General Question

wundayatta's avatar

Is the feminization of the education system in the US partially responsible for the increased number of learning disabled boys?

Asked by wundayatta (58648points) September 25th, 2008

Girls are well-known for being better at school (on average) than boys. They learn to read faster; they appear to be more attentive; they can sit still for longer periods of time.

Boys learning styles are different. They try things out; are more tactile; more active; and have a hard time sitting still.

Obviously, if you want kids to focus on tasks requiring concentration, it is easier for the teachers if they all sit quietly in rows and attend to their work. Kids running around, making noise, just seems chaotic, and no one believes appropriate learning is going on.

So is the increase in diagnosis of things like ADD and other learning disabilities at least somewhat a reflection of the largely feminine educator corps’ desire for quiet classrooms?

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32 Answers

cheebdragon's avatar

Do you have any links?

St.George's avatar

I thinking you’re assuming an awful lot in this question, mainly that only women want quiet classrooms and that learning disabilities are “caused” by teachers’ behaviors. It’s also not true that students learn better sitting quietly in rows, nor is it true that students don’t learn by running around making noise.

The public education system may not be the best at educating all students, true, but blaming the problem on women is offensive.

Where’s your research? This sounds anecdotal to me.

BarbieM's avatar

I would also like some links. I taught for 13 years, and I never expected quiet, perfect little rows of robots doing work at their seats. Both boys and girls like to have stimulation, and a teacher’s style in the classroom doesn’t “cause” learning disabilities.

KatawaGrey's avatar

My last two years of high school, I volunteered at the local elementary school. I would go to classes and read with kids who had trouble reading. I noticed that some of kids weren’t bad readers, they just never really settled down long enough to read. These kids did tend to be boys. I don’t know if there is a correlation, but that is just what I observed.

cak's avatar

Wow. This is kind of a blanket statement. T

he way our elementary classes are set-up, they are more hands on, than off. The middle school classes might be more geared to the “lecture style” and not as hands on; however, it’s never, to my understanding, been their expectation for perfect quiet robots.

What is expected is for students not to be disruptive to other students.

I’ve volunteered and worked with teams helping find better ways to work with students and never once have I heard something as strict as this. Sure, there are boys and girls that need more attention and don’t learn in a more “traditional” way; however, I see more teachers willing to try to find the way to help that child, than to discourage them from learning.

In our Girl Scout Troop – we have 4 young ladies with ADD/ADHD. How then, do you account for the girls that are ADD/ADHD?

As far as true learning disabilities, to blame them on your theory, doesn’t that lessen them?

wundayatta's avatar

As we all know, teachers in elementary schools are primarily female.

National statistics of teacher demographics indicate that the national teaching population is 72% female and 28% male. However, the gender statistics are even more disproportionate at the elementary level. Fewer than 2% of pre-K/Kindergarten and 14.6% of elementary teachers are male (Snyder & Hoffman, & Geddes, 1996).

Boys are also treated differently in classrooms. Teacher-Pupil Relationships in the Elementary School Classroom: Teacher-Gender and Pupil-Gender Differences.(198223)19%3A3%3C465%3ATRITES%3E2.0.CO%3B2-R (sorry this link seems not to work in Fluther format, you’ll have to cut and paste, but the relevant abstract is below)

Examined teacher-sex differences in attitudes and behaviors toward male and female pupils. Observation data suggested that boys receive more reprimands than girls and that female teachers were more positive than male teachers in their attitudes and behaviors toward their pupils.

Girls score substantially higher in reading, and have almost caught up to boys in math. “On average, girls scored 2 percent lower on the math portion and 6.6 percent higher on the reading portion than boys did. The U.S. scores were close to this average, but those percentages varied widely from country to country: In Iceland, for example, girls scored more than 3 percent higher than boys on the math section, whereas in Brazil, they scored more than 4 percent lower.”

Learning styles vary significantly by gender This article is an excellent summary of many gender differences. Girls hear better. They can sit still longer. They have higher standards. They get better grades. They are more concerned with pleasing adults. Boys just want to get to it, but girls are interested in context (which bores boys to death). Girls like more general, real-world applied information, while boys have a preferance for theory and abstract concepts. Read the article. It’s very illuminating.

People do argue that ADHD is being overdiagnosed, in part, by pressure from teachers.. “The popularity methylphenidate (Ritalin) has encouraged some parents and teachers to pressure doctors into prescribing this standard ADHD drug for children who are aggressive or who have poor grades. In one study of fifth graders in two different cities, 18% and 20% of Caucasian boys were being treated with medications. In one center, after careful testing, ADHD was the actual diagnosis in only 11% of children referred for ADHD, and 18% had no disability. Others were simply poorer learners or had no problems at all.”

The way I see it, it’s a self-reinforcing system, that is slowly moving to feminize society. It is a very large issue. I’m sure that in a decade a lot more people will be talking about it. But just as feminism took centuries to take hold, and has gained power (and I have been entirely for that), it will take a long time to see that it has overshot the mark, and gone too far in the direction of the influence of women on society, to the point where it is, I think, discriminating against boys in schools.

I caution you about coming up with anecdotal evidence. There are, I’m sure, many teachers who go out of their way to take into account the different ways that boys learn. You can all point to some, or know of some, or are teachers with those inclinations.

However, there are two problems. First, I’m talking about trends in average behavior across a nation. Second, I’m talking about the kind of insidious discrimination that occurs amongst the most well-intentioned who do not realize what they are doing. Think of the condescending man of the 50s who refers to the “little lady.” Who sees her as a weaker being, and therefore as a lesser person, all the while protesting that he totally respects and loves women. He didn’t see it.

I don’t expect women to see this now. I expect a lot of denials. The trend is not obvious yet. And due to past descrimination, women, perhaps rightly, feel justified if the pendulum swings a little too far in their favor.

The problem is that it isn’t in their favor. If boys are labeled as learning disabled, and sent to special schools, and drugged to the gills with Ritalin to keep them from running wild. If they are made to stay in classrooms instead of roaming the great outdoors. If they are to feel further down about themselves because the girls are all reading Dickens and they aren’t even able to read a comic book—we will see a demotivation and a kind of intellectual emasculation of boys, who will, hopefully grow up to be men. But what kind of men? What kind of contribution will they be able to make, when their skills and talents are devalued; maybe even labelled as wrong?

Hobbes's avatar

Both of my parents are professors of education, and they and all the teachers they are close with have found that tactile, active learning is how many kids (mostly boys) learn best, and that it is often discouraged by teachers precisely because it is more difficult to deal with and because the pervading idea is that “calm, orderly learning” is the “appropriate” way to do things.

tWrex's avatar

@daloon I can’t believe you asked this question, but I applaud you to the high heavens for doing so. I do agree with you because a great deal of the things you describe I went through. In a classroom of rambunctious boys and chatterbox girls, the girls would be told to be quiet and the boys would be given detention. I feel that the emasculation of men in America all-over is really disappointing. Turn on a sitcom and what do you see? An intelligent woman and a dumbass (albeit usually hilarious) husband. Does this help further promote the stereotype of the class clown male and the smart female? Is it really that scary for women to see a man being intelligent on tv?

My Ma is a teacher and has been for the last 15 years. My wife is also a teacher for children with autism, so anyone that thinks I’m just being a dick about teachers… yup. That’s exactly it.

wundayatta's avatar

Ok, tWrex. It gets worse. I agree with you about the depiction of men of television. From Seinfeld to Home Improvement guy, to man after man, they all seem clueless. And if it’s a serious show, then they can’t hold it together off the job, or they have no life outside the job. I haven’t watched TV now for half a year, and I don’t think I’m likely to go back.

Still, I’m curious as to why you can’t believe I asked the question? Don’t you think I call them as I see them? The one other guy I know who I’ve talked to about this is probably one of the most liberal people on the planet from one of the most famous liberal families on the planet. He is in total agreement. If you know me, you know that I go by the data. I’m not a liberal because of some emotional reason. I’m a liberal because the data show me that those policies work better. So often, the things I believe I understand seem counter-intuitive to others. Good looks are associated with higher intelligence, for example. All I can say is that it’s not easy trying to tell others what the data say. They’re always asking for citations, instead of trusting me. Hmph. What’s that all about? No, really, it’s perfectly fine and appropriate. I just don’t like to have to work so hard.

tWrex's avatar

@daloon I think I was just caught off guard by the fact that you did ask it. I do believe that you call them as you see them. I notice that typically when a question questioning women or feminism comes about – here or in everyday life – there’s an uprising and uproar that no one really wants to deal with. Again, I applaud you and agree 100%. I do find it odd that you are liberal and asking this question though. I definitely would have thought this would have come from someone more conservative.

tinyfaery's avatar

To say feminization is sexist.

My wife is a Special Ed. teacher for emotionally disturbed middle school boys. Students are put into her class because they take up too much of the teacher’s time, and their behavior deters learning. She is a new teacher, and the whole school loves her because she has been able to make progress with these boys. She has these same 6 students for the all the basics (math, science, history and English), so she is able to set up a unique classroom style. For each period each student is expected to complete their assignment, and once they do they can have a 10–15 break to take care of their mental health. They can go outside and walk or play basketball, they can have computer time, or cellphone time, etc. She recognizes that these kids can sit down and focus, but they have to be able to release some energy and stress. She also utilizes a lot of hands-on activities for teaching, including using a computer.

Did you catch all the shes in there? Uck!

tWrex's avatar

@tinyfaery I think I’m missing your point. Are you merely pointing out that she is making a difference and isn’t doing what is being said? Because I think daloon already addressed that:

“I caution you about coming up with anecdotal evidence. There are, I’m sure, many teachers who go out of their way to take into account the different ways that boys learn. You can all point to some, or know of some, or are teachers with those inclinations.”

I understand exactly what your wife does. Last year this time I was a TA in a Behavioral Disorder Middle School Classroom (emotionally disturbed is another idiotic way of relabeling them) that was self contained (part of the BASICS program). And the teachers for the 2 classrooms were both women and did the same things your wife does. And they were brilliant. Between the 4 of us (2 female teachers, 1 female TA and myself) we were able to bring the group of about 15 kids from being at 1st or 2nd grade reading levels to between 5th and 7th grade reading levels. The thing is that these are the kids that have been singled out for the extra help. What about all of the mainstream kids?

(As a side note we did have 2 females although one was placed back at her home school towards the end of the year and the other one was outplaced to a therapeutic day school – she was autistic as well as a load of other things. So other children were recognized with the same issues the boys were having.)

tinyfaery's avatar

Who cautioned? Where?

What are studies but statistics of anecdotal evidence? Who do you think makes these assessments? It’s people, with stories.

You are missing my point. He said “feminizatiion”, and his question is “So is the increase in diagnosis of things like ADD and other learning disabilities at least somewhat a reflection of the largely feminine educator corps’ desire for quiet classrooms?”

All of the student’s in question are diagnosed with some sort of attention/anxiety/behavioral disorder, they were placed in her class, they are not a “reflection of her in any way. My wife is their teacher, she is a woman, she is helping them learn even while having these diagnoses, she did not label them as such.

So maybe feminization is a good thing. The values of caring and nurturing should be involved in helping those with special needs.

tWrex's avatar

@tinyfaery Got it. But again, I believe @daloon is referring to the general populous of students and not those with special needs. Also, studies are what have put those kids your wife teaches into those types of classrooms. It’s through their “anecdotal evidence” that we’ve come to see that certain students need to have that one-on-one interaction in a self-contained environment. I think you’ve taken offense to the words used and not looked at the deeper question. Just my opinion of course and I hope I’m wrong. What bothers me the most is your last sentence. Are males not able to be able to exert those “values of caring and nurturing”?

cheebdragon's avatar

All of my female teachers were total bitches to all of the girls, while the boys got away with everything… my opinion they had all had the “he’s a boy, he can’t help it” mentality, and girls were expected to be perfect A+ ass kissing students who “should know better”.

tinyfaery's avatar

Daloon was trying to categorize feminine attributes so I added a few more and reconceptualized the word. I’m not saying they’re correct or exclusive to women, I’m just twisting the game.

By daloon’s theory the kids placed in her class are just a reflection of their female teachers. That is not the case. These kids were part of the general population until diagnosed, they were not misdiagnosed by a female teacher wanting quiet.

Hobbes's avatar

I’d also like to submit that the desire for quiet and order may not be a feminine trait necessarily, but simply a widespread idea about what learning “should” look like. It may come from a variety of different sources such as, for example, the earliest schools in which kids were expected to sit down, shut up and memorize lines from the bible. Or it may be a partial result of the Industrial Revolution, which reconfigured schools to be even more regimented, introducing bells, specific “break times”, etc to recreate the environment of the factory and train all the kids to be obedient little assembly line workers. Just some thoughts.

tWrex's avatar

@tinyfaery Got it. Your comments now make complete sense and I see what you’re saying.

@Hobbes Indeed you are correct. I had many male teachers who didn’t take interruptions any better than the females. I once had a male teacher throw a girls desk into the hall because she wouldn’t take it out there herself (she was being extremely disruptive). Amusingly enough the principal was walking by as he did it. Principal stuck his head in, saw that things were cool, nodded to the teacher and kept on his day. Awesome. Simply awesome. He actually was one of the most brilliant principals I ever had the pleasure of knowing, and I knew quite a few… And that teacher was a great role model for me in my latter years in school

galileogirl's avatar

That old saw has lost it’s teeth. So there is nothing to the idea that girls generally mature earlier than boys?

And you think ADHD is “brought on” by teachers? It has nothing to do with processed food, passive rather than active interactions as infants and toddlers. chemical imbalances, allergies or poor parenting? Finally we’ve figured it out-everybody’s favorite scapegoats- the teachers are damaging our boys.

Ever since education has been mandatory, the majority of elementary teachers have been women, not because of a conspiracy against American manhood, but because American men refused to work for the money. And the majority of secondary teachers were men because women did not have access to advanced education.

With unions, better remuneration, and being treated as professionals the job of teacher is attracting more men in the lower grades.

BTW if parents refuse to teach social skills, often because they have no idea about courtesy and self-control, when will children learn how to behave in the world?

St.George's avatar

Right on @galileogirl.

Also, just to reiterate @daloon, when you use the term “feminization” like that’s a bad thing, it is being sexist.

…and the diatribe up there? meh.

tWrex's avatar

I never saw anywhere that ADHD is brought on by teachers. I did see that a great deal of teachers were bringing it to parents attention and as such the parents got the children on medicine. So because they listened to someone who they, obviously, thought was better qualified to diagnose their child than them their child was put on an un-necessary drug. I did see that.

And as far as courtesy and self-control go, yeah it has everything to do with the parents, but have you ever taught a room full of third graders? Rambunctious isn’t the half of it.

You ever feel like you’re being demonized yet half the shit that’s been said about the comments is way off base?

wundayatta's avatar

@galileogirl: I do not mean that ADD is brought on by teachers. I think there is much less ADD out there than is diagnosed. I’m saying that teachers will call attention to troublesome students (mostly boys, but some girls), and start the process by which they get diagnosed and put on ritalin, and calmed down. Either that, or they get labeled as learning disabled, and are taken out of the classroom and put in a special classroom.

Begin Rant
Teachers, male or female, like quiet orderly classes. If you can’t control the student, you get rid of them either by physical removal, or through the administration of drugs.

But what I’m saying, is that we have medicalized and demonized what probably is normal behavior. I’m saying that boys, on average have a very different learning style, and if you’ll read some of the sources I provided, you’ll see what I mean. Boys, on average, need to move around more in space. They need to interact with the material on a physical level. They aren’t nearly as good as girls are about sitting still and listening, and processing information in a theoretical way.

Girls, however, can do that. And the vast majority of elementary school teachers are women. So the female learning style, naturally is preferred. Sure, sometimes enlightened teachers cater to alternate learning styles, but the vast majority want to do what is easiest for them. So I’m saying this is the feminization of education, and I will totally agree that it is sexist, but I it discriminates against boys, not girls.

You want to see the impact? Research it yourself if you want to see the numbers, but take my word for it, women make up a very strong and growing majority of students in higher education. Boys don’t have a chance any more. Women are rapidly approaching, if not surpassing being over half the labor force. Men are dropping out, because they don’t have the skills to do the work.

Now educated feminists focus on the glass ceiling, and say women can only rise so far and that’s it. That may be true. Now. In a decade, it will be but a faded memory. All right, maybe two decades.

Look, I’ve been a feminist all my adult life, because for me, feminism meant humanism. I thought men were discriminated against as “success” objects, just as women were denigrated as “sex” objects. Men die sooner, of diseases that are brought on by stress. Men are not allowed to be a part of the set of relationships that support women. We are discouraged from that, and told to be manly and take it on the chin, and stay strong.

The problem is, that women are still in oppression mode. You don’t yet see that you have won, and the tide is swinging the other way. You know about steering a supertanker? You have to stop turning long before you’ve gotten around the corner, or else you’ll oversteer and end up facing back the way you came.

Social movements are like that, too. Feminism, I believe is about equality. It’s not about giving women more to make up for past inequities. The way I see it, women already have more than men, and it’s getting worse. It starts in elementary schools, partly for the reasons I’ve described here, and it spreads up through all the educational ranks, even into Doctoral Programs. And now, the workforce.

I don’t know how many men see this. I know of one. Maybe two. I know men feel it. But since, on average, we have much less education than women, we may have a harder time articulating it. Hell, we have a hard time articulating, in general. We don’t think that way.

Feminization is a bad thing for men—when it hurts our ability to learn and to be productive members of society. But feminization is not just bad for men. Women will suffer for this, too, in the long run. You’ll be saddled with a bunch of men who can’t do shit, except maybe help you have babies. There’s a reason why evolution designed the sexes differently. We have different talents, and male talents are being systematically devalued these days.

I’m a demographer. I pay attention to these trends. If they aren’t changed now, this country, and maybe others, will be in for a hard time of it.

End Rant

galileogirl's avatar

As both a parent and a teacher, I would never accept the “diagnosis” of anyone without an MD behind their name (and even those with one without checking it out myself)

As to skills and abilities, they are neither masculine nor feminine. All children show a range of learned and inherent skills and abilities and we must learn to work with what we do well and improve what we don’t. As time passes the necessity for some abilities decline and others become more important. The ability to build muscle mass was more important than the ability to concentrate and deciper instructions. Today the opposite is true. That is not feminization, it’s adjusting to the 21st century.

I also believe that since all children mature at different rates they shouldn’t all be expected to react to the physical and emotional requirements of a classroom at the same age. If children were expected to reach certain benchmarks before they were admitted to the 1st grade, whether they were 4 or 7,. they would have a better educational experience. I think that a child who could not go to school until s/he was able to follow simple directions, speak courteously, behave well with other children and stay on task for appropriate periods of time would definitely bring out parenting skills in Mom and Dad . Who would want to admit that their children were not “school-ready”?

tinyfaery's avatar

@gail I wanted my wife to come on here and address daloon, but she wants nothing to do with it. :( I don’t think she could have said it better.

Why continue to use such a loaded word? You have valid points, but they are clouded by your terminology.

St.George's avatar

@ tinyfaery- exactly. daloon’s argument is so full of holes, I wouldn’t know where to start.

Hobbes's avatar

@megan – I think daloons basic point is perfectly valid. Teachers tend to think that quiet and order is the only environment in which learning can happen, and this ignores the fact that many kids learn much better when they can be active, when they can interact physically with things and talk amongst themselves. I agree that the use of the word “feminization” is questionable, tinyfaery, as is the tying of those traits to gender (I haven’t seen any data on that, though common sense does say that boys tend to be more active). However, the basic argument is sound.

galileogirl's avatar

Re: The idea of teachers believing that quiet orderly (passive?) learning is the only environment, I have only 17 years of teaching and a few thousand students on which to base my opinion…


There is nothing so exciting as presenting knowledge to young people and watch awareness break in their faces and the excitement build as they start to turn to each other and share their ideas.

Yes first we must require them to read preliminary information, yes we must make them come to class on time, yes we must make them put away their electronics, yes we make them pick their heads up off their desks, stop throwing spitwads at each other, listen. You have to establish an appropriate environment to create anything especially learning.

marinelife's avatar

What an outrageous, misogynistic set of accusations based on no evidence. More boys are diagnosed with ADD because women can’t stand it if they are not quiet? Are you kidding me?

How dare you?

While the final results are not clear and some studies show that teacher gender may play a role in education, the results are exactly the same for both sexes. That is to say, girls taught by male teachers do less well than boys at the same percentage that boys do less well with female teachers.

Therefore, this is not a female conspiracy against boys, but perhaps a problem in education that needs to be addressed.

This is one of the biggest examples of faulty logic and jumping to conclusions that I have seen recently outside the politifcal arena.

Hobbes's avatar

@galileogirl – It sounds like you’re an exceptionally wonderful teacher, then! But the fact remains that the majority of educators subscribe to the “sit down and shut up” method to some degree or another. Of course, you can’t have chaos, but there are ways to guide and hold the attention of the class without forcing them to sit still and quiet in rows and do their own work.

galileogirl's avatar

Honestly Hobbes, I am the norm NOT the exception. However if you want the bird to soar, you can’t clip his wings. The same is true of people. I understand how some teachers are so caged by petty bureaucrats, and I have been lucky enough to be in a school where administrators advocate instead of dictate. Also I have seen that a new principal can cause chaos by trying to serve the politicians instead of the students (3 very loooong years). Teachers sometimes have to smile and say “Yes, ma’am”...then shut the door and teach,

St.George's avatar

@Marina – thank you.

Hobbes's avatar

You’re right, galileogirl. I reread my last post, and I do come off as blaming the teachers. I think that probably has a lot to do with my general anger at the educational system. When I look at how broken the funding is, how many kids are turned off from school, how many drop through the cracks or begin to think of learning as boring and pointless, it’s easy to blame the teachers when the vast majority of the time, they’re not the problem and are in fact doing all they can to help. It is the policies, both of their schools and their government (which informs the policies of the schools – don’t get me started on NCLB…) that do the harm. The problem is, though you are able to teach in what sounds like an ideal environment, the vast majority of schools (or at least public schools) do suffer from the problems discussed. The thing is that, for whatever reason, kids are often told to be still and quiet when being active would be far better for them. I think increased testing has a lot to do with this, as teachers are increasingly forced to prepare kids for the exams, in which they must sit still, instead of doing anything of value.

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