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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Empowering Girls (& Boys): Reading and Math

zackdoll.jpg

By Tracee Sioux

Girls suck at math and boys can't read.

Studies prove there is a gender gap in reading and math. But a new study tells us it's not a biological fact, but one of social conditioning based in gender inequality.

This matters because we have limited control over biological factors, but we can seriously effect our childrens' social conditioning.

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development conducted a Programme for Internatinal Student Assessment (PISA) performance study of 400,000 15 year olds in math, science, reading, and problem solving. Their main intent was to discover science aptitude, which we discussed here on So Sioux Me yesterday.

The most significant part of the findings for me was that girls are performing on par with boys, but experience much lower confidence in their science abilities to male counterparts. As a parent that encourages me to build confidence in the scientific area.

In the areas of reading and math however, boys and girls had significantly different scores.

Girls Suck at Math


However, the study indicates a sociological disparity in math scores as opposed to a genetic one.

The gap between how girls and boys performed in math was less in countries with high scores in gender equality, like Sweden. In countries where gender inequality is significant, such as Korea, the gap between girls scores and boys scores was more extreme.

The more gender equity we achieve, the better our girls do at math.

Peggy from Women in Science explored the implications of the math gender gap.

There is also an article in Arse Technica about the math gap.

An article in The Boston Globe says Girls Don't Want to Do Science.

Girls don't want to do science though they're capable? The article says it's because girls like people and boys like things.

Perhaps this is because girls receive toys as babies that encourage their interaction with people and their focus is almost entirely on seeking the approval of people through beauty and dress and manners. Gifts to my daughter before even turing two were books about relationships and dress up clothes, and household caretaking items like kitchens.

While boys are exclusively given action toys like tools and cars and trucks and actively forbidden interaction with relationship toys like dolls and play kitchens?

By the time they turn two the gender scripting is complete, unless parents actively challenge gender roles.

Boys Can't Read


We should note, however, gender differences in mathematics were less than one-third as large as for reading, 11 points on average across OECD countries. This statistic hasn't changed since the study was performed in 2003.

Perhaps it's safe to assume that since the women's movement and the focus on gender equity in education that girls are making significant strides in math, but we're not doing so hot in engaging boys in language.

Our gender expectations from the second a child is born explains both gender gaps for me.

Last week, on Blog Fabulous, I wrote about the unenlightened idea that we disallow care-taking and nurturing behaviors by forbidding boys to play with dolls. Thus creating emotionally unattached and unempathetic husbands and fathers for future generations of women and children.

I would take that argument a step further and say we're disallowing boys full access to language.

How can we expect them to be great readers when we have a minefield of rules regarding how we allow them to express their feelings using their language skills?

Much of reading is about empathy and compassion regarding characters, yet we disallow outward learning activities - like playing with dolls - that teach compassion and empathy in boys. We forbid expression of such "feminine feelings" of sadness or affection even.

No wonder they are disconnected from the reading experience.

My hypothesis is that when we allow boys the same emotional and relationship vocabulary as we allow girls we're going to see boys engage in reading on par with their sisters.

11 comments:

Bob said...

Just curios, Tracy...

Do you think boys' and girls' brains are wired the same? I'm not disparaging the equality thing (I agree with you on that, I think). I just wonder if our brains are physically different - and that's responsible for some of the differences we see in societies today.

Tracee said...

That's a valid question Bob. Before having a my son (who came second) I would have said our brains are essentially physically the same.

However, I can see that my son tunes into machines - tools and cars - in a way that my daughter does not. It feels more inherent to him than it does her.

However I can also see that from the very second my son was born the words, "He is such a boy" were spoken over his life and over his characteristics repeatedly. The same is true for my daughter.

The very minute she came into this world the words about her "becoming a dancer" or "being so pretty" were so pervasive that I found it startling.

So I would say, there may, in fact, be some biological differences - but we won't know that until we even out the sociological disparity between the genders and allow both sexes to experience being their full selves.

Certainly, I don't think our biological differences are nearly as dramatic as we make them out to be.

Both genders, and society, benefit from the lessening of gender scripting and gender tracking.

that girl said...

I believe they are wired differently, but I don't believe that should hinder one or the other in certain subjects. I loved the idea of the one gender classrooms where they catered to the differences in boys and girls.

Tracee said...

There may be some wiring differences, but I'm not convinced we can distinguish between wiring and socialization until we stop being so extreme in the socializing.

jeanie said...

I am with you on this, Tracee.

I think, yes, there is a case of different wiring, but there is an even bigger case of cultural wiring.

Our biological wiring, I believe, is more a spectrum than a black/white issue. I myself was (and am) a maths nut - as was my mother. This worked for me as a child - in a culture where women did the "smart" stuff like bookwork and accounting in our rural region, and men did the physical stuff. It also worked for me in my all girls boarding school, as we were taught to believe we COULD excel at anything. Didn't work when I got sent to a co-ed school for work experience as a maths teacher, definitely didn't work at school socials where you weren't meant to study maths/science.

therapydoc said...

These studies tend to be poorly executed and the interpretations of findings are easily skewed for various reasons, sometimes for funding, sometimes for publication.

Believe me. Lying with statistics is not hard.

Oh, and hi, how are you?

Tracee said...

I hear you Therapydoc, but this particular study seems well executed and it's focus wasn't gender, it was on science preparedness.

It involved 400,000 15-year-olds in 57 countries in a broad spectrum of socio-economic status and teaching and education styles and curriculum.

I'm great, by the way. And yourself?

Peggy said...

I believe the brain is pretty plastic, especially in infant and toddlers, so it's not easy to separate what might be hardwiring from wiring that is shaped through early social conditioning. And much of the influence we have on children is unconscious on our part - like giving baby girls dolls and baby boys trucks, and praising them when they seem to adhere to stereotypical gender norms. There was a study I read a while back, (which I can't remember the title of, unfortunately), where people were shown video of toddlers in gender-neutral outfits.The way the toddlers' behavior was interpreted differed depending on whether they had been identified as girls or boys. I'm not sure that's something we can easily change.

This may be off topic a bit, but when I was a girl back in the 70s there was a movie and recording called "Free to Be You and Me" . The songs were about breaking out of gender stereotypes and being kind to people who were different from you, etc (see William Wants a Doll). I'm not sure what happened, but it seems like girls today are expected to be even "girlier" (with everything pink and princessy) than they were back in my youth and it's no more socially acceptable for boys to play with dolls than it was 30 years ago. It doesn't seem like we've made much progress on that front.

Tracee said...

I bought that book for my daughter from a used book store Peggy!

I think we're afraid to turn our sons gay by letting them play with dolls. For some reason the risk with girls is just that they'll get a better/different job and we can see how that's pretty useful.

I agree. I only wore dresses to church growing up. I think we do genderize girls earlier now.

Tune in later in the week when I'll feature a company selling actual high heals for infants! We're genderizing them younger and younger - not to mention consumerizing them.

Tracee said...

Oh Peggy, I read that experiment and wanted to do it with my son and his same-age female cousin. My mother in law kept saying, "he's such a boy" when he was days old - hours even. I tried to cite this study and said, "Let's dress them in different clothes and take them to the mall and we'll see if strangers says he's such a boy."

"No way! We can't make him wear girl clothes!"

That's when I realized MOST people like the genderization and therefore it's much harder to change and quite a large part of it is out of my control.

Karen_thrifty said...

I hated reading class and I always did really well in math. Guess I'm wired wrong. lol

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Empowering Girls (& Boys): Reading and Math

zackdoll.jpg

By Tracee Sioux

Girls suck at math and boys can't read.

Studies prove there is a gender gap in reading and math. But a new study tells us it's not a biological fact, but one of social conditioning based in gender inequality.

This matters because we have limited control over biological factors, but we can seriously effect our childrens' social conditioning.

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development conducted a Programme for Internatinal Student Assessment (PISA) performance study of 400,000 15 year olds in math, science, reading, and problem solving. Their main intent was to discover science aptitude, which we discussed here on So Sioux Me yesterday.

The most significant part of the findings for me was that girls are performing on par with boys, but experience much lower confidence in their science abilities to male counterparts. As a parent that encourages me to build confidence in the scientific area.

In the areas of reading and math however, boys and girls had significantly different scores.

Girls Suck at Math


However, the study indicates a sociological disparity in math scores as opposed to a genetic one.

The gap between how girls and boys performed in math was less in countries with high scores in gender equality, like Sweden. In countries where gender inequality is significant, such as Korea, the gap between girls scores and boys scores was more extreme.

The more gender equity we achieve, the better our girls do at math.

Peggy from Women in Science explored the implications of the math gender gap.

There is also an article in Arse Technica about the math gap.

An article in The Boston Globe says Girls Don't Want to Do Science.

Girls don't want to do science though they're capable? The article says it's because girls like people and boys like things.

Perhaps this is because girls receive toys as babies that encourage their interaction with people and their focus is almost entirely on seeking the approval of people through beauty and dress and manners. Gifts to my daughter before even turing two were books about relationships and dress up clothes, and household caretaking items like kitchens.

While boys are exclusively given action toys like tools and cars and trucks and actively forbidden interaction with relationship toys like dolls and play kitchens?

By the time they turn two the gender scripting is complete, unless parents actively challenge gender roles.

Boys Can't Read


We should note, however, gender differences in mathematics were less than one-third as large as for reading, 11 points on average across OECD countries. This statistic hasn't changed since the study was performed in 2003.

Perhaps it's safe to assume that since the women's movement and the focus on gender equity in education that girls are making significant strides in math, but we're not doing so hot in engaging boys in language.

Our gender expectations from the second a child is born explains both gender gaps for me.

Last week, on Blog Fabulous, I wrote about the unenlightened idea that we disallow care-taking and nurturing behaviors by forbidding boys to play with dolls. Thus creating emotionally unattached and unempathetic husbands and fathers for future generations of women and children.

I would take that argument a step further and say we're disallowing boys full access to language.

How can we expect them to be great readers when we have a minefield of rules regarding how we allow them to express their feelings using their language skills?

Much of reading is about empathy and compassion regarding characters, yet we disallow outward learning activities - like playing with dolls - that teach compassion and empathy in boys. We forbid expression of such "feminine feelings" of sadness or affection even.

No wonder they are disconnected from the reading experience.

My hypothesis is that when we allow boys the same emotional and relationship vocabulary as we allow girls we're going to see boys engage in reading on par with their sisters.

11 comments:

Bob said...

Just curios, Tracy...

Do you think boys' and girls' brains are wired the same? I'm not disparaging the equality thing (I agree with you on that, I think). I just wonder if our brains are physically different - and that's responsible for some of the differences we see in societies today.

Tracee said...

That's a valid question Bob. Before having a my son (who came second) I would have said our brains are essentially physically the same.

However, I can see that my son tunes into machines - tools and cars - in a way that my daughter does not. It feels more inherent to him than it does her.

However I can also see that from the very second my son was born the words, "He is such a boy" were spoken over his life and over his characteristics repeatedly. The same is true for my daughter.

The very minute she came into this world the words about her "becoming a dancer" or "being so pretty" were so pervasive that I found it startling.

So I would say, there may, in fact, be some biological differences - but we won't know that until we even out the sociological disparity between the genders and allow both sexes to experience being their full selves.

Certainly, I don't think our biological differences are nearly as dramatic as we make them out to be.

Both genders, and society, benefit from the lessening of gender scripting and gender tracking.

that girl said...

I believe they are wired differently, but I don't believe that should hinder one or the other in certain subjects. I loved the idea of the one gender classrooms where they catered to the differences in boys and girls.

Tracee said...

There may be some wiring differences, but I'm not convinced we can distinguish between wiring and socialization until we stop being so extreme in the socializing.

jeanie said...

I am with you on this, Tracee.

I think, yes, there is a case of different wiring, but there is an even bigger case of cultural wiring.

Our biological wiring, I believe, is more a spectrum than a black/white issue. I myself was (and am) a maths nut - as was my mother. This worked for me as a child - in a culture where women did the "smart" stuff like bookwork and accounting in our rural region, and men did the physical stuff. It also worked for me in my all girls boarding school, as we were taught to believe we COULD excel at anything. Didn't work when I got sent to a co-ed school for work experience as a maths teacher, definitely didn't work at school socials where you weren't meant to study maths/science.

therapydoc said...

These studies tend to be poorly executed and the interpretations of findings are easily skewed for various reasons, sometimes for funding, sometimes for publication.

Believe me. Lying with statistics is not hard.

Oh, and hi, how are you?

Tracee said...

I hear you Therapydoc, but this particular study seems well executed and it's focus wasn't gender, it was on science preparedness.

It involved 400,000 15-year-olds in 57 countries in a broad spectrum of socio-economic status and teaching and education styles and curriculum.

I'm great, by the way. And yourself?

Peggy said...

I believe the brain is pretty plastic, especially in infant and toddlers, so it's not easy to separate what might be hardwiring from wiring that is shaped through early social conditioning. And much of the influence we have on children is unconscious on our part - like giving baby girls dolls and baby boys trucks, and praising them when they seem to adhere to stereotypical gender norms. There was a study I read a while back, (which I can't remember the title of, unfortunately), where people were shown video of toddlers in gender-neutral outfits.The way the toddlers' behavior was interpreted differed depending on whether they had been identified as girls or boys. I'm not sure that's something we can easily change.

This may be off topic a bit, but when I was a girl back in the 70s there was a movie and recording called "Free to Be You and Me" . The songs were about breaking out of gender stereotypes and being kind to people who were different from you, etc (see William Wants a Doll). I'm not sure what happened, but it seems like girls today are expected to be even "girlier" (with everything pink and princessy) than they were back in my youth and it's no more socially acceptable for boys to play with dolls than it was 30 years ago. It doesn't seem like we've made much progress on that front.

Tracee said...

I bought that book for my daughter from a used book store Peggy!

I think we're afraid to turn our sons gay by letting them play with dolls. For some reason the risk with girls is just that they'll get a better/different job and we can see how that's pretty useful.

I agree. I only wore dresses to church growing up. I think we do genderize girls earlier now.

Tune in later in the week when I'll feature a company selling actual high heals for infants! We're genderizing them younger and younger - not to mention consumerizing them.

Tracee said...

Oh Peggy, I read that experiment and wanted to do it with my son and his same-age female cousin. My mother in law kept saying, "he's such a boy" when he was days old - hours even. I tried to cite this study and said, "Let's dress them in different clothes and take them to the mall and we'll see if strangers says he's such a boy."

"No way! We can't make him wear girl clothes!"

That's when I realized MOST people like the genderization and therefore it's much harder to change and quite a large part of it is out of my control.

Karen_thrifty said...

I hated reading class and I always did really well in math. Guess I'm wired wrong. lol