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Greene: Gender Equity

This week, the Governor's Institute of Vermont hosts the Gender Equity in Education conference with the hope of fostering a broader conversation on gender equity.

For parents, the question of nature vs. nurture is never just academic. It’s a huge responsibility to raise a happy, healthy child and we want to get it right. As young parents of boys in the early ‘90’s, I felt like my husband and I were daily carving out new policy, setting up the laws of a small but terribly energetic country where anything could happen.

Back then, the efforts to level the playing field between the sexes were pretty awkward. The prevailing wisdom seemed to be that all gender traits were learned. Thus if you didn’t brainwash your little boy into thinking he had to be tough and play with guns, but instead supplied him with gender neutral toys, he would be free.

Similarly, little girls were encouraged to play with trucks and excel at math. But it turned out to be a lot more complicated, with pressures from all quarters of society. We were constantly navigating biases in the ways both boys and girls were treated. But it seemed as if, in trying to achieve equity for girls in and out of the classroom, even well intentioned parents and teachers often gave boys short shrift.

Sadly this has been borne out by recent studies. Boys are falling behind in literacy measures at a disquieting rate, especially boys from the lower end of the socio-economic scale. And while we parents - and even teachers - have a lot of anecdotal evidence about what’s happening with our kids, we’re hardly dispassionate. We don’t have sufficient research on how to help boys stay in school and thrive.

That’s something this week’s Gender Equity in Education conference at Middlebury College seeks to address. Governor’s Institutes of Vermont (GIV) is hosting the event with the goal of bringing people together to highlight some of the current research on how to include boys and how to continue closing achievement gaps for girls.

Karen Taylor Mitchell, GIV’s Executive Director says, “It took decades to figure out how to move girls forward. Getting girls into STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] classes took a special effort. And we’re still not at parity. To think we can solve what’s happening to boys in one fell swoop is naïve.”

Conference organizers hope to achieve a broader conversation about gender equity and bring diverse voices to the table. “We need discourse… as much as research,” says Taylor Mitchell, in order to better serve and both boys and girls.

Stephanie Greene is a free-lance writer now living with her husband and sons on the family farm in Windham County.
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