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Gender and Curriculum: Power and Being Female

Author(s): S. J. Crump
Source: British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 11, No. 4 (1990), pp. 365-385
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
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British Journal of Sociology of Education

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British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 11, No. 4, 1990 365

Gender and Curriculum: power and being female

S. J. CRUMP, University of Newcastle, Australia

ABSTRACT Focusing on gender relations in a working class co-educational school, this

paper reports on the differences in power, status and control when male and female
students interact with school-based curricular processes. The research site provided an
interesting arena for the empowerment of pupils, particularly female, through a negoti-
ated school-based curriculum fragment of the total school organisation. This paper aims to
portray teacher/student negotiations in the context of classwork and classroom behaviour
and the making of appropriate subject selections, a process which portrays an experimental
interaction between students and the organisation and authority of the school. The
research identified areas linked closely to emerging shifts in female student career options,
as well as reflecting perspectives relevant to policy and theory development for the 1990s.

James (15 years old) (Extensions in Mathematics school course): the girls
aren't afraid of much you know. They think they can do anything, (they
think) no-one's going to stop them. Then the boys come along and the
girls tell them to shut up.
Mr Atari (Basic Word Processing school course): if anything, I find the
girls are the more able students who work well with computers. They're
usually more cluey about what's going on. (...) I find that they (girls) see
themselves as the students in control in the classroom at that time. So, if
anything, there's been a number of instances where the boys have put
their hand up and asked for help from the girls.
Educational reforms and legislative initiatives in Australia and internationally
during the 1970s and 1980s allowed many schools to develop a broad curriculum
which presented possibilities for changes to the gender patterns of subject
selection. In Australia, during the 1980s, the Disadvantaged Schools Programme
and the Participation And Equity Programme were both national policy projects
which provided funds to a large number of schools for the development of
strategies aimed at reducing disadvantages and increasing secondary school
retention rates. 'Carpenter' High School, a co-educational comprehensive gov-
ernment school located in the working class western suburbs of Sydney, provides

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366 S. J. Crump

one instance of outcomes from this funding [1]. In deciding the effectiveness of
the provision for addressing gender equity issues within the curriculum at
Carpenter, the question investigated concerned the extent to which these policy
reforms and educational innovations incorporated the perceived and real prob-
lems of female students.

Gender-bound practices have been a constant feature of all the planned and
unplanned experiences within our schools. The orientation of this study unequi
vocally acknowledged that curricular content and practices are experienc
through gender relations which unequally distribute power between male and
female students. Many of the problem-solving programmes of the studen
cultures at Carpenter High School provided further evidence confirming this
Yet, unequal distributions of power also need to be understood as unequ
distributions within gender groups. At Carpenter, second class problem-solvers
such as less academic, impoverished, immigrant and Aboriginal female students
were disadvantaged within the common curriculum in comparison to the pow
derived from the privileged choices this curriculum offered, for example, to
Anglo-Saxon Celtic, academic, affluent females. Similar inequitable structures o
power existed between groups of male students; however, female students tend
to be the most disadvantaged through the further imbalance of power they oft
experienced from the exercise of less dominant cultural perspectives.
The different dispositions, perspectives and practices of male and femal
students suggested the presence of student cultures based on gender. In th
Carpenter study, instances of intercultural understanding between teachers and
female students, in particular, demonstrated a level of cooperation and under
standing that potentially empowered female students to build up an effective
strategic problem-solving programme within the school. Most female student
involved in the study were judged to be more amenable to change in scho
contexts than male students and were judged to be responding to a number of
policy-supported initiatives from the school, for example, ones which aimed t
raise female student awareness of career issues. The links between male students

and the curriculum were also examined. Fathers were judged to take, or t
more able to take, a greater interest in the education and career prospects
their sons than their daughters. Ironically, this tended to maintain the li
career options included in the perspectives of these male students. Even t
male students were the most overtly powerful student group in the s
context, this power was perceived to hold elements of its own demise
illustrated through the example of the differences between male student 'h
for' and 'expected' career choices.
The methodological approach taken assumed that a culture is marked by
of ways of behaving and understanding. This provides a description of 'cultu
the whole way of life of a social group. The study thus attempted to analys
Carpenter school community as a developing whole which changed through
though marked by competing cultures. For teachers, the competition was be
those who responded to the impetus for curricular reforms (identified as 'I
tors') and those who were more guarded in their responses (identified as '
tionalists'). Student's cultures, despite different sets of perspectives, diff
friendship groups and a variety of ethnic backgrounds, were judged, b
researcher, to be marked by an overriding uniformity in their particular respon
to traditional syllabus-driven classwork, when compared to their response

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Gender and Curriculum 367

curriculum reconstructed by the development of school courses. With resp

this factor, the major differential between student cultures was gender.
This paper aims, therefore, to portray an instance of pragmatic teacher/
negotiations over convergent or divergent perspectives on classroom wor
behaviour and offer insights into the gender bias of curricular structure
school setting at Carpenter was a context in which students' culture
teachers' cultures often confronted each other, but when female students and the
Initiators made effective contact through locating common ground or cultural
touchstone (Walker, 1988) within the school-based curriculum, these school cul-
tures became pregnant with the possibility of empowering change.

Theory, Method and Problem-solving

The aim of the Carpenter study was to investigate teacher and student approaches
to solving problems as observed at the school level in such a way as to allow a
broad level of cultural analysis. The interplay of data from student interviews and
student/parent responses to the subject selection questionnaire became the main
tool for the examination of the coherence of these problem-solution repertoires.
The methodological approach recognised teachers and students as capable of
conducting or contributing to valid educational research. The research was
designed, therefore, to assess the extent and array of problem-solving practices in
social relations, to assess group levels of awareness of these, to include action as
well as descriptive and empirical components and to test and expand the theory.
The research began as an ethnographic, participant-observer cultural study in
what was my own workplace. Through the evolution of the research practices, my
role changed to one of acting as an agent in the construction of a process of
change. The study was committed, therefore, to the realisation of better relations
of schooling at the research site.
The design of the Carpenter study took into account Woods' (1985) claim that
there are a number of aspects to consider for encouraging 'theoretical sensitivity'
in new studies: the selection of topics, moving from descriptive to cumulative and
corrective studies; greater openness to other substantive studies in the same area
and others, and to different theortical approaches and methodologies; and,
improving powers of theoretical insight through a creativity encouraged by a
reflective attitude. The value of ethnography, therefore, came to be seen in
relation to the development, rather than generation, of coherent and valid
theory. The challenge then became one of assessing which theory offered the
'best' current explanation.
The choice, in this instance, was Materialist Pragmatism [MP] (Evers & Walker,
1982; Walker, 1985). What Woods (1985) suggested above is explained by MP as
a rational competition between theories. Instead of accepting the best of several
inadequate theories, Evers (1987) argues for a coherence theory of evidence
which makes the best or most coherent theory that which possesses more virtues
of simplicity, fecundity, scope and consistency than any of its rivals. While MP
guided the theoretical orientation of the study, different emphases from four
epistemic, curricular and sociological research programmes came together to
provide complementary emphases. These include Woods' (1979, 1986) view of
the subject selection process, Grace's (1978, 1984, 1987) insights into the
occupational culture of teachers and urban schools, Smith's (1985) analysis of

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368 S. J. Crump

curricular reality/intention and Walker's (1988) analysis of youth and teacher


The theoretical orientation suggested that a naturalistic methodology was apt,

with an ethnographic study-from the perspective of MP-judged to be episte-
mologically more basic than purely quantitative research (Walker, 1985). At the
same time, this study did not simplistically regard ethnography as a better
'paradigm' but, rather, as a method with advantages and disadvantages. Although,
until the 1980s, much had been made of the disadvantages, one of the advantages
noted by Hammersley & Atkinson (1983), and drawn on in this study, was the
value of ethnography in providing a depth of evidence to check the plausibility of
competing lines of analysis, that is, the value ethnography is to the development
of theory.
The research techniques adopted included participant observation, straight
observation, direct inquiry through formal and informal interviews and discus-
sions, group meetings, surveys, historical material, institutional documents and
policies; these techniques involved the researcher in democratic research prac-
tices. The subjects and the researcher changed and responded, therefore,
through a relatively lengthy developmental process over three years (1986-88).
There are continuing links between the researcher and the school and follow-up
interviews were conducted early in 1990. The methodology was observational,
contextual, open-ended and longitudinal, involving a variety of participation data-
gathering tools which enabled the researcher to combine both internal and
external perspectives.
The Carpenter study adopted the strategy that qualitative and quantitative
techniques can be complementary. This implies a methodological approach which
argues that different research traditions do not constitute incommensurable
paradigms. Therefore, while priority was awarded to qualitative research strat-
egies in the Carpenter study, quantitative data was collected where appropriate.
Given the emphasis of the research on the development of alternative curricular
structures in the school, it became clear that a good group of target for
quantitative data collection would be Year 9 and Year 10 students and their
parents/guardians. This multiple approach was united through a pragmatist
model of coherent curriculum development (Walker, 1987), involving five steps:

i. determining what the relevant group(s) regard as their problems;

ii. determining how they see their options for dealing with these problems;
iii. analysing these accounts of problems and solutions to discover the degree
of internal coherence between different problem/solution frameworks;
iv. comparing problem/solution frameworks for mutual coherence;
v. determining the effectiveness of the problem/solution frameworks being
used by various groups/individuals involved in the overall problem situation as
options derived from or through touchstone.

A basic premise of the research was that an effective way to study teacher and
student groups was to inquire into their problem-solving programmes. A prob-
lem-solution analysis starts with 'problems' as perceived by cultures or subcul-
tures. The solutions are the practices or strategies acted on in response to specific
problems. Differences within and between programmes are also linked to differ-
ences in power within and between groups. For example, Carpenter's teachers
mainly acted as transmitters of centrally-devised syllabi. This provided them with

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Gender and Curriculum 369

the greatest problem-solving power in the school community, with stu

parents relegated to second-class problem-solving status in terms of ha
interests and needs only partially addressed through the problem-solu
grammes of teachers, as well as in relation to their ability to exercise
control to act upon a perceived solution. Yet, there were many shared
and problem situations within the school. What was partially achieved b
ter was a greater sharing of control between the Initiator teachers and
and, therefore, a more equitable and democratic sharing of power in th
curriculum, a process reflecting areas of common ground, or touchstone
a curriculum addressing the problems of students and teachers could
For the school as part of a wider social context, one shared context was
rate of unemployment for young people in the local community:
Commonwealth Employment Service office had 49.2% of 15-19 year o
tered as unemployed in March, 1985. It is not surprising, then, that th
of the 50 school-based courses developed at Carpenter were vocatio
ented. The strength and credibility of these courses were largely base
ability to provide skills and experience which assisted the entry of man
into a place in the workforce which complemented students' interests a
The research strategies, therefore, had a number of advantages and
tages. My background as a teacher in the school meant that there was n
invent some 'cover' for the researcher's presence in the school, or raise
barrier arising from a perception of the researcher as an outsider, be it
academic, education department official or author. This provided som
privileges for the research roles that were possibly not available to an
researcher. Restrictions, at least initially, were generally those evolvin
from the researcher's place as a member of staff. On the other hand, t
did have to adopt and adapt research techniques that would possibly e
barriers, especially with teacher groups. For example, I felt the same
many other researchers to establish a formal contract outlining the r
responsibilities of the research.
There were also disadvantages. Over-familiarity with the research si
mean that commonplace events might be ignored by both the researc
informants yet could hold compelling significance to an outsider; inf
might not divulge sensitive information; and, there was the problem of
validity. I also had to be critically aware of my own ideological commit
values during analysis of the data. The strong concern for validity and c
expressed through the triangulation of theory, research strategie
collection instruments (qualitative and quantitative), an approach whic
overcame a sufficient number of these disadvantages.


Intervention in the Curriculum

A decade ago, Miller (1980) argued, against the trends, that interventionist
policies embody deficit-hypotheses which involve a culture-centric paternalism
and possible psychic violence to the doubly-bound 'disadvantaged' dependent
female. The analysis of the Carpenter study also challenged those interventionist
theories which gave a too simplistic account of 'invisibility' and/or lack of
confidence in female students and which isolated them in passive roles. The

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370 S. J. Crump

promotion of desirable change in the perspectives of female students, in order to

allow them to develop more powerful problem-solving strategies, hinged in-
stead-I hypothesised-on addressing the real and perceived problems female
students experience as a student culture from a starting point which acknow-
ledged that female students might already be active constructors of solutions to
their problems.
In discussing with a group of Year 10 students the interventionist strategies
implemented in a national affirmative action scheme which operated at Carpenter
under federal government funding, it became clear that strategies developed and
implemented to assist some female students unintentionally alienated others. This
provided a clear case of poor intercultural communication between teachers and
students. When an interview group was discussing whether female students found
it hard to make career choices, one of the participants, sitting on the edge of her
seat and agitated, turned to the rest and asked [2]:

Year 10 Computers in The Business World:

fl: Do you remember last year girls from 1 and 2 (the two top classes)
went on an (girls' careers) excursion... (Ten Year 10 female students
[16 years old] went to Granville College of Technical and Further
Education for a talk on 'Expanding your options in Mathematics and
Science' organised to influence the choice of senior school subjects these
students would soon make).
f4: That's not fair, I don't think that's fair... the girls from 1 and 2 get
to go but (mimicking a teacher's assumed attitude) 'Too bad about the
rest of them',... 'They won't be able to do those subjects (senior
Mathematics and Science-to qualify them for better careers).
m2: (interrupting) They're going to be a mother by the time they're

f4: (adding) They think (the teachers organising the excu

they're going to be a housewife'...

Despite differences between cultural and gender construction,

student perspectives overlapped on this issue, with their persp
within a shared social and economic context. This cultural dyn
layered rather than gender specific. The attempt to target a g
students who might have the academic ability to make them m
receptive to policies related to girls in mathematics and sc
theoretically, to build up the confidence levels of one group of
had the unintended consequence of generating hostility in the
students perceived to be less academic. While the strategy
teachers in the above transcript was arguably successful w
students (more girls did enrol in high level senior mathematic
quent years), the message for the not-so-academic group in th
received as: "You are dumb and less likely to be in control of you
future finances". The resentment felt by these female studen
student classmates, still smouldered a year after the event.
One explanation for the level of divergence between teac
cultures implicit in the above example can be placed within
purposes and audience depicted in the Project For Girls as it ope
ter. In 1986, four of the six major activities for the project at C

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Gender and Curriculum 371

staff rather than students. Of the two student-based activities, one did not run
because the teacher involved was transferred, the other related to the pilot classes
for single-sex science teaching in Year 10. In 1987, the federal government
financed, through the nation-wide Participation and Equity Programme, a school-
level budget of $22,608 for Carpenter. School documents revealed that 78% of
this money was spent on employing casual teachers in order to provide release
time for teachers to develop curriculum, write assessment policies, and the like.
The other 22% financed resources, residential accommodation for conferences,
ancillary staff overtime and support services. The issue was clearcut: there was a
divergence between teacher and student cultures about the worth of the Project
For Girls because female students were not participants and the strategies were
not designed to include student perspectives. Therefore, the majority of female
students who were interviewed identified the Project For Girls strategies with the
culture of the project teachers, not as strategies necessarily or directly designed to
solve female student problems. As the Carpenter team was part of a cluster of
project teams in nearby schools implementing similar strategies, it is likely that
this scenario was not limited to the Carpenter context.

Single-sex Classes

One policy direction popular in the 1980s saw the creation of single-sex classes
for mathematics and science in co-educational schools, classes designed to assist
'invisible' female students. In England, Bowes' (1986) research into single-sex
science teaching for third-year students suggested advantages for female students,
and their quickness in exploiting these, compared to the males' lingering resent-
ment and lesser ability to cope with the change. Yet, in 1987, Australian
researchers, Gill & Dyer, explored the implications behind Spender's 'invisibility'
thesis (1982) and challenged the way it relegated women to a passive role. Gill &
Dyer regarded such studies of classroom talk as simplistic and damaging in that
they represented girls as too passive.
The findings of the Carpenter study suggested that those female students who
were interviewed and observed were not limited to passive roles and were
equivocal about the purpose, nature and outcomes of the single-sex pilot scheme
for Year 10 Science. The following comments were fairly representative:
fl: I don't like it!
f2: All you ever do is sit around and gossip.., .about boys!
fl: Yeah! (Laughter)
Q: Are girls asking questions in science or doing things they didn't do
last year?
fl: I don't think it's made any difference at all. I don't know... I've
forgotten the purpose of it... because they think girls work less hard...
Q: Yeah... not as likely to do the experiments, and...
fl: Yeah, but I think that's wrong...
In rejecting much of the scheme, these student comments indicated that the idea
was imposed from outside ("they think"), not one that students were drawn into
and accepted or, preferably, one they posed within their own cultural perspec-
tives. I would argue-despite the worth of the science class project-that if
students do not believe the options facing them are realistic, then female cultural

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372 S. J. Crump

perspectives are unlikely to change. This could well explain why students 'gos-
siped' rather than took advantage of what could have been a unique experience.
What this strategy failed to take into consideration was just how science and
mathematics classes function in practice, and how the perspectives reflected in
female student behaviour influenced student career aspirations. One other
critical point which the previous transcript suggested was that if strategies such as
single-sex classes are seen as imposed from outside, then the power relations
between teacher and students in the classroom will not change. Though male
students had been removed from the interactions, that did not guarantee that
teachers would hear or see female students any more than they had before, nor
would the teachers' interpretative scheme necessarily alter. I followed this point
up with another group:
Year 9 Extensions in Mathematics:

Q: They say girls are 'shy' in Science... that's why we've got this single-
sex class.

ml: I think you just learn more in the subjects that help you more (to get
a job).
fl: in English you do more of your own work. If people are shy, they (the
teachers) don't think they're good in English.
m2: Boys aren't really shy (but) it's been proven that boys aren't as
mature as girls... (boys) are afraid to say what they think...
These students hint at what the researcher frequently observed at Carpenter:
first, the extent of student power over other students in the classroom was
dependent on individual personality-aggressive people dominated teacher time,
excluded fellow students and did more of the activities; second, the extent and
incidence of power relations between students, and between teacher and
students, was related to different teaching practices (teacher talk; blackboard
work; textbook work; group work; individual research); and third, students were
very pragmatic about what they did in the classroom-altruistic goals such as
'improve self-esteem' needed to be linked closely in a student's mind to those
practical issues which students feel are important to their futures.
Therefore, there will have to be much more practical student/teacher negotia-
tion over classroom practices and the curriculum for science and mathematics to
become relevant to female cultural perspectives. It will take time before female
student practices and attitudes alter so that the social benefits of girls-only science
classes-be more active, ask more questions, do more of the experiments-
materialise into academic results. Yet, this outcome is vital, given that female
student awareness of the range of career paths open to them has increased, as has
a realisation of the importance of making the best subject choices for senior
school (Bowes, 1986). If female student academic performance does not reach
the levels required by the new careers towards which students aspire, it is quite
likely that they will abandon these aspirations.

Student Behaviour

Gender perception by teachers often determines the power that is held by student
groups. This process generally disempowers female students. There has been little
recognition in educational research, however, of the confidence which female

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Gender and Curriculum 373

students do have but might not present as aggressively as males. 'Confide

defined this way, might not have been recognised owing to misconceptions
teacher-preferred practices in the classroom. At Carpenter, where teachin
learning practices were significantly altered in school-based courses, an analy
how these practices has developed was possible. More important, this analy
suggested what this has meant to specific gender groups. Female stude
school course classes provided, perhaps, the best example of this. I ask
teacher of Basic Word Processing for Year 9 whether females and males beh

Mr Atari: If anything, I find the girls are the more able students who
work well with computers; they're usually more cluey about what's going
on. I find that, when it comes to peer help within the classroom, it's
always the girls who will get up and go over to other computers-where
some of the boys are having trouble with them-they're (girls) usually
the ones to help. I find that they (girls) see themselves as the students in
control in the classroom at that time. So, if anything, there's been a
number of instances where the boys have put their hand up and asked
for help from the girls. So, I think the guys look for guidance from the

The female students' behaviour, in this example, might be cited as yet another
case of male students exploiting the sharing and co-operative nature of female
students' preferred learning practices. Yet, what this response would need to
explain is why attributes of invisibility and low self-esteem were not overtly
evident. Not only did these female students recognise their high levels of
competence in word processing with computers, but this was also recognised by
the (male) teacher and, more significantly, by most male students. One competing
interpretation could be that the content was really only 'typing', a traditional
female task and skill. Yet, the context-computing-was one noted as a mascu-
line domain. Alternatively, female students might have been more attuned to the
purpose of the lessons.
Further, the research at Carpenter challenged Gill's & Dyer's (1987) proposi-
tion that male students are situated more powerfully than female students in a
classroom because male student behaviour is more in line with the dominant

teacher ideology of "learners as autonomous active individuals". If the d

of 'active' is a level of activity that is acceptable to the teacher, this may
In many classes at Carpenter, the latter was clearly not the case, and ma
(mis)behaviour as autonomous, active individuals was frequently ob
mitigate against them as learners. Participant observation in Carpen
suggested, instead, that it was male student rejection of the teacher pra
the academic curriculum which was the dominant form of classroom interaction,
with more male students creating behaviour problems in and outside classrooms,
isolated in the withdrawal room, and suspended from the school. It was male
students, therefore, who caused teachers the most concern with classroom
management, whereas, female student behaviour was more commensurate with
ideologies regarding learning in the teachers' cultures. The ability of female
students to work on while male students disrupted or wasted time was illustrated
when I asked the students about the teacher quoted above:

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374 S. J. Crump

Q: What happens when you get in the computer room. Do boys grab all
the machines?

f4: No. The boys muck around more than the girls. The girls get a lot
more work done than what boys do really.
Q: Muck around with the computers or 'muck around'...?
f4: Yeah (the latter). They just sit there and talk. They might get about
two lines done in two periods and the girls are all finished their work...
Q: So you get a pretty good go on the computers?
f3: Yeah.
Most female students tended to ignore disruptions made by either gender group.
The majority of female students openly sympathised with the teacher and at-
tempted to affirm acceptable behaviour for their classroom. Being 'invisible'
(Spender, 1982) or part of the 'audience' (Gill, 1985) or even in the 'supporting
cast' (Walker, 1988) did not necessarily equate with negation of one's own self.
These findings conflicted with Spender's (1982) assumption that receiving a
disproportionate quantity of teacher time was a necessary condition for learning,
or the reverse. Though male behaviours and attitudes at Carpeter did rob female
students of teacher time in many classrooms, this did not necessarily advantage
Over-active male behaviour outside the classroom was more tolerated than

misbehaviour within the class; once again this often occurred at the ex
female students. Teacher toleration in this context also did not imply con
between the perspectives of male students and teachers. One further p
this issue was raised when a female student commented during an inter
"... boys muck around in public, girls don't". Male students challeng

Year 9 Extensions in Mathematics:

ml: (stirring) Girls have a tendency to act immature!

f3: (yelling at the microphone in jest) Scrub that!
(ml provides details about four Year 9 girls who ran around the
quadrangle pretending to be a choo-choo [steam] train)
fl: Maybe they're not idiots!
Q: Maybe boys are too uptight?
ml: But there's a difference between fun and maturity...
f3: (interrupting)... maybe they (girls) just like to have fun!
fl: Maybe they're (boys) too scared to!
m2: (But) In class the teacher says (to boys) 'Why don't you act your
age!'. We've had that said to us heaps of times.
In these instances, it was the male student activity which the students claim
inhibited in the classroom by more restrictive gender-based teacher expectat
The same teacher expectations also acted to restrict male student activity ou
the classroom, a restriction reinforced by an unwillingness within the
students to behave in as carefree a fashion as the females. That female student
behaviour and expectations generally matched more closely with those of teach
was acknowledged by some female students when I explored these issues wit
another interview group. Note how the generality of my question was turned
female student towards the much more specific question of teacher reactions
boys' behaviour.

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Gender and Curriculum 375

Year 9 Drama:

Q: OK we talked about boys and girls in the class. What about the rest o
the school? Do you think boys and girls get treated differently?
f4: Well, do you think guys are picked on a lot more? (asking the rest o
the group)
Various: Yeah.

ml: Especially in our Maths class.

fl: So they (teachers) won't talk to you, they ignore you, yeah...
J2: ... especially with boys. Teachers expect boys to be naughty-they
don't expect any boys to be good-so they just, y'know...
f4: ... and when there is one good (boy) they just get privileges and
other guys get put down so the rest of them just want to be more
f5: The good boys are getting all the attention, so they (the 'not-so-good'
boys) want to get more attention.
f2: A lot of boys, they don't let their feelings out really... they do some
really silly things and get themselves into trouble and I think that's what
they do with the teachers... they just let it all build up and it gets worse.

This was not only a problem between students and teachers. The group went on
to discuss the way females exhibited greater problem-solving power outside the

f4: We can say, "I want someone to talk to, come and help me"...
fl: And the guys couldn't do that. I don't think there's one guy in this
school who's said 'Hey, someone come and talk to me'... (when he had
a problem).
f4: (interrupting) But it's not like we're inferior or anything, it's just
because we can say...
f3: (also interrupting) We can let it out!
f4: I think that's better. With the guys, with their best friends, they don't
even talk to them about it, they just say 'It's my problem'...
J2: (Adopting a husky voice)... 'I can handle it... I'm a guy!'...

The convergence between the cultural perspectives of teachers and female

students not only challenged male dominance but male students appeared to
retreat into even more disruptive behaviours when female student perspectives
and behaviours were commensurate with teacher strategies for classroom man-
agement. Teachers at Carpenter reported that it took time for many male
students to discern the connection between study and success. Greene (1978)
argued that this type of situation allowed females to appear to be more intelligent
than males in elementary and junior high school (in the USA). This realisation
often came too late at Carpenter with many male students observed to shun
esteem achieved academically and shun various school courses for fear of being
labelled 'homosexual'. With female students' perceptions on classroom behaviour
and purpose being more commensurate with those found in the teachers'
cultures, many female students gained a largely unstated power. Those females
not being disruptive themselves were observed to continue on with the work and
generally achieve better grades and comments.

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Self-Confidence and Power

Differences in confidence also led to different problem-solving programmes. For

example, in the Extensions in Mathematics group, students' subject choices for
school courses in Year 10 divided along gender lines with three female students
choosing public speaking and three males choosing architectural model making;
however, at least one of the boys (m2) had chosen public speaking as his second
preference. When pressed about this choice, his decision appeared to be based on
individual levels of self-confidence. When I suggested that their electives repre-
sented a split across the sexes, a female student responded:
Year 9 Extensions in Mathematics:

f3: (Stirring) The guys just rabbit on about nothing! (Therefore, are
unsuitable for public speaking).
m2: The girls aren't afraid of much you know. They think they can do
anything.., .no-one's going to stop them y'know... then the boys come
along and the girls tell them to shut up.
fl, f2, f3: (Together) Yeah!! (Laughter).
What was revealed in this part of the discussion was m2's unrealised desire
make public speaking his first selection. He had reluctantly opted for anot
course because he was aware that his own level of self-confidence about pu
speaking did not match that of female students he was familiar with, even thoug
as all of these students were in the top classes for most subjects, the level of
confidence stemming from academic ability was very similar for each student. Th
incident was not an isolated case, as this discussion from a much more dispa
and mostly lower ability, student group testifies:
Year 9 Drama:

Q: Do you think boys and girls make their (subject) choices the same, or?
fl: Boys get more embarrassed than girls when they're acting.
f3: Yeah, they do.
fl: I thought girls were really shy with acting out but you find a lot of
boys won't do things that a lot of girls will!
These female student representations of male misbehaviour illustrate the ne
question our understanding about levels of confidence and the visibility of g
groups. Male students did not have a monopoly on visibility nor on high lev
confidence, nor was it possible to cast most female students as deficient in
characteristics in those school-course classrooms as observed at Carpenter
One way of approaching this point is to consider the interaction between stu
and the organisation and authority of the school. The welfare and disc
policy of Carpenter involved the teacher and disruptive students followin
number of procedures to talk over a conflict and agree on a remedy. If wha
interviews have suggested so far about male misbehaviour is generally true f
school, then it would be highly unlikely that the welfare and discipline p
would be as effective with male students as for females. The school counsellor

provided support for much of what the female students suggested abov
pointed out that there were three aspects related to gender patterns ex
through his role in the school:
I think I probably see more boys, I think, because girls with min
problems tend to see the Mistress-in-Charge of Girls. As far as k

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Gender and Curriculum 377

coming to see me on their own, probably, I'd get more girls coming
see me as self-referrals. On long-term cases, I'd probably get more boy
I think, probably, because the girls have had to seek out more help ov
the years--[menstrual] periods and that-so, they tend to go to some
one more than a boy would.
According to the school counsellor, more male students, than female, had
long-term problems and the problems of male students were ones ident
teachers, not by the student. Many female students, in stark contrast, k
to seek out help from a number of sources and were self-motivated and c
enough to approach school executive staff about minor and major probl
the above cases, it was males who lacked self-confidence, though the ex
bravado associated with their disruptive behaviour might suggest other
some researchers.

Gender and Subject Selection

There is a rich literature on subject selection, much deriving from Woods' (19
study of the subject choice process of Lowfield. In the Carpenter study, int
viewed students of either sex consistently presented a strong streak of individ
ism about subjects they selected in the junior school and for the senior years.
remained true in some cases where sex clashed with perceptions of the gend
base traditionally ascribed to the subject. I asked the only boy who elected t
study drama how he felt:
Year 9 Drama:

ml: Well, I don't know how I feel about it. I suppose boys are mor
interested in doing other subjects, but it (drama) can be just as impor
tant for boys as well as for girls.
fl, 2, 3, 4: (together): Yeah.
Q: How did you feel the first day?
ml: I felt like there'd be three or four boys in the class at least!
Q: Did that make you want to get out?
ml: (Firmly) No. I wanted (his emphasis) to do Drama.
I asked another group made up of female students:
Year 9 Computers In The Business World:
Q: When choosing subjects, do you think about it in terms of what se
you are, or?
f2: It's... like... you're an individual and you should do what you want
to do, it shouldn't matter what else you do.
When I suggested to an interview group that some subjects, for example, Human
Movement and Computer Studies, might be seen as masculine, the students
Year 9 Drama:

f4: They're seen as that but they shouldn't be.

f2: ... because in this day and age the man doesn't carry the burden
the bread-winner), or's not supposed to.
These students comments highlight a degree of change in student pers
compared to those, for example, revealed in a study of Victorian s

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378 S. J. Crump

seventeen years before, in which a female student commented "The boys' life at
school is supposed to be more profitable than the girls'. For it is they who
support the wife and the children because they're the head of the family." (Encel,
1974, p. 189). Many of Carpenter's students, particularly female students, were
on the way to new understandings about gender roles and the influence of the
school's curriculum on defining those roles. Whether these same students were
confident that most teachers, and many of their parents, shared these new
understandings was a question the Carpenter study only partly resolved. Most
Traditionalists, the school's careers adviser and many male students' fathers
appeared unable to respond to the extent necessary to ensure students would
transform new understandings into new actions. The school had reached an
equivocal stage with its attempts to free the timetable structures and, so, free
student choices from gender bias in the junior school. Gender divisions had been
largely overcome in some subject areas, while they were still reflected in the
selection of others. I asked another group:
Year 9 Basic Word Processing:
Q: What about other subjects? Do you think boys and girls make choices
the same?

f3: Boys do Home Science but not Textiles.

Q: How many boys in Home Science?
f3: Oh, about half (the class).
ml: That's cooking isn't it? I know why... they want to eat! (Laughter).
There are two key points to be made about the above exchange; First, mi'
transformation of home science into 'cooking' reflected the continuing devalua-
tion of that subject as an area of school knowledge, even though it has become
acceptable as a subject for male students. This suggested that there is a gender
dimension to establishing the knowledge that is validated in schools. Even thoug
much of the content of the Home Science curriculum has become very technica
and scientific, students and their parents were not yet willing to accept 'science
tagged on to 'women's work'. Second, whereas Home Science became curricular
territory for male students, Textiles did not. Female students explained i
interviews the absence of male students in textile courses by pointing out that th
content of the syllabus was still centred on designing and making feminin
products. Female students not only understood why boys shied away from the
course, but also expressed their own dissatisfaction with being forced to enact th
feminine role. Here is a clear example of the need for a curriculum to make mor
effective contact with both student cultures.

Subject Selection Questionnaire

The data from the senior subject selection questionnaire offered quantitative dat
which could be contrasted or compared to the interview and observation data
concerned with gender and curriculum. Whilst the qualitative data provide
powerful empirical evidence because it allowed an understanding of the motiva
tions, expectations and decision-making behind the responses to the question-
naire, the quantitative data provided another dimension to the picture of student
subject selections, of career decisions, and of the role of the teachers in th
subject selection process. The combination of qualitative and quantitative data

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Gender and Curriculum 379

thus provided a strong base of data from which to make effective contac
student perspectives, especially in relation to how students linked present
realities with future career possibilities.
The explanation, proffered in this paper, for changes to subject selection
career aspirations identified the female students, assumed a strong conne
between the way they structured career options through selecting approp
subjects for the senior school and the way the female students aimed to p
this strategy by aspiring for a career choice beyond traditional, over-supp
rapidly disappearing employment prospects (Table I).

TABLE I. Carpenter High School-student indication of hoped for careers,


Female students

Social work Solicitor Science at university*

CAE course Commercial art* Interpreter
Music Air hostess* Secretarial x 4
Journalism Zookeeper* Nursing x 3
Child care x 4 Medical technician x 2 Paramedic

Hairdressing* Fashion work* Banking*

Police x 5 Tourism Physiotherapy x 3
Sports medicine Veterinary science Computing x 2
Actress Small business Interior design
Accountancy Secretarial x 4 Nursing x 3
Child care Police x 5 Tourism

1987: Teaching X 10 (Art; PE x 2; Primary

1988: Teaching x 7 (Handicapped; Kinderg

Male students

Architecture x 2 Park ranger x 3 Science at university x 2

Lawyer Doctor* Veterinary science*
Industrial chemist Engineering Art
Drafting Paramedic Retail work
Advertising Public relations Apprentice x 2
Accountant x 3 Pilot x 2 Music
Commercial artist* Graphic design Public service
RAAF Navy x 2 Army
Computer programmer* Computer techn
Architecture x 2 Electrician Chef/catering x 3
Aeronautical engineer Small business x 2 Solicitor/Legal clerk
Accountant x 3 Pilot Computer engineer

1987: Police x 7
1988: Police X 4

Teaching X 5 (PE; Science; not specified)

Key: Bold= most chosen career, *= nominated by repeat sample in 1988,

italic= new career nominated in 1988.

Apart from some elements of traditional differences between gender caree

choices, such as nursing and child care (for females) and the armed services (
males-though no male nominated these in 1988), the overriding impression is

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380 S. J. Crump

one of equivalence. This, in itself, is a remarkable finding. There were also

atypical choices-for this community and in comparison with previous student
populations-which were spread over both gender groups. Many of the occupa-
tions indicated a broadening of career options for both gender groups into the
more middle-class level; for example, law, computing, medical fields, environ-
mental studies, and so on.
These 'hoped for' occupations indicated little difference between gender
groups, with teaching the dominant choice for females (but also the second
choice for males) and the police the dominant choice for males (but likewise the
second choice for females). Though teaching remains the most popular career for
female students, I would stress that, rather than reflecting the perpetuation of a
self-effacting, maternal, nuturant 'feminine' role as it might for female students
in a more middle-class setting, this career aspiration was linked to the still rather
unique achievement, for working class girls, of a tertiary education and a
professional career. Similarly, the choice of police work was closely aligned to
career aspirations beyond walking the beat. Students articulated, quite clearly in
interviews, the function such occupations could serve in financing a career in
legal and scientific studies which they would otherwise be unable to pursue. The
same analysis applies to the Armed Services.
What is of further importance is that, when respondents were then asked what
sort of work they 'expected' they would be doing when they left school, the
majority listed the same occupation they had 'hoped for'. Of those respondents
who did shift their career aspiration, however, the majority of female students
retained their career option in the same field, a decision requiring great courage,
in contrast to the males who dropped their expectation down a career layer.
Observation and interview data suggested that male students ultimately felt more
locked into traditional working-class career paths, those traditional for the socio-
economic level of the surrounding community. Further, many male students felt
that a career decision had already been made either by the student's own
conception of a likely occupation or made for them by their father or family.
Written responses to the questionnaire and other qualitative sources of data
suggested some tension between what the son 'hoped' to do and what the father
'expected' the son to do. I would argue that, although male students as a group
were advantaged in that they hold a privileged position in terms of the number of
careers open to males in general, the number of students at Carpenter who were
able to fully pursue those options was small. The career fatalism of many of the
male students was reflected in the statistical analysis of the questionnaire. For
example, fewer fathers and sons, than mothers and daughters, attended either of
the parent information nights held before students were asked to finalise their
subject choices for the senior school. The nonparametric (Chi-square) tests for
these statistics reveal that it was significant that more females attended the second
information night (Table II).

TABLE II. Carpenter High School-attendance at information evenings, 1987

First night: p<0.10 [X2= 2.627; df= 1; a = 0.05] Does not permit rejection of Ho
Second night: p<0.05 [X2 = 5.104; df= 1; a = 0.05] Permits rejection of Ho

Ho: There is no difference between the proportions of gender groups attending the school's senior
subject information evenings; July, August, 1987.

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Gender and Curriculum 381

By staying away from the parent information nights-one of th

curricular events in the school life of Year 10 students-half of the male

respondents reinforced their own exclusion from the touchston

female and teacher cultures. This acted to limit, rather than exercise
of the male students' privileged position. Male students stayed away
potentially beneficial information, female students-quite appropria
greater space within which to develop opportunities for their own cu
by drawing on the resources of the school to a larger extent than wou
have been possible. The picture of male students 'knowing it all' car
implications. It might simply reflect a knowledge possessed bec
familiarity of the career choices male students made, a level of
expressing common sense understandings quite prevalent throughou
community. This knowledge, like self-assurance, did not necessarily
strength in the male students' culture. It is possible that the 'it'll be
that such qualities engendered led many male students to hasty, re
conservative career choices. If fathers appeared to take, or be more re
a greater interest in the education and career prospects of their sons
of their daughters, I suggest this was mainly because the sons expecte
destined for similar, and similarly alienating, occupations.
Other questions on the senior subject selection questionnaire conce
importance of a range of educational aims in relation to the senior s
aims included teaching students about life and society, about health a
and about how to relate to each other; they included teaching to prep
for a good matriculation to a tertiary institution, for a job, or to o
until they obtained employment. The X2 statistical tests confirm
perspectives of male and female students on the aims of the senior
programme of study, and their suitability for that programme, were
for the original and follow-up samples, with only two significant g
ferences (Table III).

TABLE III. Carpenter High School-educational aims for the senior school, 1987

Question 11d: An important aim of the senior school is to occupy students until they go out to work.
p<0.025 [X2]= 6.393; df=2] Permits rejection of Ho
H1: Significantly more Year 10 female students consider keeping students occupied until they get a
job is an important aim for the senior school.

Question 11 e: An important aim of the senior school is to prepare students for a job.
p<0.01 [X2=5.975; df= 1] Permits rejection of Ho
H1: Significantly more Year 10 female students consider preparation for a job an important aim for
the senior school.

Ho: There is no difference in the proportions of male/female samples over the importa
educational aims for the senior school (where a=0.05).

Female students placed a significant emphasis, either on keeping students

occupied in the senior school until they obtained employment, or on preparing
students for employment. Though this finding appeared contradictory, it sug-
gested an ambivalence in female students' attitudes to school. The female stu-
dents sampled were, therefore, not as sure as those male students sampled about
what the senior school offered them as a group. Many of those common cultural

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382 S. J. Crump

assumptions about gender and work construed in the female students' culture
during the junior years had not yet adjusted to the rapid developments and
changes expressed through their own practice of selecting subjects for the senior
school. That is, the decision of many female students to return to the senior
school to undertake an academic programme of study aimed at tertiary entrance
had not fully counteracted latent perspectives within their own culture about
women as lowly and transient participants in the workforce.
Nevertheless, female students were, individually, just as sure as male students
about what senior programme choice they should make (Table IV). A X2 test
identified no significant difference between the proportions of male and female
students who selected the academic senior programme. A solid core of female
students took up the senior programme of study that offered a route to a more
experimental (for their social background) career, as this academic programme
was essential for matriculation to a tertiary education.

TABLE IV. Carpenter High School-senior programme of study, 1987

Female students Male students

Programme 1 (matriculation): 36 35
Programme 2 (non-matriculation): 13 12
X2=0.015; df= 1; a=0.05; p<0.475 Does not permit rejecti

Ho: There is no difference between the programme of study

senior school by gender groups.

The perspectives on the worth of academic content de

years were now brought into play for the senior yea
students, perspectives which powerfully connected with
cultures. This touchstone was significant for improving th
of female students through altering the distribution of
the curriculum: female students were involved in as ma
male students, had a stronger academic background from
pation in the junior years, had more potent intercultur
school and staff and had adjusted fairly well to the dema
On the basis of responses to the first and follow up que
responses in the qualitative data, I rejected alternative h
gested that these results were obtained because fema
acquiescent and less likely to criticise the school, or had l
than males.


Teacher research offers a number of advantages which suited the aims of th

study: it allowed research to be conducted in the already familiar institution
which the researcher worked, which made it easier to negotiate access; it offe
scope for a manageable study, which also offered the possibility of taking a
holistic view on issues such as curriculum; it presented the opportunity
informants to respond with comments bearing an intimacy only allowed
insider; and, it enabled the researcher to be motivated and committed throu

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Gender and Curriculum 383

following professional interests and concerns and building on tea

perience. It also engendered a supportive atmosphere towards the
reforms being implemented, supportive in that teachers came to articu
more openly their aims, concerns, strategies and beliefs. As Carpenter

I think something is happening in this school in that sense. The very fact
that people are talking about these things.., .what you're doing has
helped. You wonder why I'm so enthusiastic about your whole research
process. It's because I like to help, but it's also because it's very, very
helpful to the school and the teachers.

One imperative in this research process was to explore contemporary student

problem-solution programmes, expressed in the practices of male and female
students, related to issues of gender, power and curriculum, and to look for
gender-based instances of cultural touchstone between students and teachers.
The data from qualitative student interviews and quantitative student/parent
responses to the subject selection questionnaire became the main tool for the
examination of the coherence of these problem-solution repertoires. The analysis
argued for re-assessment of explanations about what it meant to be male or
female in a secondary school like Carpenter. As a group, male students retain
more power because, outside the school, the biggest single advantage for them
was that simply being male made them more acceptable as part of the workforce,
regardless of their formal academic credentials. Nonetheless, and this point needs
to be stressed, easier access to the labour market might ultimately have limited
freedom of subject choice and career options for many male students, reflecting
one irony of their cultural position.
Female students at Carpenter had clear purposes when selecting subjects for
the senior school. When this factor was combined with an assessment of female

student active visibility and confidence, and the consequent cultural conver
with teachers, then the problem-solving power of those purposes gat
strength, not just from their clarity but also from the wider range of ca
options which they created for female students. A number of positive strat
which female students adopted in order to articulate their own cultural ide
indicated significant potential problem-solving power for female students th
achieving strategic convergence with the Initiator and Traditionalist t
cultures. This should bear fruit if it is increasingly the case that female stu
are the more enduring and more successful group in the senior school
In this respect, female students can be more powerful than males in the s
yet, at the moment, female students are left in a second-class position. Th
remains a political problem for those female students researched at Carpe
problems of fully expressing their intentions, expectations and opinions.
argued that this is mainly a group problem, rather than an individual one
therefore, one that needs to be addressed in entirely new ways. This pape
presented a study of how individuals change their practices in various sha
contexts. Without a recognition of these changing dispositions and cul
perspectives in social and educational policy decision-making, schools will
allow opportunities for growth and will remain miseducative, particularly

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384 S. J. Crump

Correspondence: S. J. Crump, Department of Educational Studies, School of

Education, University of Newcastle, NSW, 2308, Australia.


[1] The name of the school and all persons have been changed. It is unfortunate that I ca
openly acknowledge the huge debt I owe those who participated in the research.
[2] fl = first female to speak from the start of the interviews; f2 = second female to speak,
ml=-the first male and so on.


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