26 December 2012, 10:55

We transpose our stereotypes onto children - interview

We transpose our stereotypes onto children - interview
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The Voice of Russia spoke with Dr. Allyson Jule, an author, professor of education and the co-director of the Gender Studies Institute at Trinity Western University in Canada, about gender issues and education. Dr. Jule who recently completed a study on gender in the classroom, with a focus on the processes involved in linguistics education and how gender affects the attainment of language knowledge, shared her views and conclusions with the Voice of Russia. A must-listen for those involved in ESL education and teachers in general.

Part II


Hello, this is John Robles. I’m speaking with Dr. Allyson Jule. She’s a Professor of Education at Trinity Western University in British Columbia and the Co-Director of the Gender Studies Institute.

Robles: Hello Allyson! How are you this evening?

Jule: Hello! I’m fine. It is good to talk to you.

Robles: It is very nice to speak with you too. Thanks for agreeing to do the interview.

I’d like to hear a little bit about the study that you did regarding boys and girls in the classroom. How do they learn differently? How are boys and girls easier or more difficult to teach?

Jule: One of the things I was interested in exploring was that very question about the difference between boys and girls, particularly for teachers and how it would influence teaching methodology.

What I’ve discovered both through my own research and also through reviewing other empirical research studies was that the difference is so small when it comes to anything that neuroscience might suggest. But the differences are magnified by culture or our expectations, and our stereotypes that reinforce certain gender behavior. So, we think that girls are very talkative, let’s say, and we respond to them as such and talk more to them. And then, oh, they become more talkative. And then we say well, they are more talkative.

But it becomes a sort of self fulfilling prophesy for girls in that way, or for boys regarding sports or aggression, or math or other sorts of stereotypical masculine behaviors that culture suggests and reinforces.

And what I noticed in the study, that I did, this was with 7-year-old children and teachers responses to boys and girls in classroom discussions. I looked at full class discussion, full lessons with boys and girls in the classroom and the teachers were giving a teacher directed lesson, for example, talking about capital cities, let’s say, of the world. And when this teacher, for example, asked a question to anyone at all, a boy or a girl could answer this question: “What’s the capital city of Canada?” for example.

If a girl responded to the question: “Ottawa”, the teacher would say: “Yes”. If a boy answered that same question the same way: “Ottawa”, the teacher would say something more like: “Yes, Ottawa is the capital city of Canada. That’s right.”

What that was, was a small moment that the girl’s response was getting minimal linguistic response. It is getting affirmed: “Yes, Ottawa” but the boy’s response was getting more verbal interaction: “Yes, Ottawa is the capital city of Canada. That’s right.” Which was almost ten times more interaction which prompted more verbal interaction in response. So, there were chattier boys in response to a teacher prompting more conversation.

Robles: Doesn’t that have to do with the teacher then, I mean it doesn’t have to do with the student?

Jule: Exactly! I think it has everything to do with the teacher. And as a teacher educator this was my main interest: was how much power could a teacher have in reinforcing stereotypes or in interrupting stereotypes and therefore giving more opportunity for our children to be individuals, to exercise a wide variety of intelligences and a wide variety of skills and linguistic opportunities.

So, the part that I was interested in was this linguistic space. And that the girls tended to be silenced by the teacher, now, this wasn’t deliberate. And all the teachers I interviewed would say things like: “Oh, I treat them all the same” or “I give all the same opportunities to boys and girls”. And they absolutely believed that, and so did I. I think what was interesting when you do this kind of research, like measuring linguistic space, I tape recorded all the conversations, I counted the words, I compared the percentages throughout the whole year between class rooms etc.

Then we can see these patterns and see, “Oh that’s interesting!” because then teacher and even myself as researcher were not aware of this distinctive response until it was there on paper and you could see it.

So, the girls were also treated slightly in other sort of curious ways. And this wasn’t just in my own study. This was something I did find in researching other studies of a similar ilk that were done in the US and in England where the teacher would tend to say something like; “Girls!” But the boys would get direct names, like: “Peter, be quiet”, “Peter turn to your work” or whatever. But “Girls, hush!” there was a sense that girls were kind of en-mass in the room and they were nice quiet girls.

That was the kind of the affirmative stereotypical behavior. But the boys could be quite rowdy or engaging with the teacher, often not hear, but that seems to be considered a “boy” behavior and I think this gets reinforced. And this was with very young children 7-years-old. There are studies that came out through pre-school, kindergarten, 5-year-old children. And all that, that suggest a similar kind of phenomenon that is: we treat our children the way we want them to be, and then say, “Ah, that’s how they are.”

But we are not really that conscious that we have prompted these very behaviors, whether it is what we expect and hope for in little girls, or expect and hope for in little boys. And I found that very interesting, both as a teacher and as a parent myself, just that: how expectations can setup a whole life trajectory regarding things our children feel are confident to attempt to try, like sports for girls or math for girls, or English literature and reading for boys that somehow get a stereotypical bubble around it. And then we just keep to that and even complain about it, like should the boys read more, boys aren’t excelling at school the way we think they should and yet reading more to girls.

So, there is something in the teacher’s life in particular that I was interested in and what the teacher does in her or his class rooms that prompt a kind of gendered life.

Robles: After the study did you go back and maybe work on some of their problems and try to re-evaluate the teachers later? Did they try to change this behavior at all?

Jule: Yes and no. We definitely were in a conversation about it. They were very interested. They knew I was there doing gender work. So, they were very conscious, you’d think that they would have been even more careful, let’s say, in many ways. But I think for all of us this was a very subconscious kind of reaction. And I think that we don’t have any quick fixes. I think that my biggest frustration was some of the more popular literature right now that seems to suggest things like boys have boy brains and have to be taught in a certain way and then they will succeed, or girls have girl brains and they need certain things to succeed.

Robles: I’ve always believed that we have the same brain, but we are just programmed differently, to start out with really.

Jule: Yeah, or that our culture, or the world we live in responds to us through a gender lens and then it reinforces it. So that: yes, we are different but what I react to is this kind of essentialist biological “We’re different” instead of, a sense that everyone is an individual, there are a whole host of reasons why people are the way they are, the personality traits, the socio-economic status, families.

Robles: You were listening to an interview with Dr. Dr. Allyson Jule. She’s a Professor of Education at Trinity Western University in British Columbia and the Co-Director of the Gender Studies Institute.

Please visit our site in the near future for the rest of our talk with Dr. Jule.

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