Schoolgirls: Youngwomen, self-esteem, and the confidence gap

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Theresa Heverly

Book Review

Schoolgirls: Young women, self-esteem, and the confidence gap

By: Peggy Orenstein

        In 1990, The American Association of University Women conducted a national survey to find out the attitudes that three thousand boys and girls between the ages of nine and fifteen had about themselves and school.  From their findings, they found that as young girls reach adolescence their self-esteem drops rapidly.  It was also found that this loss of confidence was severe among ethnic groups.  The survey also helped to support years of research evidence documenting gender bias in American Education.  Peggy Orenstein in association with the American Association of University Women released her book SchoolGirls: Young women, self-esteem, and the confidence gap in 1994 in response to the survey report entitled Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America.  In this book, Orenstein writes of her first hand experience with a behind the scenes look of adolescent girls’ everyday lives.  The narrative explores the human side of the statistics found during the report as well as providing insight into how the education system often restricts girls from getting the experience they deserve.

        The first two parts of the book take place at two California middle schools, which are fifty miles apart from one another, but they seem like two different worlds.  Weston is a predominately “white suburban middle school with a reputation for excellence”, while Audubon is located in a “beleaguered urban community that is ninety percent ethnic minority, mostly poor or working poor” (p.xxii).  “My criteria was simple,” says Orenstein, “I chose schools based on their racial and economic makeup and the willingness of the administrators, teachers, and students to participate” (p. xxi).  Results from both of these schools in which Orenstein observed are presented in both sections.  The third section of the book, is spent in a classroom where gender equity is practiced.

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        The findings from Weston are separated into six chapters.  The first of these chapters discusses how girls learn to be silent, inactive participants in the classroom.  Orenstein points out that the ratio of talk in the classroom was approximately five boys to one girl.  Chapter two shows how the hidden curriculum teaches girls to be submissive and deferential.  Girls are seen as facing much contradiction.  They are supposed to be outspoken, yet they face a thin line on just how far they should carry out this characteristic.  In chapter three, an even more contradictory line is examined.  Girls protest to ...

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