Teach Girls to Raise Their Hands Even If They Are Unsure of the Answer
Last week, Alice Paul Tapper, a fifth grader from Washington, DC, wrote an article in the New York Times in which women of all ages nodded in solidarity. On a trip to fourth grade, Tupper noticed that “all the boys stood in front and raised their hands, while most of the girls politely remained behind and silent.” This upset her.
Then she gets to the point: “I told my mother that I thought that the girls did not raise their hands because they were afraid that the answer would be wrong and they would be embarrassed. I also think they were quiet because the boys had already gotten the teacher’s attention and they were worried they might not get it. “
New research shows that by age six, girls are less likely than boys to be “really smart.” Self-doubt can seep through messages sent by parents, teachers, peers, cultural norms and the media, messages that say: stay in line. Be respectful. Not too many. Do not let me down.
Psychotherapist Katie Hurley sees young girls struggle to communicate their needs in the classroom. But, as she writes in her forthcoming book No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Bringing Up Strong, Confident, Compassionate Girls , when girls learn to speak in an assertive voice, they are not only better at school, but also more likely to do so. resist negative peer pressure, share your feelings with friends and family, and deal with everyday life problems on your own. “Girls need to understand (at an early age) that their voices matter,” Hurley writes. “They need to learn to defend their feelings, thoughts, needs and ideas. More importantly, they need to learn to talk about it with conviction. “
The only thing parents can do is encourage girls to raise their hands more often, even if they are not sure if their answer will be “correct”. Nobody tells them to be reckless about it (we all know what it looks like ), but as Sherrill Sandberg would say, we can just help them get the “seat at the table” they deserve.
Tupper, a Girl Scout, has worked with her squad to develop a new patch called Raise Your Hand . To get it, the scout must promise to raise a hand in class and hire at least three other girls who promise to do the same. I love the idea of having a signed document and a constant visual reminder, but the responsibility for encouraging young girls shouldn’t fall on them alone.
Here’s how adults can support them:
Rethink bad ideas as important ideas
In Quartz at Work, Jennifer Reale writes about the importance of loving bad ideas, because sharing these raw scraps of unedited thoughts can generate brilliant ideas. “Everyone is creative,” Riel explains. “But many of us censor ourselves by not sharing ideas until we are fully convinced that our idea is worth it. We want to make sure the idea raises the bar for discussion. Who wants to be the person who comes up with a totally unrealistic and unrealistic bad idea in a meeting? We all have to because it turns out that when a really bad idea hits the table, it frees up the team to share their own ideas, even those that seem a little silly at first. “
In an elementary school classroom, Real had students come up with the worst idea for a birthday party. And ideas flowed. Sewer Event! Party without cake! Parents and teachers can reimagine failure as something we need more. This is similar to how we should write bad drafts .
Teach her to practice using her voice
Ban Bossy , a public service campaign to promote girls’ leadership, explains that girls learn early on that too much confidence can be ostracized, and you hear it in their voices:
Many girls begin sentences with an apology (“I’m not sure if that’s right, but …”) or turn factual sentences into questions (“Was Martin Luther King a civil rights leader?”). Some people raise their heads, play with their hair, or cover their mouths when speaking, using phrases such as “kind of” and “in part” to weaken their beliefs. These phrases can become a habit and subsequently prevent the girl from speaking directly.
The campaign suggests that parents notice how they communicate in front of their girls and acknowledge that they too are using vague, oblique language. In her book, Hurley recommends giving girls the opportunity to practice using their confident voice. One mission to try: Have your daughter ask the librarian where she can find books on sharks. Practice this beforehand. “I have yet to meet a child librarian who would not jump into action right away to help a child in need of a book,” Hurley writes.
Change the system too
As Tupper noted in her New York Times article , girls are often silent because the boys have already caught the teacher’s attention. Bang Bossi gives teachers some tips on how to make sure they don’t treat boys and girls differently.
- Spend a few days tracking the gender of the students they are reaching out to and make sure they call as many girls as boys. Teachers should also, as the website urges, “Avoid over-praising girls who are ‘good’.”
- After asking a question, pause for a few moments so that all students have more time to participate.
- Try to accept all ideas in a neutral way (“Thanks for sharing”) rather than blurt out, “Wow, this is an awesome idea!”
It takes intention and practice (and perhaps some awkward realizations), but recognizing systemic problems is the first step towards changing them.