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Girls and School Culture

Learn about the history of girls in education, so you will know how to make sure your daughter gets the attention she needs at school.

Girls and School Culture


Any time your daughter's grades drop more than half a letter grade on her report card, for example from an A to a B, you want to find out what the problem is. Don't delay. While all children do not excel in every subject, you want to be alert to any negative pattern in her school progress.

American schools have a long and varied history. They have their roots in the enormous challenges the settlers faced. During those early years of our country, several unique factors influenced our educational system, including the existing Native American child-rearing practices, the settlers' home cultures, and an emerging sense of nationality.

As our school systems progressed and came into their own, the idea of practicality was most important. It was for that reason that early on, much learning was gained in the school of hard work. Later, as towns and school districts began to emerge, boys in many parts of the new country received a rudimentary education but girls were generally excluded. While this practice changed gradually, most often girls were only admitted to the public schools many years after the boys. This practice had a detrimental effect on girls' scholastic achievements.

Even when school attendance for all children finally became mandatory, girls did not fare as well overall as they should have. They were often channeled into less academically rigorous classes, such as home economics. They were caught up in the enormous bureaucracy that comprises today's public schools, which 90 percent of all American children now attend. Like all huge bureaucracies, schools are slow to change.

Does Quiet Equal Good?

Even today quite a few schools still show traces of the belief that boys are more deserving of an education than girls. This attitude does not show itself in pupil attendance, which is usually higher among female students than among male students, but it does reveal itself in lowered expectations for many girls. For example, when boys show a disinterest in schoolwork, they are often the subject of emergency meetings by the school faculty. The male students' parents are notified at once and extra lessons are advised.


Under-performing schools exist in many communities. Keep up with the annual achievement scores of your daughter's school, especially the reading scores. If you are not satisfied, ask about alternatives. Some systems allow for a transfer to a high-performing school. Attending the school board meetings and asking questions are civic duties that pay off.

When girls follow a similar pattern and lose interest in school, they are allowed to slide—just as long as they behave in class. One underlying reason is that our schools are sensitive to the potential of violence, and in boys that potential is often accompanied by dropping grades. In girls with falling grades, the violence potential is less prominent. As of yet, there have been no Columbine-style tragedies instigated by girls.

What works extremely well is your networking with other parents. Join the PTA and other supportive parent groups. As you work within those organizations, you will meet parents with high- achieving girls. Feel free to ask them for their advice. Too often, parents feel they have to reinvent the wheel when all they have to do is connect with other parents who have already successfully shepherded their daughters through a particular school system.

Another option is to join an informal parent group or to start one. Put a note into the PTA newsletter asking all parents of girls to e-mail or otherwise contact you. Brainstorm with the correspondents about methods you can implement to ensure that the culture at your daughter's school changes.

Nix the Negatives

You want the lingering vulture culture in our schools that robs girls of a chance to excel to turn into one that offers a menu of meaningful opportunities for your daughter and all the others. Discuss your concerns with the principal and start a speaker program by inviting outstanding women achievers in your community to come to the school and talk to the girls. Rest assured that any small change you bring about in the school climate can help your daughter.

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