Compelling statistics show boys rank behind girls by nearly every measure of scholastic achievement, yet the phenomenon is as polarising as it is puzzling. Part 1 of a six-part series. In 1998, when stories about schools short-changing girls still played in the press, and research continued to chronicle the gender bias against females in the classroom, some of Canada’s leading educational publishers began revising their standard science textbooks for Grades 7 through 10. Several studies had faulted textbooks for pushing sexist stereotypes of Dick and Jane, driving girls away from certain subjects, science in particular. Mindful of that, publishers instructed their contributors to feature girls prominently in the revised editions. “If you had a picture of a person doing something positive, winning a race, performing an experiment successfully, etc., [you had to] make sure it was of a girl,” said one of the consultants involved in the revisions. “If you had to have a picture of someone doing a bad thing – bullying, making a mistake, being unsure which course of action to take, etc. – the image was invariably of a boy.” The consultant, who asked that his name be withheld to protect his employment, said the intentions were good but perhaps the pendulum swung too far. “The side effect was to show the boys that they are rarely winners and we expect less of them,” he said. “The unstated assumption was that boys did not need the same degree of encouragement.”
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