have painstakingly remodeled. She is a children's book reviewer and also an elementary school teacher. She loves reading and writing, and she is a feature contributor to the local paper. She also reviews children's books for Children's Literature Newsletter and Young Adult Review.


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[ Cosmic Connections ] [ Fiction ] [ Non-Fiction ] [ Opinions ]
[ Poetry ] [ Song and Story ] [ Letters To The Editor ] [ Inspirations ]


Non-fiction Articles

|| Bitten at the Flea Market || || Failing at Fairness (Review) || || In the Name of Help (Review) ||
|| The Death of Innocents (Review) || || Traveling Women ||
|| MY MOTHER WAS RIGHT (Review) ||


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