Boys Have Problems in School, Too (page 5)
Recently, there has been recognition that boys, particularly African American and Latino boys, have increased problems in schools. In elementary school, boys are more likely to be diagnosed with learning disabilities and assigned to special education, are more likely to be suspended for behavior problems, and regularly score lower on standardized tests (Gurian & Stevens, 2005). In high school, boys drop out more and are more likely to be involved in serious disciplinary cases. Over 80 percent of violence in schools is initiated by boys (Flood, 2000). The excellent work of the Children’s Defense Fund (2007) on the “cradle to prison pipeline” notes the increased incarceration of young men.
One reality is that with the dramatic changes in family structure, more and more single-parent families are headed by women and young boys in these families have fewer males to teach them appropriate, mature male behavior (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2006). Increasing numbers of young boys bring disruptive and potentially violent behaviors to school. Schools, with few male teachers in the elementary grades, have difficulty dealing with this behavior (King & Gurian, 2006).
A special task force in the state of Maryland examined the particular crisis in school behavior and success of African American boys and recommended, among other ideas, single-gender classrooms in some schools (Task Force on the Education of Maryland’s African-America Males, 2006).
We know from studies of incarceration and studies of working-class life that young women are being far more successful in avoiding incarceration and developing a professional life than are young men (Schmalleger & Bartollas, 2008). In a rapidly changing and globalizing economy, young women are being more successful than are young men (Weis, 2004).
A particular concern has been voiced about the destructive impact on African American children, particularly boys, of common public school practices such as negating children’s home cultures and using biased assessment methods, usually carried out in elementary schools by female European American teachers. Researchers King, Foster, Ladson-Billings, and others have documented several basic issues facing African American girls and boys in classrooms in Teaching Diverse Populations: Formulating a Knowledge Base (Hollins, King, & Hayman, 1994b). They have suggested characteristics and tendencies in the African American culture that teachers can use as background information to reduce the cultural conflicts in the classroom and to improve student achievement. The excellent work Urban Girls: Resisting Stereotypes, Creating Identities (Leadbeater & Way, 1996) offers a needed balance to the earlier limited research.
The predominantly European American teaching profession needs such research to begin to understand the diverse classroom roles of girls and boys within specific cultures. For example, young Latinas who succeed often have supportive parents, particularly mothers (Gándara, 1995). These insights support the importance of schools offering programs to develop parental support for pursuing education and for attending college (Gándara, 1995; Ginorio & Huston, 2001). One persistent social myth is that women do most of the work in the home and men do most of the work outside the home. Amott and Matthaei (1991) provide a multicultural history of how farm and working-class women have labored for wages in increasing numbers since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the Unites States in the 1840s. The great historical and social events of the 20th century—the Great Depression (1929–1939), the shift from a rural to an urban society, the worker shortages caused by World War II—brought even more women into the paid labor force. More recently, the economic stagnation that began in the 1970s has produced a dramatic increase in the number of middle-class women entering the paid workforce (see Figure ). Although more than 50 percent of all women of color have been in the paid labor force since the 1950s, since the 1970s more than 50 percent of all women over age 16 have worked for wages (Amott & Matthaei, 1991). According to the AFL–CIO (2002):
More women are working than ever before. And they’re looking for solutions to the problems of juggling work and family, making ends meet and finding respect and opportunity on the job....Over the past century, women workers have grown steadily in number and as a proportion of the workforce.
- The number of working women has grown from 5.3 million in 1900 to 18.4 million in 1950 and to 70 million in 2006.
- Women made up 18.3 percent of the labor force in 1900, 29.6 percent in 1950 and 46.6 percent in 2006.
In the United States, many women of color must assume extra responsibilities to protect and advance their community’s interests. African American women, for example, are often looked to as the center of strength and the source of leadership within their communities. Perhaps because they are regarded by the macroculture as less threatening than African American men, African American women may be less impeded and more accepted as they assume positions of responsibility in their communities or seek career advancement in the professional world. West (1993b) describes the fear of black men and the acceptance of African American women as in part a result of “psychosexual racist logic.” Yet many African American women are well prepared for their role as economic provider. Many African societies had strong female leadership. Slavery forced a matrifocal family structure on the African American community. The women of many African American families have drawn strength from this long tradition of female leadership.
Latinas share many of the racially based economic burdens of African American women, including the responsibility of caring for the elderly and for extended families. Strong female leadership was also common in many Mesoamerican societies prior to the Spanish conquest. Currently, matrifocal family structures have developed in Mexico in response to the migration of millions of male farm workers to labor in U.S. agricultural fields. Most Mexican American and Latino families in the United States remain patriarchal, similar to those in the dominant European American society (for more on this complex issue, see Gándara, 1995; Garcia, 2001; Ramirez & Castañeda, 1974; Váldes, 1996). Girls and young women have paid a price for this continued patriarchy, lagging behind African American women in entrance into college and professional schools until the 1990s (Ginorio & Huston, 2001).
The oppression of African American, Latina, and some rural European American women has taught them to work in cooperative communities. Families take care of the elderly, care for children troubled by divorce and abandonment, and take extended family members (cousins, aunts, etc.) into their homes. In these communities, women serve on school–parent advisory councils and keep churches functioning. Women are the primary social service providers in these communities.
School curricula should acknowledge and recognize the extensive contributions of women to the community’s health. The female-centered home and community provide a rich and extensive breadth of background knowledge on which to build an educational curriculum. Moll, Vélez-Ibañez, and Greenberg (1992) assert that children gain when classrooms draw on this community knowledge and use it to advance literacy instruction. Multicultural education is important in this context because curriculum and literacy efforts should give more emphasis to women’s contributions in order to provide role models for female students and to counterbalance the devaluation of women by the media and by the patriarchal traditions of the macroculture.
Although European American women have attended colleges since the 1840s and African American women have had access to the traditionally Black colleges that rose up in the South after Reconstruction, substantial numbers of other women of color did not gain access to higher education until the 1970s. The development of both ethnic studies and women’s studies on campuses has opened new doors of scholarship and expression. In Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, Hooks (1994) offers several powerful essays on how race, class, and gender interact in the classroom.
An outpouring of African American, Latina, Native American, and Asian women writers has redefined women’s sphere in the United States to include women of color. Amy Tan, Gloria Anzaldúa, Maya Angelou, Bell Hooks, Olivia Castellano, Paula Gunn Allen, Wilma Mankiller, Marian Wright Edelman, and others provide insights into the diverse voices and insights of the many peoples of our nation.
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