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Still failing at fairness: how gender bias cheats girls and boys in school and what we can do about it, by David Sadker, Myra Sadker and Karen Zittleman

142 Book reviews
Still failing at fairness: how gender bias cheats girls and boys in school and what
we can do about it, by David Sadker, Myra Sadker and Karen Zittleman , New York,
Scribner, 2009, 373 pp., US$16.00 (paperback) ISBN: 1416552472
For anyone committed to investigating the relationships between schooling and
gender equity, contemplating the research compiled in Still Failing at Fairness is like
reading a comprehensive single-volume issue on Middle East peace: every facet of the
problem is presented exhaustively and, at its end, the reader can close the cover and
sigh, ‘So much to do’. David Sadker and Karen Zittleman’s revision of David and
Myra Sadker’s groundbreaking Failing at Fairness (1994, Touchstone Press)
responds to the central question, ‘Didn’t we solve this problem [sexism] years ago?’
by reviewing current schooling and gender equity research, and by incorporating
several improvements into their presentation of this research. Specifically in this
edition, the authors note that gender bias is a problem affecting both boys and girls;
they try to be much more racially, ethnically, and socio-economically inclusive; and,
at the end of each chapter, they offer suggestions for how to ‘Succeed at Fairness’, in
response to readers’ ongoing requests for specific advice about how to address gender
equity issues. This volume offers much to digest.
The book is divided into chapters similar to those in the 1994 edition: (1) Didn’t
we solve this problem years ago?; (2) Opening the Schoolhouse Door; (3) The
Beginning of the Classroom Compromise: The Elementary School Year; (4) Self-
esteem Slides: The Middle Years; (5) Life in High School; (6) Tests, Grades, and the
Boys’ Crisis; (7) Higher Education: Peeking Behind the Campus Curtain; (8) Single
Sex Education: A Good Idea?; and (9) Possibilities, Such Possibilities. In each chap-
ter, the authors update their own research and they synthesize academic and popular
investigations about gender equity, in and out of school. They also incorporate a
number of media reports on gender, and they rightly include references to popular US
TV shows, movies, and music, noting their powerful cultural effects on gendered
behaviours of children and adults. The ‘Succeeding at Fairness’ section at each chap-
ter’s end offers specific, meaningful, and executable suggestions for teachers and
other adults, as well as an annotated list of books for further study.
The major strength of Still Failing is its comprehensive treatment of gender equity
in and around most facets of formal schooling. That strength is also its weakness. For
lay readers, the sheer density of the information presented may well be too daunting.
Yet teachers and other newcomers to the issues involved with gender equity and
schools are probably the best audience for this edition, as its writing style is very
accessible yet never condescending, and the data are thoroughly documented. The
book reads somewhat like a popular version of Klein et al.’s 2007 revision of their
Handbook for Achieving Gender Equity Though Education. Between the two books,
an individual wanting to begin or continue any investigation of gender equity and
schooling in North America need start no place else.
School teachers, in particular, may find Still Failing useful for gaining specific
ideas to try in their classrooms and in their curricular reforms. Many of the authors’
suggestions for success are simple, inexpensive, and can be easily incorporated into
teachers’ daily work, if only they choose to do so. For example, they state: ‘[A]sk a
girl to work the audiovisual equipment or set up a lab experiment while asking a boy
to take attendance or help in the school’s day-care center’ (p. 134) or ‘Look for
biographies that tell about individuals who made a difference and broke gender (or
race, ethnic, or other) barriers in their fields’ (p. 174). Without sounding pedantic or
Gender and Education 143
ideologic, the authors offer hundreds of ideas and resources; a teacher could use her/
his book as a resource for many years without exhausting its practicality.
If one is interested in comparative gender equity and schooling, however, one will
find little information about it in Sadker and Zittleman’s book. Its exclusive focus is
on North American schooling and if the authors decide to update it in the future, they
might also add a chapter to address other countries’ investigations of gender equity
and schooling. British and Australian researchers, in particular, continue to show great
dedication to gender investigations, and comparative work can only offer further
The bottom line, sadly, is that Sadker and Zittleman are right: gender equity in
North American schooling is still a serious problem. For those of us who, like the
authors, are dedicated to gender equity research and repeatedly bringing the world’s
attention to it, this book is a necessary reminder of how much work we all have still
to accomplish.
Klein, S.S., ed. 2007. Handbook for achieving gender equity though education. 2nd ed.
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Nancy S. Niemi
Department of Education, University of New Haven, West Haven, CT, USA
© 2010, Nancy S. Niemi
DOI: 10.1080/09540250903464773
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... Consequently, Weber (2007) argues that single-sex education, unlike co-education, provides more educational techniques which focus on the specific interests of both genders, especially those of girls, by allowing the teaching and learning to cater for the interests of that particular gender the school is housing (SEED, 2006). Thus, learning science in a single-sex education system prevents the adverse effects of sexism that might be present in co-educational classrooms as a result of the boys' interests (Niemi, 2010;Pahlke et al., 2014). As a result, girls in a single-sex setting are more willing to study areas of sciences, such as physics, that are frequently considered as a boy's domain (NASSPE, 2005). ...
... With regards to single-sex and co-education settings, research (see Niemi, 2010;Pahlke et al., 2014) indicates that within single-sex classes, sexism of boys' interests in co-ed classes will not be present. Consequently, there is a better chance for girls to develop interest in areas of science that are normally related to the boys' interests. ...
Full-text available
In Malta the introduction of Co-Education in state schools started as a pilot project in St Claire’s College in 2013. Ivinson and Murphy (2007) argue that girls and boys are different and learn in different ways but one size cannot fit all and that what is important is finding ways in which teachers can help students learn science in ways which transcends these gender stereotypes. This study investigates three Form 2 science classes within Maltese state schools. In-depth interviews with teachers and focus group interviews with students were used to look in depth into the way in which science is learned by the students in (i) a Co-Ed class (ii) a single-sex girls’ class and (iii) a single-sex boys’ class. The study explored the ways in which students view science, the different pedagogies used by the teachers in different contexts, the way in which teachers view their role in the Co-Ed and single-sex class and how students view themselves as learners of Science within a Co-Ed and single-sex setting. The results obtained from both educational settings with respect to the ‘masculine’ image of science, students’ attitudes towards science and their interests in the subject, indicates that a co-educational setting within schools has a direct influence mainly on the attitude towards the subject, especially that of girls, as a result of the influence exerted by the teachers and their teaching pedagogy. These influences also seem to encourage students to develop interest in certain areas of science rather than other areas.
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