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And in the world of women today with good health. Good evening and welcome to woman. Tonight is the second part of our two part series on sex bias in education. My guests are Andrea Ostrom. Andrea is a clinical psychologist. She's a parent of three. She is also a member of the sex roles committee at a small private school in Brooklyn. Andrea was one of the first parents to publicly express concern over sex bias at the school. Also with this is Barbara Rothberg Barber is a social worker and a parent. She's also a member of the sex roles committee at the same school and she's currently trying to adapt a nonsexist approach to the New York City school system. Welcome to both of you. When did you first become concerned about sex bias. I was lucky enough to be introduced by a friend to a consciousness raising group in the women's movement in 1969 when they were first starting. And it was a very mind blowing experience for me. I began seeing the world in different
ways. I began picking up on different things all around me. I began thinking of my own past in my own life in different ways. And I also began looking at my children in different ways. And I began seeing things in the way my children were acting at home and hearing things in the stories that they brought home from school and wondering to myself what was happening in the school where they were spending so much of their time every day and what kind of damage was going to be done to them there. What about you Barbara. Well my children are younger than Andrea's and I went into school as a feminist and it was no humidity changes in my own life at the time and it had been a conscious raising groups and was determined to make some kind of impact in the school that my child was into. Andrea what were some of the things your children were saying to you about their experiences at the school. Part of it was what I was hearing about the things they were doing actually it was mostly my daughter because at that time she was in kindergarten and the boys were younger. At
that point. It was the things that she was bringing home she was bringing home paintings and drawings and very little woodworking. If any it was that when I visited the classroom and I would see these very tall elaborate buildings that had been built by little boys and I would look around for what Eva had done and I would find this little shaky building in the corner when I knew that the age of three she was building these beautiful buildings at home. And I began to be very concerned. It was the fact that she stopped being interested in building with blocks at home whereas earlier this was something that she had done quite a bit of. It was. Hearing the kinds of things she was doing outdoors when they went outdoors to play she and the other little girls would be playing house while the boys would be engaged in these active roughhousing games and things like that began to get me very concerned. I also began reading up on the literature and on the research and reading what happens to girls as they go through. The educational system and reading things like. Intelligence scores and achievement scores rise steadily
until high school at which point they suddenly drop. Reading things like two thirds of the girls tested. Do well in English and language arts and poorly. In math and want only one third do well in math and science. I began reading things that. About all the feelings little girls grow up having about themselves in terms of their own inferiority feelings about themself and these things just began to get me very concerned and what happened next did you talk to other parents. Not at first at first I was very naive I figured that since I was concerned about this obviously everyone would be and I raised it at an educational meeting of the parent body of the school and I asked what differences they saw between the boys and girls and I was told well we all know boys and girls are different. By the time the girls reach junior high they're not in math and science anymore. And nobody was shocked and nobody was upset. Nobody was angry. So I began realizing that there was nothing that I could do alone and I began talking to some friends who
also began to be concerned and. Over the summer four of us met. And just shared our own experiences our concerns about our children and more or less came to a consensus that we wanted to do something but that we would need more people. And we each agreed to call one or two friends which was a natural thing to do because were you there at that point. No my child was not in school at the time. The first real meeting we had was about 10 or 12 women. The following fall. And we mostly discussed the experiences our children were having the experiences that we had had as kids in school. It was a very intense very personal kind of meeting where we all felt a great feeling of togetherness and a lot of cohesiveness and a lot of feeling that we wanted to be able to make things different for our children than it had been for us. What were some of the things you discussed. Many of the things that I mentioned before everyone had one kind of story or another. One parent had been in the kindergarten class and had seen a
woodworking shop. A little boy came up and hammered a nail in and it didn't go in straight the teacher said that's not good try again. So he tried again and the teacher said no that's not good try again you've got to try until you get it right and finally got it right and he walked away feeling very proud. And about five minutes later a little girl walked up and hammered two nails and they went in bent and crooked. And the teacher said Oh well they make a pretty design. All this doesn't start in school though it starts sooner than that. This this all starts very very early. Children are socialized into different roles from the very beginning. Little girls come off the hospital blankets the little boys come home blue blankets and this smile that talk to differently. You look at kid's stands up on cribs. A little boy holds onto a crib and he said and he's told Look how strong you are you're such a big boy and a little girl holds on to a crib and she says look how cute she is she's holding on to the crib and these kinds of attitudes started very early and as they go into school they've already had these. They know these kinds of things they know what they're expected to do the girls know this supposed to be quiet. There's supposed
to be cleaner. The boys are allowed to be noisy or they're allowed to be rough and they're the ones who get into the block one immediately they're the ones who get the big blocks and they start building. I mean we talk about why the girls and the boys have different ideas and why they're in the block want to play with different things. The girls build a little short ranch houses practically because they get little to buy two blocks because that's what's left over. The boys get in it first they use the very big blocks and the girls have to use what's left over that I have a choice. So you're saying they don't do it because they want to they doing because they don't have any other blocks and sometimes. Intimidated by the noise. They don't have to deal with the boys they're taught to be quiet they're taught to act differently. And they just get in there and they don't know how to handle it. They're not taught to be it's an integrated group. And we bring them to school this way then the teachers see this in the teacher's head and the very same attitudes of the parents have which is the just the attitudes of our sexist society and it's to reinforce these things. And if there's no awareness we just keep perpetuating the system and that's when the need for these committees come up. And it gets even more complicated because then teachers will say and feel things like will the children should be free to
do what they want to do. But is there real freedom if children are channeled very early so that they're limited in what they can do. I mean those little girls when they go into the block corner have already been socialized in a way that they cannot cope with the aggression of the boys. It frightens them and they don't have the emotional tools to deal with it. So if it and all and I just so instead of going to the tall corn and they play mommy and they're busy ironing and they're taking care of babies in a cooking and if a little boy by any chance goes into the stall corner his daddy goes off to the office and he leaves or else what they do is throw the dishes around. And make lines of noise and then very messy very obnoxious just like men tend to be sometimes. It's very sad. What happened with the parents after you had your first meeting. We met several times together trying to increase our numbers and really talking about common concerns and talking very much about what we wanted for our children. And essentially there was common agreement that what we wanted was for our children to have as much freedom of choice as possible so that they could be as whole and complete people as
possible. We met I would say. Half a dozen times. Trying to. Be very precise and very unified about what we wanted. Trying to define very clearly what our concerns were and basically what we wanted to say to the school was we want you to see this is a problem. Our boys and our girls are being channeled into different kinds of behavior and different kinds of activities not on the basis of what they want to do but because they're boys and girls and we want you to recognize this is an educational problem and deal with it on a school wide basis. Andrea how hard is it to get into the school I'm at when I'm working with public schools now it's impossible to get into the schools. We're working very hard on getting parent groups together and being able to make some kind of impact on the administration and let them know it really is a problem. I think in the school we're dealing with it was really I was there in the beginning but I think now it's such a supportive system that it's really was different. Well I think maybe you should discuss the problems the difference you know. It was very subtle I mean we were able to speak with the director of the school we decided that what we would
want to do would be to invite the director and assistant director to come to one of our meetings. And we were able to speak with her and the first question she asked was how many families do you represent without batting an eyelash I said 30 families she said I'll be there. No actually what she said was I guess I have to listen to you. OK so right away that tells us something that there's strength in numbers. Absolut Now this school happens to be a very small school so 30 families is quite a large segment of the screening that's not true in a in a New York City public school. No nor are you going to get 30 families as easily in New York City public school which is the other thing because in the school that we're dealing with here which I also have a tall that I'm very familiar with now there are parents supporting this. It is a feminist oriented school there are many women who are feminists who are additive couldn't have been feminist oriented when you began it didn't start you know that. It's warranted but the whole school policy is very much a liberal progressive experimental kind of school which is also not really true which is not the real world environment
so I'm dealing very different problems in the inner city system. But you know in some ways the image of the school as a liberal progressive school created problems of its own because the staff had the attitude. Who us. I mean we believe in freedom. We're very liberal We're very progressive and we would never channel children into anything how can you accuse us. And one of the big problems was that the school felt accused and that was the biggest problem that we had to deal with in the beginning. It was easy to get the meeting with the director. Once we had 30 families and of course once everyone knew the director was coming we easily had 30 families. We then asked for a meeting with the full staff. At which a smaller group of us would present our concerns. And what we wanted them to do. That's Let's hold it right there and let Barbara let's have a little bit of what it's like to get into the public school system. We you know we took a decentralization early and the whole problem through centralization is that you have to deal with each individual school board by itself and you can't have a dictum for the for the system in the same kind of way. Some school
principals feel that they can do things in their school by themselves once or two schools have invited people to come down and speak at faculty meetings and are interested in issues of sexism and are very open to it. Another school in a district that I'm working with. I thought my theory cept if I spoke to the principal and he said Of course you can come down to my school I had worked up a questionnaire just to determine if there was sexism in the school which I assumed there would be and I try to work up a very non-threatening questionnaire dealing with classroom procedures with questions somewhat like how do you align the children up to line them up according to a sex groups or height or just by random selection of the kids just get into line and. Questions of the sort in terms of seating wardrobe assignments. If there were different activities or not and it didn't seem to me like was a very threatening kind of question and I think it was probably pretty threatening. I think it's very I don't want to know you. Yeah I think the problem is that institutions. Are really afraid of being scrutinized because nobody likes to be parting with this is the point I think
that's true. But this is the point I went to the principal He looked at and he said That sounds fine to me I think our teachers would be willing to answer it he didn't guarantee 100 percent cooperation I said fine. He said You just must get School District board approval. And that will be no problem call Mr So-and-so and I said fine. I call Mr So-and-so and told him that Mr So-and-so over the principal said oh fondest I'll probably tell him I said it's ok I go back to the principal he said I need it in writing. I said you didn't say that. I go back to the district office and the District Office says to me in writing. Well. Let me see that questionnaire again we have to the board has to review it now forward they were all scared to death and none of them want to stick their necks out. That's right. So I. Go back to the board and I give him the questionnaire. This was about three weeks ago I have been working on this problem almost daily it becomes routine I go into the office and make a phone call just to discover Hello I'm still here waiting for my phone call and I've gotten shunted around I've given been given the name of the head of the school board the name of the superintendent they keep my name keeps popping up. They keep saying you will call you back we'll get
back on it I have been given a total runaround and they're free to let me into the school. What do you intend to do with the questionnaire once you get it. Once I get it I'll be able to have some data to say yes there is sexist in your school. You are discriminating against the boys and the girls by putting them in different groups. If you're lining you kids up separately you have to be treating them differently. You got to go to the teachers with this information. No I'm not I think that's something we talked about earlier. About how to work the whole coalition I think or let's hold off and hold up and they're going to go back to the meeting. You know you see I think my feeling is I'm listening to what you're saying about the public schools and then thinking about what happened in this private school and I'm thinking that just like people all institutions are afraid to change. Absolutely. And that each institution will use whatever tools it has at hand to try to resist change unless you somehow make them realize that it's worth their while to change. So this public school system has the advantage of a huge bureaucracy and they can balance everything around them. And that's a very good job. We're not at a private school it's a little bit different the resistance was more subtle and on a more emotional level.
And you also have the power in that you're paying for school and the third to the ministration is it. Responsibility to parents in a private school I think it's trying a different kind of say. I think it's true and I think what that means is that they'll try to use much more subtle ways of resisting. And what happened what happened was we got our meeting with the full staff. And it was disaster. I mean we went in there and we were prepared to present our case and we were going to instantly convert everyone. And of course we were sure they were going to be willing to work with us. And they were so threatened and they felt so accused. They really felt as if we were coming in there and pointing a finger at them and saying look what you're doing to our children in a sense though that's what was happening in a sense that's what was happening but I think that we made a mistake in polarizing it in seeing it as an us and them. I think we didn't acknowledge our responsibility and our part. In the socialization process in terms of what happens with the children. And our acknowledgment that it's not easy to change it that we were having
trouble changing it that we were struggling with it and that we recognized that it was a big problem. If they felt in a sense that we were coming in saying we had all the answers now why didn't they shape up. And I think that's very important in terms of organizing a group to avoid. In dealing with very very difficult thing to do though because we are going in as parents and saying to the teachers we don't like what's happening in the school and we want to change it. We want your help we want your cooperation and we want to form a coalition and do it together. But it's still very difficult. And even in this school it took time to be able to get together with the parents and the teachers could work together to really have today. Is it more difficult to involve parents in a public school situation. I think the public school I think it's more difficult to get the initial in. I mean you have PTA groups and if you have parents getting themselves together in some kind of cohesive power unit and to go into the administration they can get themselves in but they don't have a sense of responsibility to parents that a private school might. And I think it's more
difficult in terms of time for meetings and to teach as they do. Don't have to give the same kind of time. They don't have the same kind of responsibility commitment to the same kind of way. So it really makes the problem even more mammoth. I think there are other ways that you can get a school involved perhaps that might not be as threatening because after our mistake we really thought OK what can we do now. Well if there were any misleading I think because a lot of change was made at live not together no but when I was on the stick I mean the initial meeting with the staff where they were very very threatened and we thought OK what do we do now to get them involved and one thing that we thought of was let's help them to see what we're seeing in a less personal way. Let's move it outside the school for a minute and what we did was we asked Time for a presentation and we asked the feminist book collective to come in and show us slides a slide show about children's readers and children's books. And that was so obvious that everyone who was there teachers other parents ended up seeing exactly the same things that we
saw. So right away their consciousness had begun to be raised without blaming themselves. And what we then did was we went back to them and we said look we'd like to be able to talk with you more about these things. We're having problems with it we'd like to be able to discuss it with you. And we set up small group meetings on a regular basis between parents and teachers. And we said anyone who would like to come. And then we tried to personalize our invitation so we would go to teachers that we knew and say we'd love to have you come. And we would have small group meetings and they would talk about very specific topics it was like focused consciousness raising So one topic was for instance what are the perceived differences between boys and girls. And there was much more of a feeling of everybody talking together about a common problem. I think the main point of being able to get teachers on your side and to deal with them together is most important in the public school system too. Because as a group of parents get together you can get support by going to individual teachers you think might be with you. And before you present it to a
faculty meeting or PTA meeting having support from the teachers out. And. Having ideas of what you want to do also is extremely helpful and I think what you said about consciousness raising is really the basis that it's got to be on a conscious raising level and have people aware of what the problems really are. I mean that's the way up and getting parent groups together now just like the group at the school got together. I've been speaking to women centers into women's groups and say what is happening to your children in school to the girls and boys that you have had the same kind of treatment. And they all say to me of course they do. And there's no discrimination. There's a law everybody has the same thing and that is that how many of you have boys who are safety monitors. In a couple of women say you know boys the couple is here we do and how many girls a safety man is and there's none. And what I said. To stand on the corner there with those white straps. They're very important they help other kids cross the streets and they've got this tremendously status drop. Girls never had these opportunities in their love to say we want our daughters to have those things too. Then you've got hall
monitors the girls who are homeowners for the most part. They're beginning at some schools that miss school still boys of all monitors. Then you have things like audiovisual Moniz they're just trying that little button and they show films and they go from class to class and push the machines around. It's a fantastic thing to get out of classes they love doing it. Girls don't do that. Boys work cameras Why can't girls do that. And that's what the parents say. That we want our girls to do that too and I think two things happen when you do that first of all everyone cares about their kids. Right. Nobody wants to see their kids hurt. And once people begin to realize that children are really being damaged by this process they begin to be concerned but I think what also happens is that they begin to realize how they felt. You know that there are a lot of who you are you thinking that her daughter is not a safety monitor perhaps remembers how she felt when she wanted that badge desperately and couldn't get it right. And I'd like you to address yourselves to that they're sponsoring the teachers their specific problems and perhaps some of the ways in which they you know were
responsive. Well. I think one of the problems for teachers is firstly how much should they do. There is a responsibility involved in being an educator and you have girls and boys and that's almost irrelevant. You talk about individuals and I talk in a whole theoretical basis we're here to educate our children. I have the right to say to a kid you must do that. And this has been a big debate that we've been having with the other parent groups that the teacher groups that we're running now we're into the next stage we really sit and discuss problems and that's been a major concern. One teacher came to us and said. The kids sit down at lunch whatever they want. The girls sit on one table the boys sit at the other. Should I integrate the tables. Would you say to her we will throw it around that's the purpose of our group now we just threw it around and said should you. I don't know Sam. People said yes and some said no. This teacher decided that it was imperative the girls and boys had contact at this time. It was her feeling that this was should be imposed she said there must be the same amount of girls and boys at each table. And this was her rule. Other
teachers might not feel comfortable with it. We also found there was a difference in the ages of the children. And well you let me finish my point my point is that every teacher really has to deal with what he or she is comfortable with and the solutions are just enormous I mean we have a choice just like to do anything we want. And the idea now is to be able to throw things around and to see the best way to handle situations and have people share with each other in a consciousness raising way to see how things are handled. What is the best way to handle them. And then learn from each other. This is the whole group process that we're really talking about. I have something I missed some things that work with one age won't work with another age so that you can you can interfere and tell children in first and second grade. No you have to have an equal number of boys and girls and that worked out very well. I mean inside of a few weeks the boys and girls were communicating with each other in a much more open natural way. But women had to do that with seventh and eighth graders. It didn't work at all and they resented greatly You can't tell me what to do. And that nobody
respects. It is an individual child too in terms of their growth and independence. You cannot impose everything on them and they have the right to have their friends and to sit with them there for they want. So mostly you're talking about things at the elementary level. But it's a really different story in high school and junior high. It's much more problematic in high school in junior high because when you're dealing with kids that are into puberty and into beginning to relate to their own bodies and to themselves and boys and girls in a very kind of. Loaded way it becomes very tricky. We try to show the film on sex bias in books to the seventh and eighth graders. And the minute they saw the word sex in the title they dissolved into giggles and that was it. They really didn't hear the rest of the show. And I think we're talking about two different issues here in terms of junior high schools and high schools and elementary schools. One is the children themselves and one is what can parents do in the schools. Let's talk about that we don't have a lot of time but ok. In terms of parents.
In elementary school it all really addressing ourselves to this experimental school in the work I'm doing now really with elementary school levels. I think the most important thing to do first is to be able to find people who are interested. And who are somewhat aware of the problem. And then as Andrew mentioned earlier get some kind of group cohesiveness as a power base. So they can go with their ideas as a unit with strength to the administration and say we want to work with you we have some difficulties. You have some difficulties we have to have a coalition of people together and find out what the problems really are and to alleviate them to working together. The next thing is really what to do about it. And then we can give them some concrete suggestions in terms of conscious raising for the teachers and in terms of curriculum ideas for the children to work with. We talked about the parents response the teachers response just a little bit about the children's response. You did some consciousness or I didn't I'm just raising with eighth graders which Andrea mentioned before the difference which was interesting I saw that having the boys and girls together in one group and it was
absolutely impossible. The boys laughed at there was competition there was power struggles. The girls could not talk comfortably in front of them. They were adolescent kids they were interested in how they looked. They were interested Seventeen magazine and had an absolute impossible time with them. And what about this. The littler kids. Well what I'm finding with the littler kids is that they're more aware. And they know what we want to hear and they can look at television shows and books and commercials and they can tell us everything that's wrong with them. Are they giving it to you because they know you want to hear it. I think that's part of it but I think part of it is that they're really hearing it and they're really seeing it and they're really seeing that it's a very limiting thing I think where it gets to be much more difficult to induce changes when you get down to their interaction with each other. Because as much as they can look at a commercial and say it's very silly that the women are passive in dusting and cleaning house and the men are these super aggressive superheroes when they get out into the yard the boys still want to hog the big yard and the girls still have trouble breaking in and it takes a lot of real compensatory work on the part of the teachers and on the
part of the parents to help both groups to help the boys. Calm down and give more room. And help the girls become more assertive and reach out for what they want and get it and learn how to effectively develop the skills that they've really been crippled in developing. It can't just happen if they're left alone it will never happen. I think one of the ways to bridge we have here a minute. OK quickly one of the ways to bridge the gap I talk fast. You know you should do is to talk about fairness with the children. And to let them realize that it isn't fair and the boys will really be receptive. That I found that with third and fourth grade kids that the boys are receptive to saying it isn't fair that they're having a situation. It isn't fair that the girls are always in a small yacht even though we want to. Know that fairness is what I think it's a part of the thing they allow to come through with the kids that I've worked through with I think you still have to have an adult who's aware of what can set limits as say it cannot be this way. Yes but you
Episode Number
Sex Bias in Education, Part 2
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WNED (Buffalo, New York)
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Episode Description
This episode features a conversation with Andrea Ostrum and Barbara Rothberg. Ostrum is a clinical psychologist, a parent of three, and a member of The Sex Roles Committee at a school in Brooklyn. Rothberg is a social worker, parent, and member of The Sex Roles Committee at the same school in Brooklyn.
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Woman is a talk show featuring in-depth conversations exploring issues affecting the lives of women.
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Social Issues
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Director: George, Will
Guest: Ostrum, Andrea
Guest: Rothberg, Barbara
Host: Elkin, Sandra
Producer: Elkin, Sandra
Producing Organization: WNED
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: WNED 04295 (WNED-TV)
Format: DVCPRO
Generation: Master
Duration: 00:28:50
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Chicago: “Woman; 118; Sex Bias in Education, Part 2,” 1974-02-21, WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 30, 2022,
MLA: “Woman; 118; Sex Bias in Education, Part 2.” 1974-02-21. WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 30, 2022. <>.
APA: Woman; 118; Sex Bias in Education, Part 2. Boston, MA: WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from