Does Gender Impact the Education Your Child Receives? 

Jan 31, 2020 by

The United States promises to educate children without regard to their race, heritage or gender. While that ideal may hold in theory, in reality, you need to advocate for your daughter. It would help if you also taught her to do so for herself. Despite advances, females continue to receive disparate treatment in the classroom. 

Why do females still get less attention to their male counterparts in the classroom? How does this bias impact access to services, like special education interventions, that help students achieve their potential? More importantly, what can parents do to ensure parity for their daughters? 

What Is Implicit Bias, and How Does It Manifest in the Classroom? 

Implicit bias refers to the attitudes and stereotypes that unconsciously affect our understanding and decisions. Few people today would consciously admit that they think males have inherently better math skills than females. However, unconsciously, they may cling to biases they heard and internalized in childhood. 

The critical thing to recognize about implicit bias is that everyone has them. For example, you probably think that your children are the most talented and intelligent in the world, right? However, the rest of the world may not share your opinion. Even professionals like judges and educators, who swear oaths to impartiality, nevertheless possess implicit biases. These don’t represent the things that you would endorse publicly, or even privately. 

Even though implicit bias is understandable, it nevertheless creates significant hardship, even heartbreak, for many. For example, police are more likely to kill African American suspects than white ones. Men are more than twice as likely to abuse drugs than women, often because of stereotypes that they must repress their emotions. Women continue to earn less than their male counterparts in the workplace, and women of color and those with disabilities fare even more poorly. 

In the classroom, implicit bias results in the denial of essential services and interventions to female students. For example, many educators still consider ADHD a disorder that primarily impacts males, merely because the signs manifest differently. Male students are more likely to misbehave, whereas girls with the disease tend to try harder to compensate for and cover up their symptoms. Girls are more likely to ask their parents for additional help with their homework and put in extra hours studying. 

Furthermore, girls are more likely to manifest the inattentive version of ADHD. They may behave well, but appear to stare out the window or doodle. Teachers can mistake their inability to focus for lack of interest in the subject matter, not a symptom of the condition. Additionally, even when girls exhibit the signature hyperactive behavior, educators and psychologists often misdiagnose them with a mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety, rather than a learning disability. As a result, females continue struggling and suffering in silence, growing frustrated over poor grades, but finding little help to improve them. Some give up in despair. 

How Parents and Educators Can Level the Playing Field 

How can parents and educators address inherent bias in the classroom? Teachers must attend continuing education classes. School districts can encourage staff members to enroll in courses intended to teach diversity and inclusion. Since many regions offer such in-service sessions in-house, they can center activities around strategies to combat bias in the classroom. They can provide information about the way various learning disorders manifest differently in male and female students so that instructors recognize the signs and can refer students in need to services. 

Parents can take a more proactive role in their child’s education. While doing so does require a significant investment of time, it’s worth it for your child’s future.

  • Observe your child’s classroom: The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) allows the participation of parents in regular, two-way communication with their child’s educational team. It’s a wise idea to put your request for observation in writing, although most districts will readily agree to your desire to come in and observe. Do remain aware, though, that your presence may cause your child to behave differently. It could even unconsciously impact the teacher’s behavior. 
  • Set up a meeting with the team: Another option is to request a private meeting with your child’s teacher, and, if she has an IEP, with the rest of her intervention team. This process gives you time to address any specific concerns you have about your child’s learning path. You can also share vital information, such as how your child typically manifests symptoms at home. For example, if homework often results in tearful outbursts, that’s information the team needs to know. 
  • Inquire about video cameras: Many daycare centers now utilize parent cams that enable caretakers to check in on their child remotely. Not all districts currently offer this capability, but some do. It doesn’t hurt to ask. Plus, if you determine the need exists, you can start a petition to circulate to other parents to request the school invest in such a system. 
  • Contact a behaviorist to observe: A neutral third party can watch your child in class without causing as much disruption to your child as your presence. You can arrange it so that your little one doesn’t even know the additional adult is there for them. The behaviorist can gather data you can then use to collaborate with the educational team. 

Make Sure Your Daughter Gets the Education She Deserves 

While districts and parents take measures to combat it, implicit bias won’t likely disappear soon. However, by taking a proactive role in your child’s education, you can make sure she has the tools she needs to succeed. 

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