By Fatima Goss Graves
Once again extremists are attacking established and proven gender equity programs, arguing that girls no longer face obstacles in education and that boys – and only boys – are in an education crisis. As usual, these attacks are based on myths that perpetuate dangerous stereotypes. Worse, they treat education as a zero-sum game in which girls’ gains can only come at boys’ expense.
Myth: Girls are reaching their potential in school while boys are not.
Fact: Not all boys are achieving their potential in school, and that is a critical problem that must be addressed. But the same is true for girls. Take high school graduation rates for example. No one would say that a 72 percent high school graduation rate for girls is a measure of success –even when compared to the even more disappointing 65 percent for boys. And it is disturbing that, by several different measures, African American, Hispanic and Native American high school graduation rates for both boys and girls hover around 50 percent. These numbers highlight that policymakers must address the needs of all students at risk.
Myth: Scientific studies have proved that gender gaps in educational achievement are due to innate physiological differences between girls and boys.
Fact: While some studies have found differences in structure between male and female brains, there is no conclusive evidence linking these physiological differences to differences in cognitive abilities. The demonstrated differences are extremely small; men and women are more alike psychologically than they are different.
The bottom line? Gender equity is not a zero-sum game and we should reject the attempts to promote an “us v. them” dynamic. It will only detract from the central educational goal that we all share – ensuring that all children have the opportunities they need to reach their full potential.