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Ask the ExpertScienceSpiegeloog 411: Power

Ask the Expert: Breaking the cultural norms

By May 10, 2021May 17th, 2021No Comments
Eftychia Stamkou
Brenda Jansen
Eftychia Stamkou (Social Psychology) question

Dear Brenda,

What does it take for children to start questioning a cultural norm that they have grown up with and came to consider ‘normal’, such as heteronormativity or gender role norms?

Eftychia

Brenda Jansen’s (Clinical Developmental Psychology) answer

Dear Eftychia,

Although it is impossible for me to answer this question in general, the perspective of mathematics education may be insightful. Girls who choose a math-intensive track at secondary school are sometimes met with admiration, but often also with surprise. What does it take for these girls to ‘dare’ to choose such a track? Because even though it is repeatedly found that girls are no worse at math than boys, the (stereotypical) gender role norms that girls are good at languages and boys are good at maths remain.

In developmental psychology, Bronfenbrenner’s (1992) ecological systems model is often used to explain children’s thinking, emotions, and behaviour: Children grow up in a family, but also at school, and in society. These systems are connected and in all the systems they may be confronted with the social construct of norms on the gender-math relation.

Gunderson et al. (2012) summarize parents’ and teachers’ gender-related math attitudes. Parents often have higher expectations of their sons’ math performance than their daughters’ and believe that math performance is more important for boys than for girls. Such stereotypes also prevail among teachers. They often attribute boys’ errors to a lack of effort and those of girls to a lack of talent. Children adopt such stereotypes from early on. Cvencek et al. (2011) found that elementary school pupils (USA) already found it easier to associate maths with boys than with girls and to associate reading with girls than with boys. Likewise, boys thought that math suited them best, whereas girls often indicated that reading fitted them best.

How can a child question these gender role norms when they are so omnipresent? Bronfenbrenner would probably say that the child cannot do this alone, by relying on his/her own math performance. Alternative voices from parents and teachers, role models breaking the stereotypic ideas at school and in society are necessary. Fortunately, development is always a two-way street. The girls choosing a math-intensive track may also change the attitudes of their families and friends and thereby ideally change prevailing norms in society.

Brenda

Brenda Jansen’s question is for Hillie Aaldering (Work and Organisational Psychology)

Dear Hillie,

Because collaboration is often an important part of the job, in many settings, and because working together can increase motivation, I would like to use group assignments in my courses. However, I also fear the risk of free-riding during group assignments. What is known in the scientific literature about the prevention of free-riding during group assignments and how is collaboration possible in online education?

Brenda

References

– Bronfenbrenner, U. (1992). Ecological systems theory. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
– Cvencek, D., Meltzoff, A. N., & Greenwald, A. G. (2011). Math–gender stereotypes in elementary school children. Child Development, 82(3), 766-779.
– Gunderson, E. A., Ramirez, G., Levine, S. C., & Beilock, S. L. (2012). The role of parents and teachers in the development of gender-related math attitudes. Sex Roles, 66(3), 153-166.
Eftychia Stamkou’s (Social Psychology) question

Dear Brenda,

What does it take for children to start questioning a cultural norm that they have grown up with and came to consider ‘normal’, such as heteronormativity or gender role norms?

Eftychia

Brenda Jansen’s (Clinical Developmental Psychology) answer

Dear Eftychia,

Although it is impossible for me to answer this question in general, the perspective of mathematics education may be insightful. Girls who choose a math-intensive track at secondary school are sometimes met with admiration, but often also with surprise. What does it take for these girls to ‘dare’ to choose such a track? Because even though it is repeatedly found that girls are no worse at math than boys, the (stereotypical) gender role norms that girls are good at languages and boys are good at maths remain.

In developmental psychology, Bronfenbrenner’s (1992) ecological systems model is often used to explain children’s thinking, emotions, and behaviour: Children grow up in a family, but also at school, and in society. These systems are connected and in all the systems they may be confronted with the social construct of norms on the gender-math relation.

Gunderson et al. (2012) summarize parents’ and teachers’ gender-related math attitudes. Parents often have higher expectations of their sons’ math performance than their daughters’ and believe that math performance is more important for boys than for girls. Such stereotypes also prevail among teachers. They often attribute boys’ errors to a lack of effort and those of girls to a lack of talent. Children adopt such stereotypes from early on. Cvencek et al. (2011) found that elementary school pupils (USA) already found it easier to associate maths with boys than with girls and to associate reading with girls than with boys. Likewise, boys thought that math suited them best, whereas girls often indicated that reading fitted them best.

How can a child question these gender role norms when they are so omnipresent? Bronfenbrenner would probably say that the child cannot do this alone, by relying on his/her own math performance. Alternative voices from parents and teachers, role models breaking the stereotypic ideas at school and in society are necessary. Fortunately, development is always a two-way street. The girls choosing a math-intensive track may also change the attitudes of their families and friends and thereby ideally change prevailing norms in society.

Brenda

Brenda Jansen’s question is for Hillie Aaldering (Work and Organisational Psychology)

Dear Hillie,

Because collaboration is often an important part of the job, in many settings, and because working together can increase motivation, I would like to use group assignments in my courses. However, I also fear the risk of free-riding during group assignments. What is known in the scientific literature about the prevention of free-riding during group assignments and how is collaboration possible in online education?

Brenda

References

– Bronfenbrenner, U. (1992). Ecological systems theory. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
– Cvencek, D., Meltzoff, A. N., & Greenwald, A. G. (2011). Math–gender stereotypes in elementary school children. Child Development, 82(3), 766-779.
– Gunderson, E. A., Ramirez, G., Levine, S. C., & Beilock, S. L. (2012). The role of parents and teachers in the development of gender-related math attitudes. Sex Roles, 66(3), 153-166.
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