Celebrating girls — or stereotypes?

“Empowering” girls can look a lot like enforcing gender stereotypes, writes Scott Richardson on Pacific Standard.

His daughter participates in Girls on the Run, a 5K run (or walk) for girls — no boys allowed — in third through eighth grade.
(Photo: Girls on the Run)Volunteer coaches lead their team through a pre-packaged curriculum designed to “encourage positive emotional, social, mental and physical development.” Girls discuss self-esteem, confidence, teamwork, healthy relationships, and “challenges girls face.”

Though boys are banned, older male relatives and friends run with girls as “sponsors.”

Men, women and girls are encouraged to “girl it up” with “skirts, tutus, big bows, bold patterned knee-high socks, tiaras, etc.), apply make-up or face paint, and spray color their hair,” writes Richardson.

There’s nothing for girls who might want to “butch it up.”

Richardson also questions “bombarding girls with ‘positive’ messages about themselves meant to counteract negative ones.” The program implies “that girls aren’t considered equal to boys.”

“What messages are girls really getting when special programs are aimed at trying to make them feel good about themselves as girls?” he asks.

Pretty or smart?

Verizon’s viral Inspire Her Mind ad is based on dubious facts and the dubious idea that girliness is the enemy of “pretty brilliant” in math, science and engineering, says Christina Hoff Sommers, the Factual Feminist.

That dad telling his daughter not to handle a starfish may know that 61 percent of marine biology majors are female. Maybe he wants her to consider a unisex field, such as chemistry.

Moms pass math anxiety to daughters

Mothers may be passing math anxiety — and low achievement — to their daughters, according to research by University of Chicago researcher Elizabeth Gunderson.

Saying “I’ve never been good at science” or “I can’t do math to save my life” sends a negative message to children. School-aged children tend to emulate the same-sex parent.

Teachers can transmit math anxiety, the study finds. Elementary education majors — predominantly female — have the highest math anxiety of any major. A 2010 study evaluated first and second graders taught by 17 different teachers.

At the beginning of the school year, there was no connection between the students’ math ability and their teachers’ math anxiety. By the end of the year, however, a dismaying relationship had emerged: The more anxious teachers were about math, the more likely the girls in their classes were to endorse negative stereotypes about females’ math ability, and the more poorly these girls did on a test of math achievement.

Don’t tell your kids you were bad at math, advises Esther J. Cepeda, a Washington Post columnist and a former teacher. She dreams of outlawing parental and societal complaints about how “hard,” “useless” or “stupid” math is.

The Baby-Einstein people teach their toddlers to group, sort and count, writes Cepeda, who taught first grade and high school algebra. But many parents don’t play with numbers with their children. Kids start school without number sense. By high school, they’re asking: “Why do we have to learn this? When will it ever matter?”

Everyone should study algebra, argues Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle.

Single-sex schooling has tiny (or no) benefits

Single-sex schooling has very small benefits, according to a meta-analysis of 184 studies representing 1.6 million students in K-12 across 21 nations. Because U.S. students aren’t randomly assigned to single-sex classes, it’s hard to find good control groups here, notes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham.

In controlled studies, there were statistically reliably, but numerically quite modest positive effects of single-sex classrooms for both boys and girls in mathematics achievement, science achievement, and verbal achievement. Girls showed an edge in single-sex classes for math attitude, science achievement, and overall academic achievement, but again, the gains were modest. If one restricts the analysis to U.S. students, virtually all of these small effects disappear.

There was no effect for attitudes towards school, gender stereotyping, educational aspirations, self-concept, interpersonal relationships, or body image.

For any one child, single-sex schooling might be helpful, writes Willingham. Overall, not so much.

‘Cool’ math

PBS Math Club, a new web series, hopes to persuade middle-school girls that math is “cool.”

Short videos try to connect math to students’ interests. The video on positive and negative integers uses YouTube’s rating system as an example, reports reports Education Week Teacher.

Each video ends with a brief quiz.

Should single-sex classes be an option?

Should public schools offer single-sex classes?

In an American Enterprise Institute debate, AEI scholar Christina Hoff Sommers said single-sex schooling could help close the growing education gap between boys and girls. Sommers, who authored the book The War against Boys, thinks schools are becoming “hostile environments for young boys.”

Lise Eliot, author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain, argued that single sex schooling is bad for boys and girls and should not be an option.

Don’t segregate boys and girls in school, argues Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology and gender studies at Stony Brook University. Single-sex classes reinforce harmful stereotypes about boys and girls, he writes.

Sex-segregated education is “often justified by weak, cherry-picked, or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence,” a 2011 article in Science concluded.

Boys aren’t welcome in school

School has become a hostile environment for boys, argues Christina Hoff Sommers in TIME.

At some schools, tug of war has been replaced with “tug of peace.” Since the 1990s, elimination games like dodgeball, red rover and tag have been under a cloud — too damaging to self-esteem and too violent, say certain experts.

Tug of peace? Really?

Young boys love action narratives with heroes, bad guys, rescues and shoot-ups, she writes.

According to at least one study, such play rarely escalates into real aggression — only about 1% of the time. But when two researchers, Mary Ellin Logue and Hattie Harvey, surveyed classroom practices of 98 teachers of 4-year-olds, they found that this style of play was the least tolerated. Nearly half of teachers stopped or redirected boys’ dramatic play daily or several times a week — whereas less than a third reported stopping or redirecting girls’ dramatic play weekly.

. . . Logue and Harvey found that “bad guy” play improved children’s conversation and imaginative writing. Such play, say the authors, also builds moral imagination, social competence and imparts critical lessons about personal limits and self-restraint. Logue and Harvey worry that the growing intolerance for boys’ action-narrative-play choices may be undermining their early language development and weakening their attachment to school.

“Efforts to re-engineer the young-male imagination” send a message to boys, writes Sommers. “You are not welcome in school.”

In the last 20 years, high school girls have raised their college aspirations and their grades, while boys have not, new research shows. More girls are earning A’s, while boys’ grades have stayed about the same. “The larger relative share of boys obtaining C and C+ grades can be accounted for by a higher frequency of school misbehavior and a higher proportion of boys aiming for a two-year college degree,” researchers found.

In Asian schools, boys behave

School boys in China, South Korea and Taiwan aren’t more disruptive than girls, while there’s a large gender gap in behavior in the U.S., according to a University of Pittsburgh study.  Yet U.S., Korean and Taiwanese teachers see girls as better behaved, notes Ed Week.

Study: Girls can compete in math

Competitive Timed Tests Might Be Contributing to the Gender Gap in Math, writes Emily Richmond inThe Atlantic.

Boys do better than girls in timed math contests. But a new study of Utah elementary students finds that girls do just as well as boys in a second round of math competition and begin to do better by the third round. Furthermore, “the first-round advantage for boys disappeared if the time element was removed from that competition,” writes Richmond.

“One of the reasons girls don’t do well in competitive settings is that they don’t think they’re as good as boys—but they really are,” said Brigham Young University economist Joseph Price, one of the study’s co-authors. “That’s an information problem, rather than evidence that girls are destined for a certain outcome.”

‘Getting something right in one shot” and “working within a rigid time limit” isn’t a big part of learning math, argues Richmond, who admits she was lousy at timed math drills in school. “Isn’t it more about mastering concepts and building skills over a longer time frame, and having the patience to tackle challenging problem sets that might require multiple attempts?”

Richmond is worried about the gender gap in math. I worry about the gender gap in reading, writing, history, civics and biology, as well as the gap in high school graduation, college enrollment and college graduation. Schoolboys aren’t outperforming schoolgirls in very much these days.

Malala: ‘I want every girl to be educated’

“I want every girl, every child, to be educated,” said Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in Pakistan for her advocacy of girls’ education. Recovering from surgery in Britain, the 15-year-old girl has started a charity to support schooling for girls.