Newswise—Boys talk nine times more than girls in the classroom—and are encouraged to do so—according to findings from a new language dynamics study. Subtlety enforcing male significance early in life may help explain why women aren't often found in positions of authority and significance in their workplace, says Allyson Jule, study principal and Trinity Western University professor.

In her book, Gender, Participation, and Silence in the Language Classroom: Sh-Shushing the Girls, Jule publishes a ten-month case study of a group of grade 2, ethnic-minority children growing up in Canada, and explores the relationship of gender, ethnicity and participation within an English-language teaching classroom.

In the classroom, the boys were given tiny, almost imperceptible signals of significance over the girls. The teacher usually referred to the boys by name but the girls in groups. For instance, "Peter, be quiet," and "girls, shhh."

Often the teacher would repeat a comment by a boy, or a boy-tempered question, for the class; but if a girl answered she wouldn't repeat it.

These findings confirm previous studies in western classrooms that show boys take up five times as much linguistic space as girls. "The trend that's been seen in thousands of other classrooms is that linguistic space is something belonging to boys," says Jule. "This study supports that and shows that gender may be a more significant variable than ethnicity."

Critics of the study's conclusions argue that boys act out more, and therefore need to be controlled and addressed by name, but Jule says the overcorrection is still giving significance to the boys—even their naughtiness is more interesting than the girls' participation.

"Girls are often celebrated for being quiet," she says. "The 'nice, quiet girls' get their work done—and on some levels, it's working." Girls are outscoring boys in major exams and the number of women entering medical school has now topped the number of men. But Jule says follow the trajectory of their careers and see who holds the top medical positions of power. "They're [females] not chiefs of surgery," she says. "Often they don't even select specialties that reflect what they could do. Studies performed in public settings—classrooms, courts of law, surgery rooms—look for whose is the voice of authority and significance. It's male." Jule's study investigates if this pattern is innate and normal, or if it's simply become normalized. "We are rehearsing roles so that by the time we reach adulthood we can be even better performers of our gender," she explains. "Looking at children offers insight into if women/girls are essentially quieter in public settings, or if it can be altered. My conclusion is that it can. From my research, the teacher does systematic things that can silence them. If she'd done different things, they would have said more. It's not that girls are quiet, it's that girls have been silenced."

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Gender, Participation, and Silence in the Language Classroom: Sh-Shushing the Girls. (Jule, Allyson, 2004)