Thursday, July 24, 2008

Literature Review - Role Models

The Role Model

The literature goes into detail regarding role models, beginning with Thorne (1994) who finds that boys and girls are still being segregated in the activities they perform even on the school play grounds. “Many boys, and a sprinkling of girls spread across large grassy fields, playing games of baseball, soccer, or football. The spaces where girls predominate, playing jump rope or foursquare or standing around talking, lie closer to the school building” (Thorne, 1994, p. 1). This, according to Thorne, is not a matter of decision, rather the individual’s social construction of how they ought to be. Thorne writes that “if boys and girls are different, they are not born but made that way” (p. 2). That is, there is a belief that boys and girls are socially constructed to be how they are, whether it be in play or in social desires.

The student’s actions, Sadker and Zittleman (2005) did not see them as the major problem; rather it is that teachers expect the boys and girls to act differently. Boys, the authors wrote, are expected to rebel against school work, whereas girls are expected to be conforming and hard working. Those expectations reflect gender stereotyping, which is of equal importance to the subject stereotyping that has only recently been improved.

This new form of gender stereotyping is due to boys feeling as if the language arts are feminine and could consequently threaten their masculinity (Sadker & Zittleman, 2005). The gender stereotyping is reaffirmed as girls, on average, receive superior grades on their report cards. Conversely, boys score higher on standardized tests, including verbal sections on the SAT Reasoning Test. This then could be chalked up to a possible in-class gender bias where boys enact upon a ‘boy code’ which suppresses dependency.

Agreeing with Sadker and Zittleman, Preece, Skinner, and Riall (1999) wrote that “male underachievement in schools has recently captured the headlines in the [United Kingdom], with substantially higher proportion of females now gaining high[er] grades” (p. 979). Preece et al. studied whether or not there was an actual gender difference within test scores. In doing so, the authors concluded that the written test had no real gender biases and that content should be chosen based on the educational importance rather than by gender preference.

Additionally, a fight for dominance within a class can reinforce a male’s negative behavior in the classroom (Keddie, 2006). That is, the disruptive behaviors of a boy may be a result of the individual wanting to be what he views as being male. It is then the boys’ assumptions of gendered behavior that results in disruptive actions in the classroom. Thus, hegemonic masculinity “can also be seen as ‘at odds’ with this destructive process” (Keddie, 2006, p. 533). That is, boys are being socially encouraged, according to Keddie, to fight against the social norms of education.

Furthermore, there is research to support the fact that boys are typically less enthusiastic about school then girls are (Gray & McLellan, 2006). This only worsened as boys developed through school, although the research does not specify why that is (Gray & McLellan). However, it ought to be understood that students in general were relatively positive about school (Gray & McLellan).

Revisiting the boy code, Sadker and Zittleman (2005) wrote that “boys typically attribute success to intelligence and failure to bad luck or insufficient effort” (p. 30). Additionally, boys are said to avoid subjects which are typically dominated by females, which include music, art, and reading (Sadker & Zittleman, 2005). Furthermore, an attitude which does not promote hard work, as well as lacking the desire to be open within their educational pursuits, boys are being socially molded into what a man ought to be.

However, what is it that a man ought to be? Skelton (1999) showed that a man (that of the middle-class, heterosexual sort) ought to be intelligent and proficient. However, this deviates from a study conducted where the findings discussed that male teachers were likely to protect their masculinity by discussing his “athletic prowess, [as well as] having a laugh, (not) looking smart, and having a good time with his mates (pupils)” (Skelton, 1999, p. 23). It needs to be understood, however, that these actions are found within the small amount of men that are in primary education, an area of education that is specifically avoided by men due to the perception that “working with young children [is viewed] as ‘women’s work’” (Skelton, 1999, p. 23). This is emphasized by the influence masculinity has on society where the traditions are strongly heterosexual (Jones, 2003).

Male primary teacher’s, Skelton (1999) found, intended to keep a sense of ‘laddish’ behaviors, to promote their heterosexuality. That is, the male teacher had more of a coach mentality then that of a teacher, in promoting a ‘team spirit’ while utilizing humor as a teaching tactic (Skelton, 1999). Promoting this sense of team and sport falls short of the masculine hegemonic values of intelligence and proficiency that was previously asserted. That is, if students are to discover the construction of how specific genders are to perform (Jones). Therefore, the teacher is not doing the class justice by acting in a way that does not promote the values of masculine hegemony.

Gender roles are constructed though viewing and doing appropriate gendered behaviors-which are set out by a specific society, and culture (Sabbe & Aelterman, 2007). Children, are continually performing their gender. Additionally, performances are viewed as correct or incorrect in terms of the social orders. Correct gender actions are viewed in terms of what it is a person should do to be male and what they should not do. Furthermore, gender “is thought of as dichotomous and it is assumed that everyone falls into one (and only one) of two clearly distinct categories” (Sabbe & Aetlerman, 2007, p. 525). This further promotes gender inequity in suggesting males ought to act one way, and females ought to act another.

Studies, according to Sabbe and Aetlerman, show that men and women do not differ in achievements of their students, however “when significant differences arise, women are more often held in higher regard than are men” (2007, p. 526). Furthermore, teaching is not gender neutral. That is, social and cultural aspects affect the manner in which individuals display themselves.

Conversely, female students, according to Skelton (1999), are supposed to act cooperatively, while displaying characteristics of “empathy and nurturance” (p. 25). Interestingly, these characteristics are similar to what many view a teacher to be. That is, a hypothesis of why males are straying from becoming primary teachers is due to the inability to be both masculine and a ‘caring nurturer’, which is said to be the ideal characteristics of a teacher. It is then seen for men, that primary education is a “passive or weak” profession, which would take a man to be a ‘wimp’ (Jones, 2003, p. 572).

Additionally, the perception of girls among educators is that they are “better organized and more independent learners” (Beaman et al., 2007, p. 351). In addition to this, the female students are also found to have superior communication skills, are more articulate and boast superior confidence then boys. These skills, which teachers believe play a role in the high-achievement of girls, are seen as ideal and thus, girls are labeled as the ideal student. “Being an ideal student in school may not necessarily deliver better outcomes in the post-school years, however. It may be that compliant girls are more of a benefit to their teachers than they are to themselves” (Beaman et al., 2007, p. 354). That is, while some teachers may agree with the quiet and orderly conduct typically displayed by female students; this may hinder the child’s ability to learn.

Jones (2003) wrote that it takes a certain type of man to be an effective primary school teacher. The amount of female teachers, a study found, in comparison with the distribution of males within primary schools in the United Kingdom, is believed to be unhealthy and abnormal. In consideration of the disproportionate amount of males within primary education, Jones asserted the lack of men may infect schools with an abundance of emotion.

Furthermore, Jones (2003) asserted that male students are especially in need of the positive role model. The assumption is, that a lack of same-gender role models has led to boys viewing education as being feminine and thus acting out in what Carrington (2002) refers to as ‘laddish’ behaviors. That is, this rebellion against education is said to be “a consequence of the dearth of male ‘role models’ in the primary schools” (Carrington, 2002, p. 287). Boys then are acting out, in order to rebel against their female instructors. In addition to this, lacking men in primary education also affects “the daily routines and educational practices” (Carrington, 2002, p. 288). That is, even male teachers are being feminized through association.

A further discussion of the role men play within education, Carrington (2002) writes is that of the disciplinarian. Thus, as a consequence of student behaviors, male teachers are encouraged to teach the older grades and further limit the amount of men in the primary grades. Furthermore, it has been found “that male teachers have a crucial part to play in fostering positive attitudes…among young boys” (Carrington, 2002, p. 297). These positive attitudes are vital to encouraging academic growth amongst male students in elementary education, and beyond.

Dee (2005) discussed how gender gaps are “viewed as a prominent policy concern” (p. 1). Throughout this discussion, the author raised the question of how demographics contribute to classroom dynamics and thus asserts that gender equity is required within schools and consequently within teacher training programs as well as within professional development programs. However, Dee suggested that teachers need to be role-models, which is something that cannot be taught. Being a role-model will “raise a student’s academic motivation and expectations” (p. 3). That is, the behaviors of a teacher will reflect what a successful academic career can lead too.

Beaman et al. (2006) noted that children see sex roles passively and consequently absorb how to act appropriately. Thus, a student’s motivation can be affected by the teacher as the student can feel as though he or she is being stereotyped (Dee, 2005).

Dee (2005) gathered data from a study where teachers and students were surveyed. The portion of the survey which Dee concentrated the research on is that of the teacher comments and reflections where demographics were matched with overall teacher impressions. That is, the analysis specifically discussed how teachers of a specific gender viewed the genders of his or her students.

The findings Dee (2005) generated suggested that there was a relationship between teacher impression and student behavior. However, there is not a separation within the data, rather, compiling gender into one category. That is, the gender of the teacher, whether male or female, is referred to as ‘OTHSEX’ and consequently, the teachers answered based on the gender of the opposite sex. The findings of the study then suggest that teachers found that students of the opposite sex were perceived as being more disruptive, less attentive, and completes homework less frequently. It was also found that opposing genders had a great affect on the teacher’s impression of the students then race, ethnicity, and social class. Furthermore, race and ethnicity, has a strong relationship with socioeconomic status.

In consideration of the teacher’s impressions of student gender, it is interesting to note how a student develops his or her gendered identity. Davies (1989) wrote, “the individual is not so much the product of some process of social construction that results in some relatively fixed end-product but is constituted and reconstituted through the various discursive practices in which they participate” (p. 229). That is, a student’s development within the classroom can be affected by the instructor’s preconceived ideas of the student. Thus, if an instructor expects a student to fail, the student is more likely to fail, and therefore lack academic successes.

With the ever decreasing rate of males within the teaching profession-specifically within elementary (National Education Association, 2004), commentators have showed that that there is a sexism being placed on male students, that males are being victims of a feminist movement (Sadker, 1999). One of the reasons behind this, is that “the majority of college students are women” and that percentage is ever increasing (Sadker, 1999, p. 22). This however, is not limiting the amount of stereotyped gender roles; rather, it is only encouraging them. That is, “males who express an interest in careers typically thought of as ‘feminine’ also encounter social pressures” (Sadker, 1999, p. 24). This is resulting in fewer men entering the teaching profession, as well as the males who do enter from losing a sense of masculinity.

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