An ethnographic study of gender differentiation in a middle school
This study examines facets of gender differentiation in a middle school. Utilizing an ethnographic methodology emphasis is placed upon the exploration of classroom interaction, inter-personal relations and participants' perceptual stances in order to explore how gender is implicated in the process of schooling. Although inquiries are located within a micro sociological context, the study is conducted against a backdrop of the socio-economic position of women and particular attention is accorded to the educational experience of girls and its implications for gender inequality at a structural level. The research demonstrates gender differentiation to be a ubiquitous feature of school life both in terms of its more formal routines and rituals and in its informal relations at the interactive level. Conventional constructs of femininity and masculinity impinge upon teacher perceptions of,and interaction with pupils, with the result that girls' competencies are devalued, they are not subject to the same degree of educative rigour as boys and, consequently, are marginalized within the classroom. Various dimensions of teacherpupil interaction are presented which elucidate the intricacies of such differentiation and which suggest how opportunities for enhancing pupils' self-esteem and facilitating the acquisition of participatory learning skills are distributed in favour of boys. Certain preoccupations and predispositions are, moreover, presented by pupils and the inquiry elaborates how these are reciprocated with institutional arrangements and expectancies. In terms of school as a working environment, educative processes are demonstrated as potentially more anxiety prcvoking for girls and, in relation to school as a social milieu, friendship networks are organized on a hierarchical basis in response to the contingencies of subject settings. Thus girls engage in certain ameliorative strategies and it is maintained, that to the extent that the school colludes with these, femininity is fostered in a way which is, in the longer term, educationally disadvantaging for girls and, ultimately, socially and economically disadvantaging for women.