Teachers pigeonhole black girls

// 9 August 2007

Teachers tend to discipline black girls for not being “ladylike” enough, when they show traits such as assertiveness and curiosity, according to a Texas study.

The Gender Public Advocacy Coalition reports that teachers at the Texas school were observed over a two year period, disciplining black girls to show more passivity and deference, when other children were “rarely disciplined in the same manner for their actions”.

Not only did teachers think their black, female pupils were speaking out of turn, when they behaved in the same way as other children, they saw the girls as “prematurely adult” and sexualised.

“A lot of the females, especially Black females here, try to have some authority over me in class. I say to them ‘Uh-uh—I’m the only adult in here.’ But they think they are adults too…” said Ms. Duncan, a teacher at the observed school.

The study found that many teachers described black female students as too sexually provocative in dress and behavior, a finding consistent with a 2004 study which found that girls of color are pre-tracked for underachievement because of teacher beliefs that they are hypersexual and willing to invest more energy in their appearance than in academic pursuits.

It’s interesting that, despite the study, this teacher seems to be pretty blinded to the stereotyped way she looks at the black girls in her class. And that is a real failure, because teachers should be expecting the best from their pupils, and teacher expectation can have a tremendous effect. As this woman says:

“Young girls need to be encouraged by educators and parents to achieve and explore, not to curb their enthusiasm for life and learning in order to be ‘proper ladies’,” said Taneika Taylor, director of the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition’s Children As They Are program.

How much of this applies to schools in the UK? It’s pretty hard to predict, I would suggest, given that Texas is a far cry from, say, Hull. But perhaps someone should be doing a similar study here?

Photo by brookesb, shared under a Creative Commons license

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