Challenging Gender Stereotypes in School
Gender stereotypes have a pernicious effect on the ability of young people to learn. The pervasive cultural attitude that girls are not usually good at math and science can cause girls to dislike those subjects and feel less confident in them than their male peers. Being reminded of her gender before taking the SAT can lower a female student’s score on the math section of the test as compared to her performance when asked a question about something unrelated to her identity. From the youngest, behaviors like sitting quietly and being neat are praised in girls, while boys are encouraged to take initiative and raise their hands.
Some schools try to challenge these disparities and prevent their negative effects by promoting a gender-neutral environment. Swedish preschools jumble toys together instead of segregating them by gender and use narratives in the classroom that include non-traditional family structures and characters who defy gender roles. The National Union of Teachers in the United Kingdom recommends that teachers engage in dialogues with their students when the children put forth ideas that uphold gender stereotypes, asking them why they feel that certain toys, school subjects, or careers are only for one gender or another. Another good strategy is to avoid using gender to divide the children into groups – while it is a quick distinguishing characteristic, it can imply to children that their gender is their most salient, important feature and reinforce stereotypes. Teachers can also try to praise or censure the same behaviors in students regardless of gender, rather than praising children for conforming to their assigned gender role and punishing them for departing from it. In order to avoid negative outcomes like lower test scores, gender imbalance in academic fields, and low self-esteem, it is important to challenge gender stereotypes in the school environment.