The legitimacy of gender differences: do they go as far as the classroom does?

Jill Norris February 13, 2013 Comments Off
The legitimacy of gender differences: do they go as far as the classroom does?

Recently, article topics such as gender roles and what it means to be male or female have been making headlines as more research is completed to try to explain this complex phenomenon. The New York Times, a current example, published an article on Feb. 2 discussing a recent study that examines why boys tend to earn lower grades than girls, even though both genders score equally on standardized tests.
The answer, according to a study published in the Journal of Human Resources, is that teachers factor behavior into a student’s overall grade. After reaching this conclusion by analyzing data from more than 5,800 students between kindergarten and fifth grade, it’s hard not to wonder whether boys are at an academic disadvantage simply because of their male genetics and whether or not they should be accommodated for it.
Dr. Amy Thomason, assistant professor of education, does not believe that behavior should affect a child’s grades. However, she is still able to see why it frequently is. “All aspects of development are interrelated; a lack of self-regulation skills is likely to contribute to lower grades,” she said. “Grades in coursework often assess different skills than standardized tests do.”
I agree with Thomason’s statement explaining that grades and standardized test scores illustrate different skills and mental capacities. However, this is exactly why I disagree with her general feelings about grade calculations. While state and federal exams display a student’s intelligence, I believe that overall grades should demonstrate a child’s life skills, such as behavior and working well with others. Therefore, poor behavior should be reflected in a student’s grade, whether that student be male or female.
Despite senior early childhood education major Samantha Blewitt’s agreement with Thomason’s opinion that behavior should not affect a child’s grades, Blewitt also shares my idea that boys should not be seen as unfairly graded simply because they are more likely to act out in the classroom. She feels that additional elements in a child’s life influence his or her behavior. “There are many factors that could affect a child’s behavior which include: divorced parents, abuse, chemical imbalances, no support at home, death in the family and many more,” she stated.
Blewitt has also experienced first-hand the study’s findings that boys act out more frequently in class. “I do believe that more young boys have behavioral problems in school,” she said. “Boys tend to handle their problems in a more physical and verbal manner than girls tend to do. Emotional/behavioral problems do go hand in hand, but girls tend to deal with their problems mainly in an emotional way.”
Thomason has also had similar experiences with working with young students during her career. “There is also evidence that young girls are socialized from a young age to be more compliant and to have the behavior skills needed for success in school,” she stated.
While the study explains that boys are more likely to exemplify poor behavior, both Thomason and Blewitt believe that behavior can be modified and altered as a child grows up – thus illustrating that boys can break from their apparent genetic disadvantage. “It is like having a bad habit; you can work on stopping that habit, but it may come back around,” Blewitt explained. Perhaps if teachers continue factoring a child’s behavior into his or her grade, the student will be more likely to improve behavior in order to be rewarded rather than punished.
To accommodate a young boy’s grade simply because of his gender seems like a new way of expressing the old “boys will be boys” mentality. While I am not a genetics wiz nor understand the complex workings of a human’s genetic code, I do believe that students should be held to equal standards in the classroom, no matter their differences in gender, race, ethnicity or any other influential factor.
To say that boys should be helped because they tend to display worse behavior than girls is like unjustly passing girls in gym class because they are stereotypically not going to be as athletic as a male classmate. Anybody could say that they are at a disadvantage, which is why accommodating everyone for every trivial setback that they face seems monotonous. If men have been able to live successful lives, despite their newly discovered handicap, then there must be exceptions to this rule, as I am sure there is in the well-behaved label of young girls.

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