Why Are We Separating Boys and Girls?

Why Are We Separating Boys and Girls?

I’m always surprised to see teachers make a conscious decision to separate boys and girls in activities in school, such as lining up, taking turns, or creating teams. I think this is problematic. It contributes to gender bias and discrimination – and is damaging to BOTH boys and girls.
            Imagine for a moment that you heard a teacher tell the children, “Okay, let’s have the Black children line up on this side, and the White children on the other side.” Most of us would think this is completely inappropriate (I hope!). Yet we often do the same thing with gender. The only time this might be acceptable is going to the bathroom, but I don’t think children should line up for the bathroom, so even that instance is not one I would advocate. Imagine saying this: “Good morning, red heads and blondes.” Silly, right? Yet we point out gender differences every time we say, “Good morning, boys and girls” instead of “Good morning, children.” I’ve seen teachers use a pattern of calling on a boy, girl, boy, girl to answer questions during lessons. Why differentiate children by gender during lessons? You might be thinking that this allows for more fairness. But would you be comfortable using a White child, Black child pattern? Probably not, and that raises the question of why we are comfortable separating by gender. What’s the result of years and years of hearing these phrases and being separated by gender? 
  •  Children may learn that boys and girls are different intellectually. 
  •  Children may learn that they should be considered as different kinds of people because of their gender 
  •  Children get locked into gender stereotypes at an early age
Are boys and girls different? Of course! But not intellectually. And the physical differences are not significant for the types of activities done in early childhood or elementary grades.
            We’ve made great progress in gender equity – but there is still a long way to go, by any measure. It’s interesting to note that girls and women have made great strides in entering college in numbers greater than men, yet they are still underrepresented in many fields – especially science and math. At the same time, boys – especially Black and Latino – are rapidly dropping in number in college enrollment. They are also psychologically discouraged from entering many “helping” careers such as teaching, nursing, and social work – which have been traditionally female jobs. I wonder why these differences still persist so strongly at a time in which we are so aware of the value of diversity. Perhaps we are still reinforcing those gender differences throughout a child’s early years.
            As educators working with young children, we have a unique and important role to play in helping children reach their full potential and overcome early roadblocks of discrimination. I encourage you to consider how you might inadvertently reinforce gender stereotypes by separating boys and girls. Please share with us your thoughts about this – and other ways you’ve been successful at giving all children a positive view of gender equity.

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