TARRYTOWN, N.Y. – In a fourth-grade classroom, a young female student waits with her hand raised, ready and able to answer her teacher’s question. She’ll likely be waiting a while: Studies have shown that teachers in general call on male students eight times more often than their female counter-parts. While gender bias in the classroom may seem like an issue for a previous generation, female students today continue to suffer the injustices of unequal treatment by teachers. But with the help of a $100,000 grant from The Ford Foundation, Marymount College’s Institute for the Education of Women and Girls plans to battle this bias at its source – before it has a chance to take root.
The institute will use the grant money to produce supplements to teacher-education textbooks, as well as conferences, which will educate future teachers on the often-overlooked issues regarding gender equity in classrooms.
“This project will do a great deal to put gender equity on the chalkboard,” said Ellen Silber, Ph.D., professor of French and director of the institute. “Part of the problem is that teachers are not aware of what they’re doing.”
In classrooms across the country, female students still face “cultural and institutional barriers that prevent them from dreaming big dreams and fulfilling them,” according to The Girls Report, produced by the National Counsel for Research on Women. These barriers are often built by teachers, who engage – many times unknowingly – in acts of gender bias in the classroom. Besides calling upon male students eight times more often than female students, teachers also tend to praise female students for neatness and compliment them on appearance, while asking male students more difficult questions and offering them more constructive criticism
With assistance from the grant, Silber and her colleagues, including nationally known gender expert David Sadker, will create modules that will address gender-equity issues like these, thereby better preparing tomorrow’s teachers to successfully meet the needs of diverse learners. According to Silber, teacher- education textbooks rarely discuss gender issues, and schools of education have been slow to integrate issues of gender equity into their curricula. Research conducted by Marymount College in 1994-96 showed that in 50 colleges across the nation, not one offered a course in gender equity as part of its teacher-education program. Newly minted teachers thereby followed the same pattern as the professors who taught them and the teachers they worked with during their field placements. “It is clearly more efficient for pre-service teachers to learn about gender in the education classroom, where it will become part of their philosophy of teaching,” said Silber, “than to be made aware of it as practicing teachers.”
At Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education, Dean Regis Bernhardt, Ph.D., said that he “expects the modules developed in Dr. Silber’s project to be of benefit” to the school, which already addresses the issues of gender equity as it prepares future teachers. “Aspects of our programs include research-based content and techniques related to both gender and cultural differences,” he said. Performance assessments of students attending the Graduate School of Education include analyzing videotapes of them teaching in classrooms. “Particular attention is paid to the manner in which our students respond to their students and negotiate turns-at-talk,” said Bernhardt.
With the grant’s assistance, the center will create modules for the following courses: Educational Foundations, Educational Psychology, Language Arts and English Methods, and Social Studies Methods. A general supplement will be prepared on Interaction in the Classroom. “When the issues of gender equity become part of their courses,” said Silber, “our hope is that professors and student teachers will confront it.”
Founded in 1992, the Marymount Institute for the Education of Women and Girls is a national center whose mission is to create knowledge and awareness of women’s and girls’ experiences in classrooms at all levels. The institute seeks to help teachers and administrators, parents and policy makers to identify the educational needs of women and girls and translate them into gender-equitable programs for students.
Effective July 1, 2002, Marymount College will consolidate with Fordham University to create a new model of a Catholic women’s college, one that will enjoy the academic and administrative resources of a major university while retaining the character of a small, liberal arts college. This union builds upon a long relationship between the two institutions and promises to strengthen Marymount’s religious and intellectual traditions. Founded in 1841, Fordham is New York City’s Jesuit University, enrolling approximately 14,000 students among its four undergraduate and six graduate schools. Marymount College will become the University’s fifth undergraduate college.