Gender bias is addressed Community probes problem in schools

April 30, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

When Maureen Nash was in grammar school, the tw smartest students in one of her math classes were girls, but the boys got the most attention.

In fact, the boys got all the attention, recalled Ms. Nash, a Howard County systems analyst who looks back with puzzlement on her school days at St. Louis Roman Catholic School in Clarksville.

"It didn't bother me back then because I was a kid," she said. "At the time, I didn't notice a lot."

What happened to her at St. Louis is happening today, according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), whose local chapter held a meeting yesterday to discuss ways to address gender inequality in county schools.

About 60 educators, business leaders, politicians and community activists attended the meeting at the Faulkner Ridge Staff Development Center in Columbia.

Gender inequality is pervasive and damaging, speakers said.

"Girls simply are left out," said Susan Schaffer of the Mid-Atlantic Equity Center at American University in Washington. "Teachers call on boys more than girls, and girls are rewarded for being quiet." Girls who question and challenge -- behaviors rewarded in boys -- are seen as aggressive, power-hungry and emotional, she said.

What results is the girls' self-esteem falters, affecting the way they perform in school and the outlook they have on life, she said.

The round table discussion follows last year's AAUW national report, "How Schools Shortchange Girls."

The report found that sexual harassment of girls by boys is increasing in schools nationwide and that boys generally out-perform girls in math tests and in entering technical fields.

Howard schools address gender issues in several areas, including the new "values education" that students are receiving for the first time this year, according to Jacqueline F. Brown, the school system's human relations coordinator.

In small groups yesterday, participants brainstormed ways to narrow the gap in academic performance between boys and girls, and ways that communities and businesses can help. Among the recommendations:

* In school-business partnership programs, make businesses aware that gender inequity exists. "Businesses themselves probably need a lot of training," said Aaron Heifetz of the W. R. Grace Research Division, which is paired with Atholton High School.

* Don't take teachers who excel in multicultural curricula out of classrooms by promoting them to supervisory positions.

* Encourage women to strive for administrative positions; set up a mentor program for female teachers; provide adult role models for female students; and establish mentoring programs in which high-achieving high school girls would act as role models for middle school girls and middle school girls for elementary school girls.

* Restructure curricula to portray more women and their contributions, especially in social studies, said Hammond High School student Kerri Ruttenberg, who said she was turned off when teachers discussed war and military power.

"We never really learn about the female role in U.S. history, particularly," she said. "I feel like I've been cheated [by] the social studies department. . . . I don't know a whole lot about U.S. history because I tuned it out."

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