Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gender disparity at the geography bee

From Mark Perry:
National Geographic Bee - GW law professor Jonathan Turley reports that Minot State University professor emeritus Eric Clausen has been battling the National Geographic Society (NGS) in federal court over his claims that the national contest discriminates against girls because virtually no girls have won the national title.... 
According to Professor Clausen only 2 out of the state winners in 2009 were girls and only one girl advanced to the national finals in 2010. Clausen also claims that the “NGS knows and has known since the Geographic Bee competitions began that the contests do not provide girls with an equal opportunity to participate in the higher-level competitions.”
It appears that only five girls won state competitions in 2011, so the trend continues.

Related to this story are my observations during a recent 8th grade class field trip to Washington DC.  During our visits to the museums and other attractions, the boys appeared significantly more interested than the girls in history and politics.  They asked many more questions, including plenty of inappropriate ones.  Last time I checked, the middle school history club was mainly boys.

It could be that one of the reasons boys are drawn more to geography and history is that they tend to be the gender with a stronger interest in wars.  A quote by writer Ambrose Pierce comes to mind:  "War is God's way of teaching Americans geography."  Curiously, the trend in history social studies classes seems to be to downplay the military details of wars in favor of an increased focus on the human suffering and victimization aspects.  This causes me to speculate it might be a conscious strategy designed to draw more girls into the subject of history.

On the other hand, take this quiz about two middle school clubs to consider another way our schools might be dealing with gender differences when it come to the study of history.


  1. I was a history fanatic as a kid, and still am. Most girls are history fanatics - look at the popularity of the American Girl dolls, and historical fiction, and bios of queens. History isn't just wars - in fact, I consider that to be the History Channel, "popular" view of history.

  2. Come on, "most" girls are history fanatics? I haven't seen evidence of that.

    History is definitely not just wars, but wars might be considered the big, exciting stuff of history by some.

  3. Well, most kids in general are NOT history fanatics. But the few that are out there seem to be pretty evenly divided between girls and boys. I know little girls who are Laura Ingalls Wilder fanatics, for example. And of course there is that American Girl phenomenon. When we were in Canada, we saw an entire line of books written for tween girls on history themes, with associated sticker books and project books. In fact, I find it hard to locate books on history for boy#2, who loves history, since most seem to be aimed at girls. Also, I remember when I was a kid, history was seen as being more for girls - boys were supposed to like sports and math.

  4. It's hard to imagine that finding history books for boys would have been so difficult 20-40 years ago. I think that's a recent problem, although from your experience, maybe not. But I don't remember history as being more for girls.

    At the elementary book fairs for my kids, I remember some sections set up for books more of interest to girls and some for boys. That seems smart, because kids of either gender can pick what they want from any section.