A exploration of the gender imbalance within the education system.
BY EMILY AYARS ’24
Historically, males have made up the majority of the educated population. Teaching careers were once considered for men and a woman attending school beyond basic education was unheard of. But when the public school system was established around the mid 19th-century, the gender divide shifted dramatically. Doors opened for all genders and social classes in schools, and career opportunities in education appeared for women.
Now, at UAHS almost 200 years later, the divide still exists but has taken on a new meaning. While the separation is less prominent than it was in the 1800s, society has begun stereotyping classes and departments towards one gender.
“When I was in middle school, we had ‘home ec,’ and we did sewing and cooking,” junior Kathryn Brooks said. “And I remember a lot of boys saying, you know, this is a girl thing.”
Students can feel pressured to have a certain opinion or view on classes based on the stigma surrounding them and their gender. Dameion Wagner, a UAHS English teacher who is teaching a women’s literature course this year, has seen how this preconceived notion has affected his classes. Of all the students enrolled in this semester course, only one is a male student.
This is the first year women’s literature is being offered as a course, earning students half a language arts credit. The class covers women’s contributions to literature and exposes students to an evolving viewpoint in genres such as fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
“We’re reading literature by female writers, learning how to apply a variety of ways to see and then answering the questions, what does it mean, why does it matter?” Wagner said.
Women’s literature isn’t the only class that is unbalanced by gender. Brooks, who serves as the president of the Computer Science Honors Society Leadership Team, has found a polarity in the number of women interested in computer science and other STEM courses and clubs throughout her high school career.
“This year, I am one of three girls out of a class of, I think, 25 [students] for AP Computer Science A,” Brooks said. “The first time I ever walked into an engineering class I was greeted with a lot of guys who just kind of stared at me. Going through high school with these engineering classes, I’ve learned that you know, that’s okay, I can stand my ground [and] be fine with that.”
A possible source to these statistics that display an imbalance of both genders is a stereotype that begins in middle school. An example of this is at both Hastings Middle School and Jones Middle School, technology and engineering is a course offered to students that is taught by all male teachers.
“I was quite interested in tech ed, but it was taught by two male teachers,” Brooks said. “And so going into it, it kind of had that essence of it’s kind of a ‘guy thing’, because in tech ed, we had to build stuff with wood and all that. So it was definitely kind of rare if you were seeing a girl that actually enjoyed doing it.”
But there is change being established in an attempt to modify the stigma around gendered departments.
“Recently we went back to the grade schools for Hour of Code, and we’re teaching kids, ‘Hey… there’s something for everyone in computer sciences,’’’ Brooks said.
By expanding the offering of courses in all departments, Upper Arlington is also taking the steps necessary to allow the minority gender to step up and advocate for equality in all aspects of education.
“The teachers at our school do a really great job with supporting everyone, no matter your gender or race,” Brooks said.
From a staff member’s perspective, the additional courses offer insight that they can reflect on and base their own experiences off of.
“There’s a desire to see ourselves in the courses and the things that we read and teach,” Wagner said.
The gender imbalance within education systems has been around for decades but for many community members, the blame is placed more on the departments themselves rather than the school systems.
“It’s more about society, rather than some kind of purposeful planning,” Wagner said.
Gender imbalance no longer has the prominent effect on students’ education as it once did almost two centuries ago but it still exists.
“We should be reading good literature, male or female,” Wagner said. “And part of what we think about is why is that term ‘woman’ even before the word literature to begin with?”