City University of New York Graduate Center
Many grant-funded projects in the United States have dealt with advancing gender equity in education. Nevertheless the low level of awareness of gender equity among classroom teachers is astonishing. Why hasn't there been more progress?
One reason is that professional education associations rarely feature major speeches on gender equity, and when a workshop on gender equity is given, most of those in attendance are already convinced of the importance of the issue and are doing something about it. The mainstream educational media occasionally run articles on gender equity but it is hardly a top priority.
Another reason for the lack of awareness of gender equity among so many teachers has been in the types of activities gender equity specialists have carried out over the past 20 years. A major activity has been to increase the awareness of classroom teachers about gender equity through the primary vehicle of the inservice workshop. There have surely been thousands of them-held at local, state, and national professional meetings, at universities, and in schools, and taught by gender equity specialists who are professors, gender equity grantees such as myself, the occasional classroom teacher or administrator, and local, state, or national education agency employees.
I see several reasons why this vast effort has not had as much effect as we might have hoped. For one, most of the workshops are the "quick-fix" type of an hour or two. While activities designed to create awareness of gender inequities are certainly essential, teachers, like the rest of us, have developed sexist attitudes and beliefs over a lifetime. An hour or two aren't enough to create substantial "cognitive dissonance." Second, most of the workshops stop with awareness of the problem, passing lightly over solutions, and without solutions there can be no progress. Third, classroom teachers have many professional agendas competing for their attention.
Gender equity specialists must have the active and widespread cooperation of classroom teachers. We do not personally teach girls in K-12 classrooms, nor do most of us teach prospective teachers. Without enlisting classroom teachers and professors of education in substantial numbers to address gender equity in their teaching, our work can be of no benefit to girls in schools.
This article addresses a critical link-the involvement of educators in gender equity-and specific ways I have found to be successful in moving them from a lack of interest to active commitment.
Teacher Education Equity Project
I designed a gender equity instruction project to reach teachers before they enter the classroom: at the preservice teacher education stage of their careers. The Teacher Education Equity Project serves 60 professors of education in mathematics, science, and technology at 40 colleges and universities in 27 states from Alaska to Florida. It is funded primarily by the National Science Foundation, with additional support from IBM, Hewlett Packard, and AT&T for a total of $1,028,000 over the three years 1993-1996. We have a full-time staff of three.
Participants receive, expenses paid, a five-day seminar and a three-day follow-up meeting, a minigrant of $750 per participant, and extensive publicity about their participation. In exchange, they do three things: teach gender equity to their students in education methods classes, share what they learned at the seminar with their colleagues, and carry out an approved minigrant project relating to gender equity in preservice teacher education.
Seminar sessions included An Overview of the Issues in Gender Equity in Education, a review of 20 areas of gender equity (language, legislation, testing, sexual harassment, and others) to convey a sense of the systemic nature of sexism in education; Research Overview of Girls and Women in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education and Careers, an analysis of the effect of societal norms, educational experiences, and student dispositions on girls' and women's attitudes, grades, test scores, motivation, and persistence; Classroom Interaction and Peer Harassment, an examination of biased classroom interactions via role play and strategies for making the classroom a more equitable place; Feminist Approaches to Teaching Mathematics, Science, and Technology, a session that presented three approaches to syllabus design based on models of feminist pedagogy; Evaluating Gender Equity Projects, a session with principles, tips, and materials for evaluation; and Gender Equity in Preservice Mathematics/Technology/Science Education, three concurrent sessions at which a book of activities for professors of education to use in methods courses with education students was presented to participants.
The minigrant projects are quite varied. One involves education students in planning and teaching an existing week-long summer camp program on math, science, and computers for 150 seventh and eighth grade girls. Another has math and science education students design and carry out gender equity action research projects in their field experience schools for course credit.
It is clear to me that most of the participants in the project have become committed and effective activists. As one participant from Oregon wrote,1 "It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what it was that changed my lens for viewing the world, but that's exactly what happened. I can't go into a classroom without thinking about these issues. . . . My teaching looks and feels different. It is very exciting."
This outcome is all the more remarkable in that most of the participants did not start out with background knowledge in women's studies or gender equity. Many were not even aware of the widely publicized findings a few years ago of two studies on biased classroom interaction patterns. 2 What, then, accounts for their transformation?
Seminar content. A participant from South Dakota wrote that "the intense training we received during our training session in Minneapolis made a lasting impression." It was deliberately intense, because the strength of years of unexamined sexist assumptions requires considerable force to pierce. Nationally known instructors reinforced the message. As a seminar participant wrote, "Your guest speakers were great people who raised the credibility of the entire program." The instructors were chosen not only for their expertise but their teaching ability: clarity, liveliness, warmth, and ideological moderation, the last because I was concerned that speakers perceived as "radical" would alienate novices.
The first session at the seminar was important in setting the tone. I invited participants to describe the various gender gaps they had discovered in their schools, colleges, or universities. For the next hour and a half that's what they did, so that each saw that her or his gender imbalance wasn't unusual, they learned that most of them had been surprised at what they had discovered, and they began to get a sense of each other as colleagues.
Many participants have mentioned the materials they received at the seminar as particularly helpful: a thick packet of 18 brochures and books plus five looseleaf binders-one a 540-page compendium of materials for my overview session on gender equity, one of handouts for the other sessions, and three of activities to be used to teach preservice education students about gender equity in math, science, and technology. 3 For people new to gender equity, the vastness and the range of materials was a revelation and helped to convince them that there was indeed a problem with education for girls and that researchers and teachers had developed extensive solutions. An Oregon participant said, "The notebooks presented things in a global way and broke the issue apart in a more systematic way. The research base was really helpful in convincing our faculty there is validity in what we are trying to do here."
Her second sentence is very important. I felt it was essential that participants take home a good selection of research on gender equity, because they needed to have tools readily available for dealing with resistance from colleagues charging "feminist extremism." As a participant from Idaho said, "I love the resource materials we came away with. They are a much needed crutch and springboard, particularly because they are 'middle of the road' and not 'radical.'"
Seminar atmosphere. I told participants that the gender imbalances they reported were not their fault; they did not create the problem, although they inadvertently contributed to it like everyone else in a sexist society (including myself), but it was in their power to fix it. This point is essential, because many newcomers to gender equity are afraid we are going to accuse them of oppressing poor defenseless little girls. They're angry with us before we say a word, which obviously does not produce a good learning environment.
Similarly, I permitted no male-bashing because most novices assume simplistically that sexism is exclusively men's fault. ("There are no girls in Physics because all the science teachers in my school are men," for example, could not go unchallenged.) It is simply not true that male teachers are the problem and female teachers are the solution: there are plenty of helpful men and sexist women. Male-bashing effectively releases men from any responsibility for gender equity solutions-if maleness causes sexism then they can't help being sexist, which I do not accept. In addition, male-bashing would have insulted and alienated the third of the participants who were men, thus defeating the very purpose of the project for them.
A further aspect was the creation of a group ethos. Newcomers to gender equity can feel quite alone when their new commitment is not shared, or is even disparaged, by colleagues. Eventually enough colleagues become interested that the isolation tends not to last, but initially it is very important to reassure the novice that she or he is not alone.
Follow-up. The essence of our follow-up is one well described by a participant from Pennsylvania: "This project works because you've made us accountable for portions of it. So many workshop/seminars are simply presentations of information without any responsibility for participant involvement afterward. You've maintained contact and pushed us to be active. By making us accountable, you've brought us into the project fully."
The electronic network we established for the Teacher Education Equity Project has been extremely successful. The network contains information about participants' activities; summaries of newly approved minigrant projects; news of resources (print, electronic media, conferences); requests for panelists for conference sessions on the project; discussions of various project-related topics; and so forth. Participants strongly preferred that the network not be opened up to the world at large, thus enabling the network to function as group "glue."
The network has been our main vehicle for follow-up. An Alaska participant commented, "The listserv has been very beneficial. Even though I haven't sent a lot of messages to the group, I feel that reading the messages posted on a weekly basis keeps me informed and committed to the project. I believe without the bulletin board it would be easy to get distracted with other projects and let things slide. When I see what others are doing, I feel a real obligation to follow through."
We also produce a newsletter every two months with material that has appeared on the network, partly to give everyone a hard copy organized by topic that they can share with others if they choose, partly to send to the five non-network participants, and partly to have an ongoing report to send to funders, seminar instructors, advisory committee members, and others.
Another form of follow-up activity is the participants' minigrant projects. I visited one project in Utah where a professor chose to use her $750 to pay modest stipends to students who helped her teach a five-hour workshop for area teachers on gender equity, and to pay for lunch and materials for the teachers.
The three-day follow-up meeting for the Teacher Education Equity Project was taught primarily by the 60 participants, as they reported on what they learned in their minigrant projects and shared what they accomplished in their classrooms and institutions.
The Teacher Education Equity Project is an approach that clearly has worked to change educators, in this case professors of education, from uninformed to committed. In the first year of their participation the 60 of them taught 5,000 preservice teachers about gender equity, and these new teachers are graduating to their own classrooms where they will influence the development of hundreds of thousands of girls and boys over the years. The 60 professors also taught 5,000 others-inservice teachers, colleagues, parents, and so forth about gender equity. In addition, they made about 150 presentations to colleagues locally and nationally. And this is the record of only one year. We can change the world, and dramatically.
This article is adapted from the paper "How Do We Get Educators to Teach Gender Equity?" prepared for "Is There a Pedagogy for Girls?" A Colloquium Sponsored by UNESCO and the Institute of Education, University of London, London, England, January 10-12, 1995. As of July 1, 1996, Ms. Sanders will be at the College of Education, University of Washington, Seattle.
Marta Larson, University of Michigan
Researchers and educators alike have recently begun to recognize the need for our teacher preparation programs to be inclusive of multicultural and gender equity issues; but while some accrediting bodies have standards concerning multicultural education, there are no such standards concerning gender equity. Although equity issues have recently begun to be infused into curricula, these often vary by course and instructor within an institution. Thus, education students are often ill prepared to deal with multicultural gender-fair issues in their own future classrooms.
There is almost no research exploring gender equity issues in teacher preparation programs and little research concerning multicultural issues. Most of the research is focused on classrooms in general rather than on student knowledge, attitudes, and preparation for their own future role as teachers. If information concerning the degree to which students are prepared to deal with gender and multicultural equity issues were available to faculty teaching education courses, those who believe these issues are important would be in a better position to integrate them into the curriculum.
A logical place to begin to influence the classrooms of the future is in teacher preparation programs. Contrasting faculty beliefs about the amount of equity information they integrate into their curricula with student recollections regarding the information they received about equity while preparing to become teachers might reveal how effective faculty efforts were.
Thus, the intent of this study was to survey students in teacher education programs and their faculty to determine (a) how students and faculty define multicultural gender-fair education, (b) what percent of courses deal with equity issues, (c) student and faculty beliefs about student level of preparation in dealing with equity issues when teaching, (d) student and faculty attitudes and beliefs concerning equity, and (e) what experiences each has had in teacher education with these issues.
Teacher education faculty and students enrolled in student teaching from seven colleges and universities across the country responded to the invitation to participate in this study. All participation was voluntary. The goal was to have a stratified sample of large and small, public and private, geographically diverse institutions, with a wide variety of student demographics represented. At each institution, all faculty involved in teacher training and all student teachers were asked to complete a survey. Six of the seven schools submitted data, with five schools submitting data that was complete enough to analyze. Therefore, the results that follow are based on these five schools and raise some good questions for further study.
Each section of the survey contained questions concerning race, class, gender, disability, and language differences. In addition, information was collected concerning the demographics of the school population and how equity is incorporated into the school program (i.e., one course on equity or infusion throughout courses).
Student information was collected from student teachers because they have generally completed most of their course work. Teacher information was collected from as many teacher education faculty members as possible from each institution. Demographic data included the student enrollment, a percentage breakdown of student enrollment by gender and race, the number of students currently student teaching, the number of faculty and instructors, and a percentage breakdown of faculty by gender and race.
Descriptive analyses were conducted for students and faculty separately by school. Student perceptions were compared to faculty perceptions for each question. In addition, differences between schools were noted.
One issue addressed in the debate over the inclusion of multicultural gender-fair education is whether it should be taught as a separate course or infused throughout the curriculum.
When asked whether the school had a specific course that addressed multicultural and/or gender-fair education, some faculty and students believed there was such a course at their school while others believed there was no such course. This result was true for all five schools surveyed.
Those who believed there was such a course were further asked whether it was a required course and to describe its content. Again, there was no consensus from any of the schools as to whether the course was required. Examination of the written responses to this question revealed that those who described a specific course often were not describing the same course even though they were from the same institution.
There is no course that is devoted to these topics that both faculty and students can identify at any of the institutions surveyed. While many people believe the issues are covered, there is no consensus on how or where this is happening.
In order to explore the infusion approach to multicultural gender-fair teaching, faculty and students were asked two questions concerning their courses. First, they were asked how many of their courses dealt with the issues of analyzing bias in instructional and testing materials; teaching from diverse points of view; working with students with limited English proficiency; developing student self-confidence; incorporating multicultural history; addressing learning styles; and dispelling misconceptions, stereotypes, and prejudices.
Developing student self-confidence, addressing learning styles, and dispelling myths were the topics addressed most often. These topics were followed by teaching from diverse points of view, addressing multicultural history, and developing bias-free testing. Generally, faculty responded that they addressed all of these issues in most of their classes. Students, however, said that the latter set of topics were addressed in only some of their classes. Finally, analyzing bias in instructional materials and working with students with limited English proficiency were listed by both groups as the topics dealt with in the fewest number of courses.
The second question on infusion in the classroom asked faculty and students how many of their education courses prepared students to deal with the following issues in their own teaching: conducting equitable discussions; incorporating diverse viewpoints; working with varying levels of English proficiency; encouraging student control of success; incorporating the best experiences of all cultures and both genders; equitable handling of discipline problems; and dispelling misconceptions, stereotypes, and prejudices.
Again, similar patterns emerged in all schools surveyed. Both students and faculty considered encouraging student control of success, dispelling myths, conducting equitable discussion, and incorporating diverse views as items that students were more prepared to deal with in their own teaching. Both students and faculty believed students were less prepared to deal with incorporating all experiences into the curriculum, using equitable discipline, and utilizing teaching techniques for varying levels of English proficiency.
It must be noted that faculty and students were actually addressing these questions differently. Faculty responded to the number of their own courses where these issues were taught while students responded to the number of total courses that dealt with the issues. Faculty felt that they deal with most of these topics while the broader picture that the students presented is that this trend does not extend to all teacher education courses.
An additional question addressed student preparation for dealing with these issues in their own teaching whether or not the issues had been covered in courses. Faculty were asked how prepared students are to deal with these issues in their own teaching while the student question was more personally directed at how prepared the individual student was to deal with these issues in her/his own teaching.
Although students felt that only a portion of their classes prepared them, they rated themselves as being prepared to deal with encouraging student control of success, dispelling myths, conducting equitable discussions, and incorporating diverse views. In addition, they felt somewhat prepared to deal with the other issues of incorporating all experiences, handling discipline, and working with varying levels of English proficiency. Faculty tended to agree with student perceptions, although in one case, that of dealing with incorporating all experiences into the curriculum, students rated themselves as more highly prepared than did the faculty.
Findings suggest that in all of these schools, exposure to issues of multiculturalism and gender equity was sporadic and probably dependent on the students' choice of instructor. It was unclear whether any of these schools had courses that were designed specifically to deal with multicultural and gender equity issues. In addition, infusion of these issues varied greatly both within schools and across schools. If infusion is to be used as the avenue of dissemination, differences within courses where several faculty teach the same course must be addressed. At the schools in this study, like most schools, the instructor has a great deal of control over what is taught in the course and how it is taught. While academic freedom needs to be preserved, we need to ensure that students who take the same course from different instructors get essentially the same course. This is the only way the infusion model will be effective.
While the initial results of this study allow us to describe patterns emerging in teacher education programs, a possible long-term result is to provide institutions with a way to evaluate their own efforts in promoting multicultural gender-fair education to identify areas that may need to be strengthened.
This study was conducted in 1992 under the auspices of the National Coalition for Sex Equity in Education (NCSEE) Task Force on Teacher Preparation. Researchers included Betty Barber, Dr. Trevor G. Gardner, and Dr. Patricia A. Pokay, all of Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Michigan, and Marta Larson of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Teaching Girls Retreats:
by Judith Dorney