Stereotyping boys in the classroom

Little girls aren't the only ones influenced by gendered expectations

Published September 1, 2010 5:55PM (EDT)

Some sobering news for fans of sex stereotypes: They don't just hurt girls. A recent U.K. study asked grade school kids to assign statements like "this child is really clever" or "this child always finishes their work" to pictures of boys and girls. "It emerged that pupils from all ages were more likely to identify girls as being better behaved and harder working," reports the Telegraph. "Even boys were more likely to pick out girls as high achievers, researchers said." In another phase of the study, researchers found that when you announce before a test that boys don't perform as well as girls, lo and behold, boys don't perform as well as girls.

This will hardly surprise anyone who has paid attention to the wealth of studies showing the devastating impact stereotypes can have on girls when it comes to math.  Even subtle reminders of gender -- "male" or "female" check boxes, for example -- can hurt girls' test scores, and of course the same is true for boys. Lead researcher Bonny Hartley explains: "There are signs that these expectations have the potential to become self-fulfilling in influencing children's actual conduct and achievement." She warns teachers to avoid pitting the boys against the girls and using diminishing sayings like "silly boys" or "schoolboy pranks."

The moral of this study is that sex stereotypes don't just hurt girls, and teachers should treat all children like little people, not little men or little women. Leave it to the Daily Mail, though, to turn this into a battle of the sexes with this ridiculous headline: "Boys 'being held back by women teachers' as gender stereotypes are reinforced in the classroom." Not only is that not an actual quote, but if you make it to the end of the article, you discover that "the study drew no distinction between the beliefs and classroom practices of male and female teachers." 

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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