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Over all, girls outperform boys in school. It starts as early as kindergarten. By the time students reach college, women graduate at a higher rate than men.
But there’s an exception. Asian-American boys match the grades of Asian-American girls in elementary school, a new study has found. For them, the gender achievement gap doesn’t appear until adolescence — at which point they start doing worse as a group than Asian-American girls.
The study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that boys’ underperformance is not because of anything innate to boys. Instead, it seems, it’s largely because of something external: their school environments and peer influences.
Girls are encouraged to be diligent, cooperative and ambitious — all things that serve them well in school. Boys are more sensitive than girls to environmental influences, according to a variety of research, and they feel pressure to be strong, tough and athletic. They get the message that doing well in school is not masculine, social scientists say. Even in peer groups that prize good grades, it’s considered uncool to seem to try hard to earn them.
Asian-American boys are somehow sheltered from that message in early childhood. The reasons could give parents and teachers information about how to help boys of all races reach their full potential.
“These findings show it doesn’t have to be this way, that boys necessarily have to underachieve,” said Amy Hsin, the paper’s author and a sociologist at Queens College in New York. “How we parent, how we help children think about their masculinity, and school culture and peer norms have effects on their performance in school.”
“这些研究结果表明，不一定非得是这样，即男生一定要表现稍逊，”该论文作者、纽约市立大学皇后学院(Queens College in New York)社会学家艾米·辛(Amy Hsin)说。“我们如何养育孩子，如何帮助孩子思考他们的男子气概，以及学校的文化和同伴准则都对他们在学校的表现有影响。”
Looking at grade point averages of white and Asian-American students, she found that unlike white students, Asian-American boys and girls have no significant grade differences until ninth grade. Then, boys fall behind girls by the equivalent of one-third of a letter grade, about the same as the gender difference in white students’ grades, according to the new study, published last month in the journal Sociological Science.
It used data on about 9,200 white and 1,700 Asian-American students from two national studies that followed the same students over time (the groups were too small to analyze differences among Asian ethnic groups.) The results are not definitive. The sample size is relatively small, and the analysis uses grades, which, unlike test scores, are influenced by teachers’ subjective assessments of students. Yet the results fit with other research that shows the effect of outside influences on academic performance, particularly for boys.
One reason Asian-American children do so well as a group is that Asian immigrant families tend to be very focused on education, as the sociologists Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou described in their book, “The Asian American Achievement Paradox.”
亚裔美国孩子作为一个群体有如此良好的表现，原因之一在于亚洲移民家庭倾向于非常注重教育，如社会学家李智英(Jennifer Lee)和周敏在她们的著作《亚裔美国人成就的悖论》(The Asian American Achievement Paradox)中所描述的那样。
One goal of a 1965 U.S. immigration law, which also abolished severe restrictions against immigration from regions such as Asia, was to give preference to professionals with specialized skills. Partly as a result, a little more than half of Chinese immigrants to the United States have a college degree or higher, versus less than 10 percent of adults in China in recent years, Ms. Lee said. They have tended to prioritize that their children earn straight As; attend a good college; and become a doctor, lawyer, scientist or engineer, the authors wrote. They have also shared information about things like SAT tutors and A.P. courses with their less educated Asian-American peers.
Another factor is the so-called model minority stereotype — that Asians as a group are supposed to be smart, successful and hard-working. This image masks high poverty and dropout rates among some Asian ethnic groups, yet as with all stereotypes, it can lead people to act in biased ways. Teachers tend to give Asian-American students higher grades and funnel them into advanced programs, the researchers found. Often, lower-performing students have risen to meet these expectations of them, an effect social scientists refer to as stereotype promise.
For Asian-American boys, these influences change in adolescence, Ms. Hsin found, a time when children become more aware of their gender identity and are more influenced by peers. They also have to fight a pernicious perception that they are not masculine enough.
“The model minority myth frames Asian boys as being kind of nerdy, caring too much about doing well, so that may cause them to become less academically attached,” Ms. Hsin said. “It’s not as stigmatizing for Asian girls because if you’re good at school and you really care, that kind of plays along with what you should be doing as a girl anyway.”
The new study offers a clue about how much school environments affect boys’ academic achievement. Ms. Hsin found that the gender gap for Asian-Americans in high school was smaller in schools that were less sports-focused, and where boys did better over all.
Other studies have also pinpointed the importance of the school and social environments, especially for boys.
One working paper found that the best-performing students had a combination of behaviors typically considered male and female. It used nationally representative survey data about gender norms for about 12,000 high school students, linked with their high school transcripts. The most traditionally feminine girls and the most masculine boys had the lowest grades.
The messages boys receive about how to be masculine come from local influences in their schools and communities and are often tied to to socioeconomic status, other research has shown. Boys perform better in school when achievement is considered to be desirable, and when they believe successful men get their power from education versus strength and toughness. Boys in high-income communities are more likely to get those messages, research has shown.
Teachers’ expectations of students — and the biases behind them — also influence children’s performance. For example, white teachers are less likely than black teachers to refer black students to gifted programs, or to have high expectations for their potential. Yet as with Asian-American students, research shows that when teachers have high expectations for black students, they rise to meet them.
The fact that boys’ achievement varies in different school environments is a hopeful sign for parents and educators, Ms. Hsin said, because it suggests ways to help all students.
Encourage academic achievement, she said, and talk about how it leads to success.
Researchers have other suggestions. Show them role models who got where they are by doing well in school. Emphasize the importance of hard work and daily practice, not innate skill. Encourage both boys and girls to embrace a full range of character traits, and not to feel limited by stereotypical gender roles. Place high expectations on children, and give them opportunities to meet them — regardless of skin color.