Linda Purrington (
Thu, 09 Apr 1998 10:10:45 -0700

The State of Education for Girls and Women in the United States
Do you have anything to add to this portrayal?
Respond to Title IX Advocates,

In the United States, education for women and girls is hampered by the
same devaluing, disregarding sexual harassment and assault and battery
that mark our lives in U.S. society as a whole. We do not have equal
rights under the law (the Equal Rights Amendment was reintroduced in
January 1994, with a seven-year deadline), so the right to an equal
education is protected only by a patchwork of inadequate laws such as
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, and resistant governmental
agencies such as the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of
Education. As everywhere, gender inequity is compounded by
discrimination by race, ethnic origin, first language, age, and

Education in the United States is largely supplied by public schools,
although the upper middle class often uses private schools (80 percent
of the nation's wealth is held by this 20 percent). Higher education is
supplied by both public and private colleges and universities. Access is
relatively equal for both men and women, although women remain
disadvantaged by SAT tests. Nevertheless, access to higher-paying jobs
often depends on access to advanced science and math courses, from which
women are informally but effectively discouraged from entering. Women in
professional-track higher education sometimes exceed one-half; this
represents an intense bid to garner enough human resource credits to
compete with men for scarce jobs. A woman with a college degree earns on
the average less than a man with only a high school diploma The society
access to the fruits of education by locking women out of all-male
networks of patronage, by harassing them off jobs, by failing to provide
them with the same domestic supports (free child care, housekeeping, and
informal therapy) that men are accustomed to getting. In addition, women
are treated to enough sexual and other assaults to make sure that they
do not dare step beyond their oppression. One in three women is raped,
the leading cause of hospitalization is battery, the leading cause of
workplace death for women is murder.

Because of this oppressive context it is not surprising that sexual
harassment, assault, and battery are part of the school experience from
kindergarten through postgraduate studies. At every stage, girls
outperform boys academically with the exception of tests, which is
clearly related to self-esteem and confidence. They go on to outperform
boys at all college and university levels.

U.S. public schools perform the dual function of education and
socialization. Researchers have noted that girls may perform better in
all-girls' schools, whereas boys perform better if girls are present. It
is hard to avoid the speculation that boys use their dominant status over
girls to jack up their own performance; as elsewhere in society, the
girls are there "for" the boys. The girls' oppression is the
instrumentality of the boys' success.

U.S. society is based on a rhetoric of democracy. This has polar
opposite consequences for its citizens and particularly for its
educational system. The notion of democracy as a good must be propounded
in public schools; this is good for human rights, which children thus
learn to support. However, the notion that the United States is already
a fulfilled democracy is also propounded, and this notion serves to
confuse and stifle the citizens from seeking their human rights. Gender
is such a deep split in society that public education still gets away
with ignoring it, pretending it does not exist. This deceptions
underlies most teaching and educational materials, and allotment of
funds. This deception is as much the agenda of the U.S. public
schools--the hidden curriculum--as is the idealization of democracy. The
dual nature of U.S. education is admirably suited to a show of face
equality while at the same time nailing women into rigid, disadvantaged
gender roles.

This state of affairs, however, is inherently unstable. The history
of the United States shows that you cannot raise the ideal of democracy
and still expect the citizens not to notice the inequalities they
suffer. Women are 51 percent of the population--a majority carries
weight in a democracy--and the women's movement is strong. We are
pressing for full educational equity for women as well as for other
disadvantaged segments of the population. We are insisting that Title
IX--the federal law forbidding gender discrimination in federally funded
schools--be fully enforced. The Office for Civil Rights has countered
the recent upsurge in reports of Title IX violation and lawsuits based
on Title IX, by shutting down access to compliance reviews and
investigations. The U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1992 opened up the
right to sue school districts for damages under Title IX, has grown
alarmed by women's interest in pressing for equity, and led by Clarence
Thomas, is shutting down the right to sue governmental agencies. Federal
and state courts have also been milling around trying to put the cat
back in the bag.

Education in the United States no longer takes place in a vacuum of
isolationism; like the women's movement, education is powerfully
affected by global change and accelerated, massive information exchange.
A great danger looms in the form of a widening gap between rich and poor
all over the world. The U.S. women's movement has made a conscious
effort to reach out across class, culture, and race barriers both within
the United States as well as internationally. This culture has made
Alice Walker's novel about female genital mutilation a best-seller, as
it made her book on wife battery, racism, and lesbian love a
best-seller. Such a culture is not homogeneous; there is hope for
equality, for equity in education. There is a base for activism. Walker
said, "My activism pays the rent on being alive and being here on this
planet. If I weren't active politically, I would feel as if I were
sitting back eating at the banquet without washing the dishes or
preparing the food." This commitment to democracy can inform the goals
of the U.S. women's movement in relation to the needs of women both here
and around the world for literacy and education. We can look forward to
the year 2000 with a slogan from Paulo Freire: "Each one, teach one."
Education is not just in schools.

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