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The Women in Literacy and Life Assembly
of
The National Council of Teachers of English
Current Journal Editor:
Katherine Macro kjmacro@gmail.com

Girls RULE. Or Do They?

Edna Brabham, Department of Curriculum and Teaching, Auburn University

A year ago in this report, I summarized National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results to give elementary teachers an overview of gender differences in academic achievement by subject area. At that time, I was pleased by girls' gains in math and science scores because improved scores suggested that long-standing gender gaps favoring boys might be closing in these areas. Less positive were results showing that boys continued to score lower than girls did on national assessments in reading and writing and had lower performance than girls had in the first round of tests for the arts. At that time I was encouraged but concerned about inequities in NAEP scores, but now I am alarmed--not about the NAEP results themselves or the fact that educators still have progress to make toward gender equity in education. What alarms me is selective reporting of "facts" from NAEP statistics used to back up proclamations such as "Girls RULE! Mythmakers to the contrary, it's boys who are in deep trouble!" These headlines blazed across the cover of The Atlantic Monthly's lead issue for Summer, 2000, highlighting a classroom scene dominated by a triumphantly smiling girl with book in hand, arm raised to get a turn, and a sullen-faced boy slumped at a desk in the background.

In the publication's featured article, "The War Against Boys," Christina Hoff Sommers launches an attack to debunk "the myth of the downtrodden girl" (p. 70) and declare, "only in sports are boys ahead" (p. 60). Sommer asks, "How did we come to believe in a picture of American boys and girls that is the opposite of the truth?" (p. 62). Then she fires a volley of charges naming Carol Gilligan, professor of gender studies at Harvard University, the American Association of University Women, the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, and a score of other scholars, researchers, and journalists as perpetrators of a great hoax convincing the public and educators that schools have shortchanged girls. To support the thesis that girls are the advantaged lot and plead the plight of boys as the group with odds stacked against them Sommers cites NAEP statistics in ways that fall short of telling the truth that she invokes in the article. Sommers did not report, for example, NAEP 1999 Trends in Academic Progress that examine achievement for both genders by comparing performance on national assessments given across three decades. These results show similar performance for males and females across all the assessment years for most subjects and levels. There were significant differences in some subjects, especially reading. Even in reading, however, differences for genders were smaller than those for different ethnic groups. NAEP trends also show that boys, ages 9 and 13, have increased their reading scores and that the gender gap in reading for 9-year-olds narrowed substantially between 1971 and1999.

Sommers also neglected to report achievement by gender for social sciences. On the 1998 civics tests, 4th grade boys scored higher than girls did. On geography assessments last administered in 1994, males performed better than females at all three grade levels. On U.S. history tests, also given in 1994, there were no significant differences between male and female students at grades 4 and 8, but males outperformed females at 12 grade.

In The Atlantic Monthly article, Sommers heralded girls improved achievement on 1996 math and science tests to support claims that "parents, teachers, and administrators now pay more attention to girls' deficits in math and science" (p. 74). She did not tell readers that gender differences in science were insignificant at grades 4 and 8 or that 12th grade males continued to outperform females. Neither did she mention that scores in math for males and females in 8th and 12th grades were not significantly different and that males scored higher than females at 4th grade level

The 17-point advantage reported by Sommers for girls over boys on the 1996 NAEP writing assessments were accurate for the oldest students. For 4th and 8th graders, girls scored higher than boys did by 14 and 15 points. Large gender differences in writing have persisted since the first writing assessments were given in 1984, and boys' scores decreased significantly from 1984 to 1996 in grades 8 and 11. If there is an area in which boys are academically at risk, writing is it.

Downward trends in writing achievement for males should be a source of concern for all educators, but they hardly justify headlines such as "Girls Rule!" or "The War against Boys!" Contrary to Sommers' assertion that boys outperform girls only in sports, most academic areas with a history of assessments show that boys continue to perform better than girls or, as in reading, their performance is improving. NAEP evidence of positive trends in achievement for both genders are well established. I hope that elementary teachers will congratulate themselves on the progress they are making toward gender equity in academics instead of being misled by selectively reported "facts" that have the potential to impede or reverse efforts to make education more equitable for both boys and girls. Check out NAEP trends and recent results for yourself at http://nces.ed.gov/commissioner/remarks2000/8_24_2000.asp and http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/site/home.asp and get your own view of the facts.

First Year Survival Depends on Veteran Teacher Support

Maureen Dolan, Breed Middle School, Lynn, Massachusetts

After completing my first year as a middle school English teacher, I'm all for the team/cluster concept. In my school a team is comprised of the four major subject areas (Math, Science, English and Social Studies) and meets daily for a period to discuss various issues such as underachieving students and field trips. Parent conferences are also scheduled during cluster meetings; we never meet with a parent one on one. Even if a student is only having a problem with one subject, the rest of the team is present to give feedback and added support. This "four on one" approach is not only effective in meeting with parents, but with students as well.

For a new teacher, the team is also a much-needed support system. I had many questions and problems during the first weeks of school. (My principal later told me that I had a look of panic on my face during that period.) None of these problems had anything to do with my subject area, but were all about policies and procedures. What was the bathroom policy? Do I question students before letting them go to the nurse? If a student talks back do I send him or her to the office? As a typical new teacher I was more concerned with doing fun activities than with establishing and practicing firm policies and procedures. My team, with over 65 years of teaching experience among them, was there to offer their advice.

As one of the new teachers at my school, I got assigned to the only "split" cluster-two classes of 6th graders and two classes of 7th graders. Ours was the only team to have two preps; all the other clusters were all one grade. Two of my teammates, Judy and Walter, were 30-year veterans. Judy and I often huddled in between classes in our adjacent doorway while our students settled into their seats. I marveled at the fearful looks and pin-drop quiet that came from Judy's room after one stem look from her. The kids in my room, on the other hand, took five minutes to start working. I remember their bemused grins while alternately reprimanded, pleaded and threatened them with detention. I learned to actually give detentions, of course, and even send kids to the office. However, the dye was cast: I became known as the easiest teacher in the cluster, and I was.

I had many consultations about how to enforce better discipline in my classroom. Advice from my teammates, my aunt (a retired English teacher), and various books on the subject were all helpful. Since Judy was the closest person for me to observe, I often compared myself to her. "But they don't listen to me the way they listen to you!" I wailed during team meetings when I was especially frustrated. The response was always the same: You can't compare yourself to a 30-year teacher! Although I knew this was true, it didn't make me feel any better.

Team support is one advantage to teaching in a middle school, but it's not the only one. While high school teachers scoff at the idea of teaching middle school, the enthusiasm of a class full of raised hands is a lot more gratifying than the apathy found in a typical high school class. One of my fondest

Well, dear gatekeeper. Keep the gate. As Alice said, "You're nothing but a pack of cards!" Embossed business cards. Please don't take offense. I don't really find you terribly offensive. Just banal.

Pardon me, Mr. Gatekeeper, while I peek behind your persona: a common application insatiably craving 1598 on the SAT (no perfect 1600s, please), recovery from an often-fatal illness, a letter of recommendation from a teacher who can attest to my leadership skills in sheltering the homeless using no government grants, my candid acknowledgment that I spurned the very college that is your fiercest rival.

You say I will surely do well Elsewhere. You are right, you know. I will do fine elsewhere. And you will do just fine without me. You are not, of course, the mirror on the wall-telling me who is the fairest one of all. But you do remind me of the vendors in John Bunyan's Vanity Fair in The Pilgrim ~ Progress. You do shill your school. And you also remind me of the mouse in Lewis Carroll's caucus race- you tell a dry tale as you race for the stars of my generation. "Pass the torch," you intone. "Have some culture," you invite, much like the March Hare at the tea party to which Alice finds herself not invited. When I reach for your culture, you reply, "There isn't any-for you."

Rest assured, you may have admitted the next Bill Clinton, the next Al Gore, the next George W. Bush. But I am not so sure you have allowed

into your hallowed halls the next Madeline Albright, she who told this year's college graduates, "After two world wars, the Holocaust, multiple genocides and countless conflicts, we must ask how long it will be before we are able to rise above the national, racial and gender distinctions that divide us, and embrace the common humanity that binds us" (quoted. in "First e-mail class").

Do you really think you have the next Bishop Joseph Fiorenza who indicts "the greed culture" and pleads with this year's graduates to ignore the "pursuit of an attractive and comfortable future" while seeking instead "the call to public service" and "the common good"? (quoted in "First e-mail class").

Do you have the next Richard H. Brown, a CEO of Electronic Data Systems Corp., who advises graduates to "give technology its soul, its heartbeat" and to ignore failure? (quoted in "'First e-mail class").

You don't? No problem. Be happy. Don't admit the Ralph Waldo Emersons and the Virginia Woolfs of our generation. Simply invite them to be graduation speakers a decade or so hence.

Mr. Gatekeeper, you have made the admissions process to colleges banal. You have stood, to use Parker Palmer's words, "in the midst of this astonishing universe, sifting its wonders through reductionist screens, debunking amazement with data and logic, downsizing mystery to the scale of our own minds." Perhaps your school itself is rooted in banality? Palmer observes, "The root of all banality-including as Hannah Arendt named it, 'the banality of evil'-is our failure to find the other worthy of respect'" (111). Don't worry, Mr. Gatekeeper, I know you'll still respect me in four years.

But do I want to be on your waiting list? As Melville's Bartelby said: "I would prefer not to."

So please don't come calling. But you can call me: No-Longer-Waiting The Lady of Shallot Ophelia Revived Whatever

(No-Longer- Waiting is meant to represent the voices of many high school seniors heard by Carol Sullivan, who teaches English a J.K. Mullen High School in Denver and is the high school representative for WILLA.)

Works Cited:

"'First e-mail class' receives high-tech wisdom, warnings." USA Today June 2, 2000: 19A.

Palmer, Parker. The Courage to Teach/Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998.

Steinberg, Jacques. "College Gatekeepers Read Between the Lines." The New York Times. April 3, 2000. June 17, 2000. <http://archives.nytimes.com-archives/>.[This is no longer a valid link, you may view this article here]

No Longer Waiting

Carol Sullivan, Mullen High School, Denver, Colorado

Dear College Gatekeeper:

Pardon me while I put on another persona. I mean, I received your letter offering me a position on your waiting list-not a secured place in your class of 2004. Charmed I'm sure. Or as my friend Justine, our school's valedictorian, said when she received her rejection letters from two of the five schools to which she applied: thanks for telling me I suck.

"Gatekeeper," the New York Times called your ilk, the college admissions officer, on April 3, the very day many of us received your missiles, I mean missives.

Me, I'd call you a Summoner-shamelessly selling indulgences in the tradition of Chaucer's carbuncle-ridden faux keeper of the keys to the kingdom in The Canterbury Tales.

"Watch your resume, your transcript, your community service," you tell us as we make our pilgrimages to your college campuses. "And pass the $100 application fee, token of your willingness to give more. Light your lamps of learning," you exhort us, as if we were vestal virgins.

"That's our last class, hanging on the wall," you preen, as mono-maniacally as the Duke in Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess." "Our last class-the best and the brightest." And, in your latest correspondence with me, you add (not exactly in these words): "We here at the Best College Endowments Can Buy choose never to stoop. So you had best secure a spot at another college. Our pool of applicants has, alas, grown as rapidly as Alice's tears in her Adventures in Wonderland. So sorry. Be happy."

You do go on, Mr. Gatekeeper. I mean, you took me for Cinderella's stepsister. You decided my feet were too big, didn't you? And maybe my college application essay put you off? Perhaps I needed more levity, less allusion, more alliteration, less asperity, more adulation, less pallor, more milk-of-human-kindness, less diplomacy, a tad more militancy? Did you find me as savvy as Hillary but not quite so lippy, as youthful as Chelsea but not quite so connected, as ethnic as Oprah but not quite so moneyed

Is It a Guy Thing?: Coaching and Gender Issues

by Pat Bloodgood

As a retired teacher, I'm no longer able to make daily contact with fellow teachers -one of the downsides of retiring (but, I hasten to as-sure, not enough downside to make me want to go back). This leads me to wondering if things have changed in the few years since I left, particularly in the area of women's issues. Specifically: when I was teaching, we had a male coach who hugged both female and male students. This, he claimed, made him a "safe" hugger, since he neither touched "inappropriately" nor singled out female students. Balderdash! The girls secretly called him "Lech" and never considered his hugging benign, although none felt confident enough to tell her parents. He was a WINNING coach and popular with the male athletes, and, of course, the administration.

Another incident: when I was drama coach, I was sent a note every time I requested a last-period announcement (just before the dismissal bell), which the principal (male) discouraged. As far as I was able to find out, (by innocently asking coaches who made last period announcements whether they found the notes annoying - "What notes?") I was a female non-athletic coach; I got notes.

Tell me, are these guys still around? I hope not. But I'd be more than glad to hear from anyone who has a story. Maybe we can figure out a way to draw some attention, if this behavior does still exist. My email is pbloodgood@earthlink.net, and I will be at the WILLA table in Milwaukee (Exhibition Hall). No, I won't use any names if you write me;

I remember retribution, too.


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