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Book by UC Educator Examines Gender and the Classroom

Date: Feb. 5, 2002
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos by Dottie Stover
Archive: Research News

Gender equity in the classroom has been the subject of heated debate for decades, with the pendulum swinging in a new controversial direction in 2000. That was when social scientist Christina Hoff Sommers published The War Against Boys, How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men. In that book, Sommers took the point of view that the educational culture's extreme sensitivity to preteen and adolescent girls is now resulting in an educational crisis for boys. book cover

University of Cincinnati Professor Patricia O'Reilly is questioning why either side needs to be sacrificed. O'Reilly and Elizabeth M. Penn, a professor of education at Thomas More College, are co-editors of the book Educating Young Adolescent Girls, released last summer. Published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, the book is available in paperback through and costs $29.95.

O'Reilly says the book was in the works for three years and stemmed from conferences the UC College of Education held for middle school-aged girls in the mid 90s, as well as mini-conferences the education faculty held in the community. "We realized when we looked around, there just wasn't anything (on educating young girls) for teachers. So the book is for teachers, for people who want to be teachers, for administrators and for anyone interested in educating young adolescent girls." Pat O'Reilly

O'Reilly, professor of developmental psychology and education in the college's educational foundations program, wrote the first chapter, "Learning to Be a Girl." She is joined by several other writers who are UC education faculty, including Early Childhood Education Professor Anne Bauer, former Assistant Literacy Professor Elizabeth Peavy, Mei Tang, assistant professor of human services, and Ellen Cook, professor of human services.

O'Reilly examines a 1992 study by the American Association of University Women, as well as the 1994 Myra and David Sadker report, Failing at Fairness: How Our Schools Cheat Girls. While she says there's little evidence to show girls are falling behind boys in school, she says there is evidence that girls are falling behind, period. "Teachers tell me all the time that girls who are really sharp in math and science in fifth and sixth grades all of a sudden start becoming concerned in seventh and eighth grades about their hair and their eye shadow. Why at that age? Because we keep telling them they have to be attractive to boys."

The book studies how gender issues affect children at their earliest stages of development, starting in the home and then moving to the schools. "We also became aware through the AAUW report that teachers pay more attention to boys because boys are more difficult to educate - they're more immature at that age. We discovered that girls are being held back because schools are more focused on boys," O'Reilly continues.

O'Reilly says Educating Young Adolescent Girls is not a formula to solve the gender equity challenge, but rather a book that will prompt teachers to analyze, and possibly change their own treatment of girls and boys in their classrooms. "Schools continue to be one of society's most powerful socializing forces," O'Reilly writes in Educating Young Adolescent Girls. "Unfortunately, they are institutions that foster and support societal stereotypes for gender behavior." Pat O'Reilly, seated, with Mei Tang (left) and Anne Bauer

Other contributed chapters from University of Cincinnati education faculty:

  • Anne M. Bauer - "Tell Them We're Girls:" The Invisibility of Girls With Disabilities Bauer writes about the under-identification of girls with disabilities in schools, the sexuality issues for girls with disabilities, and about preparing them for independence in adulthood.

  • Elizabeth Peavy (with P. Twyman Hoff and Nina Eddings) - Little Warrior Sistas: Reading Their Worlds for Liberation This chapter focuses on urban education and African American girls, at an age when they're defining themselves within their culture.

  • Mei Tang and Ellen P. Cook - Understanding Relationship and Career Concerns of Middle School Girls This chapter examines girls' perceptions of careers and what they have learned are "appropriate careers for women." It also explores why many girls at this age begin to experience depression and low self esteem, and what teachers can do to help young girls deal with the challenges of relationships, self esteem and career choices.

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