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Gender-segregated science classrooms.

Megan Brown mbrown at fred
Tue Jun 6 12:50:28 EST 1995

My high school experiences in math and science were very positive. I was 
in advanced math classes which technically were not "streamed" because 
our school district philosophy didn't allow this. But only students with 
a certain level of competence could do the work in these classes so that 
they were effectively "streamed." In this atmosphere, with very bright 
and capable boys and girls, I remember no discrimination toward the 
girls. I remember no pressure from the boys in these classes to not be a 
"too-smart female." The teachers for these classes were all wonderful. 
Once a month the class got together early in the morning at a nearby 
pancake house and had breakfast. Both girls and boys attended.

In junior high (ages 12-14) I had a less positive experience. At this level, 
classes were not streamed, and I don't know if this is relevant or not. The 
teacher just did not like me. I know there was one other girl he really 
disliked too. I don't know if our being girls had anything to do with his 
dislike, or if his own youth and inexperience made him socially inept. I 
was very interested in his class and tried to participate fully. One day 
my parents received a phone call from the school administration saying 
that they needed to come to the school for a conference about me. My 
mother and I met with school administration who said that this teacher 
complained that I talked too much in class and "dominated" the class 
proceedings. Instead, I should not participate so much, let other 
students have a chance, etc. I was totally shocked/horrified/embarrassed 
by this entire proceeding. My parents were furious with me for my "bad" 
behavior in class and always after that (for years) rubbed my nose in it and 
called me a "smart aleck" or some such insult whenever they wanted to 
hurt me. Now I had a hard time telling how much truth there was to what 
this teacher was saying. I was actually on the shy side in school and 
didn't think of myself as "dominating." But yet I knew students who were 
"know-it-alls" and always raised their hands to answer every single 
question and didn't let other students have a chance. So my reaction to 
this was to never volunteer anything ever again in the science class as 
well as my other classes. I didn't want to be an obnoxious know-it-all 
and so I scaled back my moderate (I secretly believed) participation to 
zero. I later learned that the other female student that this teacher 
disliked received similar censure to me. Even in later years this 
reprimanding of my inquisitive behavior stuck with me. If I did volunteer 
an answer to a class question, I always tried to do it in a 
"non-dominating" manner and limit myself to one answer per class period 
or week or whatever. It was always in the back of my mind. How much 
better for a young girl's ego if the science teacher had simply taken me 
aside one day after class and asked me politely to give other students 
more of a chance, etc.

On another topic, that boys and girls have different learning styles, I 
have read the descriptions of boy and girl styles and realized that I 
have the learning style of a boy. Actually, I think many girls have "boy" 
learning styles and boys have "girl" learning styles. I am strongly 
against spliting science classes into single gender sections and teaching 
girls in the "girl style" and boys in the "boy style." I would have 
absolutely hated the girl class if this were the case. If there are 
different styles of learning and teaching, then I believe some of each 
style can be incorporated into a single class so as not to alienate and 
discourage individual students who do best using one style or the other.

Megan Brown, Ph.D.
mbrown at fred.fhcrc.org
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

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