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Overcoming Gender Inequity in Schools with Jason Ablin
Episode 8224th January 2023 • Just Breathe: Parenting Your LGBTQ Teen • Heather Hester
00:00:00 00:35:42

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Gender disparity has always existed in the education system. As we become more aware of the inequity that happens between boys and girls, how does the construct of gender identity fall into this as well? It requires the ability to deepen our knowledge and shift our actions. 

Today’s guest has been studying how to create equity and fairness for all students in the system. Jason Ablin has been training teachers to create gender aware classrooms for the past 15 years. Listen as we discuss implicit bias, the gradual change of the educational system and the importance of creating safe spaces for all students.


Do not miss these highlights:

04:27 - Jason’s experience with gender and education

in his early career.

09:55 – Being aware of how our implicit bias is influencing the students

14:55 – The generational lens of math is for men and language is for women.

19:40 – Why women in STEM is such an extraordinary thing and the inducement of anxiety in boys that are not capable in mathematics.

26:06 – The importance of creating inclusive, equitable spaces for all individuals in the educational system knowing that there are adults that will embrace them for who they truly are.

31:13 – The question of the week – Should parents ask their kids if they are LGTBQ?



About our Guest:

Jason Ablin (@JasonAblin) is the author of The Gender Equation in Schools: How To Create Equity and Fairness For All Students. He has served as a teacher, department chair, principal, and head of school. He holds national certification in leadership coaching and mentoring from the National Association of School Principals and has been supporting and mentoring new leaders throughout the country for over 15 years. At American Jewish University’s Graduate School for Jewish Education and Leadership and in school-based teacher workshops, he trains teachers to create gender aware classrooms and has taught year-long courses regarding the relationship between cognitive neuroscience and education. He is also the founder and director of AJU’s Mentor Teacher Certification Program.

Social Media:

Twitter: @jasonablin






Blog:  Educating Gender

Book: The Gender Equation in Schools: How to Create Equity and Fairness for All Students

MyWebsite: Ablin Educational Services, LLC.



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Heather Hester:

Welcome back, my friends, I am so happy you are here. My hope for you is that you can take a deep breath and feel a sense of calm. While you are here today listening, DEI diversity, equity and inclusion is a huge initiative for corporations and academic institutions right now, as it should be. It is multifaceted and can seem really quite complicated. But it really comes down to two things, awareness and education. How can we increase our awareness, deepen our knowledge and make the necessary shifts in our actions and in our lives, to help make every space one that is inclusive and filled with love? To me, this is not just an abstract question, but a guiding principle for daily life. I invite you to join me on this quest.

Heather Hester:

Welcome to Just breathe parenting your LGBTQ team, the podcast, transforming the conversation around loving and raising an LGBTQ child. My name is Heather Hester and I am so grateful you are here. I want you to take a deep breath. And know that for the time we are together, you are in the safety of the just breathe nets. Whether today's show is an amazing guest or me sharing stories, resources, strategies or lessons I've learned along our journey. I want you to feel like we're just hanging out at a coffee shop having a cozy chat. Most of all, I want you to remember that wherever you are on this journey right now, in this moment in time, you are not alone.

Heather Hester:

My guest today has been studying gender equity for the better part of the past two decades. Jason Ablin is the author of the Gender Equation in Schools, how to create equity and fairness for all students. He has served as a teacher, department chair, principal and Head of School. He holds a national certification in leadership coaching and mentoring from the National Association of School Principals, and has been supporting and mentoring new leaders throughout the country for over 15 years at American Jewish University's Graduate School for Jewish education and leadership, and in school based teacher workshops, he trains teachers to create gender aware classrooms, and has taught year long courses regarding the relationship between Cognitive Neuroscience and Education. He is also the founder and director of AJ Hughes Mentor Teacher Certification Program. Jason uses his background and math teaching school leadership and neuroscience to present expert interviews, research and anecdotes about gender bias in schools, and how it impacts our best efforts to educate children. I am delighted to share our conversation with you t oday. Enjoy.

Heather Hester:

Jaosn, thank you so much for being here with me today and be here to talk about your book. And just to have a really, I'm excited to have this conversation with you because this is not one that we've had before here. And I think that discussing gender and education can be consumed, like really broad topics. So I'm really, really excited to talk with you about this today. But before we jump into it, I'd love if you and your own words could give just a little background about yourself and how you got into this work specifically.

Jason Ablin:

That's great out there. And I have a lot of gratitude for being here today and having this conversation. And I've been in education for over 35 years. Teacher department chair and administrator I head of school, you know, Principal, I've gone through really all of it. I have some specific training and was able to do a sabbatical year in cognitive neuroscience down to USC with Mary Helen Martino Yang, who's one of the top researchers in the country real In terms of this topic and education in general, and it's to try to pinpoint one area, or one time, when this kind of light bulb went off about gender and education, it would be tough, it wouldn't be easy, because it's been a long narrative. I will tell you one story, which you probably read in the book, which is about me, as an early teacher, when I was 28 years old, I see you're already laughing. i Right. It was one of these moments where, you know, a young male with a lot of kind of masculinity construction got taken down quite a notch. By by for graduate students who came to watch me teach inside of my classrooms. And I was in a school with a unique structure with girls campus and a boys campus very close to each other. So we taught on both campuses, the faculty, I was head of the English department, and I would teach the girls in the morning and then go to the boys in the afternoon to teach. So it was a perfect kind of area for research for these postdocs who are coming to look at gender and education. And, of course, I was quite high on myself at the time, as an educator, I felt that was the best thing that ever happened to the school. And I said, Sure, they can come watch me teach, they're gonna learn so much about how to do this, right? You know, and by the end of this process, when they had come visited me 20 times in each class, they they basically said to me, Jason, you know, we'd love to share with you the data, if you, you know, if you want to see it. And I was 28 years old at the time, and I said, of course, and I sat down. And it was one of the most grueling two and a half to three hours I'd ever had of kind of professional feedback about what I was doing in these classrooms. And so much of it had to do with the lens that I had regarding gender, that I didn't know that I had, right, that I didn't know is all implicit within the background of how I functioned. And just just give you an example, I had a girls class, which I perceive to be highly engaged. And what the research was telling me was that what I had was a class of about 35, to 40%, who are highly engaged, and about 60%, who were being really obedient, and passive. And for me, that was some kind of an indication that they were actually engaged. And, of course, you know, that's part of this gap of my understanding at the time, about the way that women are taught, especially in schools, that obedience is a form of educational value, right, jumping through the hoops, not asserting themselves. And then of course, this gets very much translated later on in life for them in their professional lives, and in all sorts of areas in their personal lives, which has been told to me numerous times by adults and parents will identify as women. And then, you know, at the boys side, I found myself being at times overly assertive, overly aggressive, not necessarily really getting to know the boys misinterpreting their misbehavior. And also constructing for them a very, very negative connotation about what does it mean to be a man, right in this environment, because with them, I was being a lot more aggressive, I was being a lot more assertive with them. And I, what the lessons really told me was that I need to, I needed to spend more time getting to know these kids, and figuring out ways to get them involved, which went above and beyond the gender question. By by being more aware of this, what I understood was, the way we're going to make kids more successful in school, is by really getting to know them much better. And that also means eliminating some of our own biases that that we happen to have when we walk into classrooms. And then I was off and running. I was on this long journey to discover more and more about this. And then around hashtag me too, was the time I said, I need to sit down and start writing about this and writing. And in 2018, I sat down to actually write the book. I had been writing a blog for a while and and the book emerged four and a half years later. So that's that's the, you know, the log cabin story on what app?

Heather Hester:

I mean it is it is amazing and I I'm so glad you shared that because there are several pieces of that, that I think are really, really important that, you know, translate in an education, but translate, I mean, also into just human interaction. And the way that we we talk to each other, and we don't even realize some of the things that we're doing right. From. And I'm wondering if this lines up, I'm just going to, like, say a few things. And you can tell me the, the tone of our voice, our body language, the words that we choose to use. I think it is absolutely fascinating. And as I was reading your book, I was thinking to myself, I mean, it made me kind of do reflection, like along the way. And I think that's one of the things that I loved about it was thinking, oh, gosh, like, this is such an automatic thing. But why is it automatic?

Jason Ablin:

Right, right. Exactly. Exactly. And I think we have a lot invested in terms of as adults, the identities that we create, particularly around sexuality and gender, and they're, you know, they, they, they've been embedded in us for a very long time. And so to recognize that what I tried to tell the teacher said, Alright, this is called implicit bias for a reason. It's not, it's not something that you're necessarily aware of. And at the same time, one of the dangers of it, particularly as educators, kids spend so much of their time in schools, right, six, 810 hours a day, so much of acculturation and culture. And what they get is, is from being around adults, like us being around the educators, right, so we have to be really aware of how we relate to gender. It's one of the first places I go when I do faculty workshops. And I do work with faculties in schools, I asked them, tell me your gender story. Tell us what how you experience gender? When did you first become aware of gender as an idea? And I get incredible stories from faculty. Incredible. Everybody's got a story, everybody?

Heather Hester:

Of course, of course. And I would imagine the depending on how old they are. makes the story. I mean, I would imagine generationally, those stories are quite fascinating. Wow.

Jason Ablin:

Oh, wow. Yeah. Absolutely.

Heather Hester:

Yes, yes. Oh, my goodness, I love that. And I love you know, I think one of the things that I always say and what I am, what I do is the whole and it's so simple, you know, it simplifies everything, or it's simplistic is the name entertainment. Right? So, in speaking, I typically use it speaking of fear, talking about fear. But in this case, this is it works too. Because once you bring something like this become aware of it, then you begin to see it and your behaviors and your actions. And you could that's how you can begin to shift, right? That's where the shifts begin. is becoming really just aware. It's your awareness. Yeah. Teach when you are working with educators?

Jason Ablin:

Absolutely. I mean, it's the place you have to begin. Because unfortunately, you know, I thought my book when I was originally writing, it might be a little bit controversial. Now we end up in 2023. And it feels like we're in the middle of a fire around the session. So one of the things I have to communicate to the teachers right away, is that the reason we're doing this is to make kids more successful in school that gets lost sometimes in all of the politics and the polarization around gender is an issue that I think my book is really committed to figuring out ways for faculty to feel like they're helping students with what they're supposed to be teaching them. And we do that through a gender lens, and then all of a sudden, the guards come down a little bit.

Heather Hester:

Yes, well, they do because and I will say that it was not I did not want to feel like I was reading a book with a political agenda at all, and we'll get there

Jason Ablin:


Heather Hester:

Sure. And like you I did pay attention quite a bit to politics that I am very tapped into them. And I thought I might I mean, to be honest, because how we're talking about gender it is it's one of the top five things that you that are like you said on fire right now, right. And, and you and I are paying attention to it for many many reasons. So I I was to me, I was like, Oh, wow, like this is like fully an educational engaging educational book, it's not a you should think this because of this like thing over here that I felt like I was being a little bit hoodwinked or a little questionable or you know, where sometimes you're like, that just doesn't feel right. That is not how this felt. So I really appreciate how you how you wrote this, which is a gift. So thank you. And I appreciate also that you brought in one of the things that you and I were talking about before, and I really, really want to talk about it is because this was such an AHA thing for me. The whole idea of math and literacy or math and English, or how are we going to talk about it? I mean, who out there listening to this says math, math is for men, right? I mean, I guess we all think that to a certain degree and some subconscious level, I've always thought I will I'm, I'm not good at math. I'm just not good at math. Right? Why am I not good at math? Right, exactly. I decided at one point, well, she's a girl, she's a good reader, gosh, look how fast she can read, we're gonna make her a reader. Right, we're gonna make her good at English. So.

Jason Ablin:

And Heather, again, this is this is part of that constructed experience of school, which gets inherited from generation to generation. And that's the complexity of it that Heather, does not see herself as a math person. And there's no reason for Heather not to see herself as a math person. So there's absolutely no biological or genetic evidence at all. None, that it's like one of these great mythologies that we have about men and women. And what I found a lot is that when I'm in schools, and I'm speaking to parents, and I'm trying to explain to them how the translation of what goes on, and when I'm speaking to teachers as well, it's very hard, because there's a lot of dissonance there, a lot of a lot of parents have ingrained this concept of themselves. So the mothers will immediately defer all sorts of all sorts of decisions and support and help because they imagine themselves a certain way. And then they continue, we continue with the same gender stereotypes. with teachers, it can be, it can be quite challenging, because teachers often are not necessarily self selecting into the field, where they could have selected into places like engineering, and computer science, and even medicine, they often have selected into education, because math was quote, unquote, not their thing. So I'll go into schools. And this, these can be very woke environments, right places that see themselves as very progressive. And I will walk into their classrooms. And as you know, I mentioned this in the book as well, I'll walk around the classrooms. And 80% of the material in the classroom that's on the wall that's represented is English literacy skills, English language acquisition skills, projects. There's always some art projects, maybe a little bit of history. And then there's what I call the ubiquitous number line that runs across the top of the room. Right? Okay. And the teachers think, Oh, I have covered math, I've put math up, right, I put the number line up, I'll see it in the first grade class, I'll see it in the second grade class, I'll see it in the third grade class, doesn't matter what year the number line is up. Right. And I tried to, I try to explain to the teachers that that this kind of constructed representation is set sending volumes of messages to the girls in the classroom and the boys in the classroom and what they shouldn't be associating with, and how they associate with that. And that is very cognitive, right? That is very cognitive, how they translate that experience, based on who's presenting it to them, right? And identity. So this happens, this begins at a very young age. This begins his earliest kindergarten. It's how it's taught away. Yeah, the way it's represented and everything like that. Yeah, it's really incredible.

Heather Hester:

I mean, absolutely fascinating. And, you know, as you were saying that I'm thinking well, this is why women in STEM is such a, you know, extraordinaire, extraordinary thing, right that that we're really trying to push I have my older daughter is in STEM she's at university admission. began in engineering and I've always been amazed by her brain because as a as a person who has always said, I'm not good at math, right? Like, I literally fit into your like little mold here because I'm like, I am not good at math. I am good at English and writing and reading. Those are my right. And my daughter is Math Science, which is also very good at writing, too. I mean, she's one of those kids. She's just brilliant. That'd be like she get back in a minute. Like, yes, like she can do math. And that's cool. But it shouldn't be that way. Right? I mean, that's

Jason Ablin:

right. So it's an ironic thing, because you and me are in the same boat, I had the same experience in school, ironically, right? I had the same experience as a boy and feeling as a young man feeling like I was not capable in mathematics. And that creates a whole other set of dilemmas for boys in school, where they feel left out of the narrative, among other boys in the school, they're questioning identity, they're wondering what this means. It's very stressful, and can create a lot of anxiety among young boys when they find themselves in that position. And again, it's kind of one of the things that we look at when we look at the data, which is a little bit shocking, is, we've constantly imagined that boys are just doing much better in math than girls are in school. But in fact, PISA scores for the last 40 years have shown us that boys occupy the bottom 26% of math learners in the United States. But they get left out of the picture, also because of gender bias, right? Because we almost don't see them. It's almost like a shadow group that doesn't get acknowledged, because we're just so locked into these narratives of boys being good at mathematics. And so we never address our needs.

Heather Hester:

Right? Well, it's the whole idea of that's what we're comfortable with. Right? And you address that as well, here is really, you know, going right at right away the things that we're not comfortable with, right, so what is uncomfortable? Let's talk about that. And, and that's where we have to shift. And that works well, for both of us. Right? And what, what we're both doing, what makes we're talking about so, you know, I that is, I find this just so completely fascinating. And also something that least are fully capable of turning around. Right, now that you've figured this out now that, you know, you've you've written about it, and this is something that's being studied. This is something that holy cow, this can shift, education and such an extraordinary way. Wow.

Jason Ablin:

I think so. I think it's really, obviously, I think it's one of the core ways in which we can really address sort of impediments to learning, which have been around for a very, very long time. You know, I'm gonna go back to your daughter with STEM, for instance, this is a great example. And I get questions about STEM all the time, I'm going to be speaking at the National Science Teachers Conference on Women in STEM and girls in STEM, and what can we do? Right, what's going on? One of the big things I put out there right away is we don't need pink robots. Okay, we don't that's like, you know, we don't need pink robots. And we don't need kids coding about fashion design. That's not going to get more girls involved in STEM. And I find that argument incredibly insulting to someone like your daughter, who has such a passion and an interest in something like engineering and possibly robotics. And there was some great teacher who, who inspired her and got her really feeling great about this. And she just took off. Right? She just took off. And we you know, the studies have shown us very clearly that when girls young girls have strong female models, who are, you know, successful in the field and can speak to them about their passions in this area. And they have the role models. And these are consistent role models that they're much more likely to engage in, in STEM and mathematics and all of these different, all of these different areas. And we just need to find them and put them in front of the girls.

Heather Hester:

That's right. That's exactly right. I mean, what a game changer. What a game changer, my daughter with despite She had a very strong male science teacher, who was in I mean, incredibly inspirational and Science Olympiad and on all of that and and saw in her and just but the the power that a female teacher would have for a young girl would be just Yeah. Wow. Absolutely amazing. There's one more thing that I wanted to touch on really quickly before we, before we wrap up, you talked and I wonder if we can kind of talk about this in a nutshell here, we'll leave this as the, the the carrot for everyone. So you can read more. But I thought this was really interesting because you talked about this in with relation to mental health. And and you just talked about it just a little bit before but I wanted to kind of circle back to it. Because I think that's a really, really powerful and important point that people root we we really don't realize. So could you talk about that just a little bit before we wrap up?

Jason Ablin:

Absolutely. I'm very passionate about this, not just because I want to make school more successful for students, but I also want them to feel safe inside of schools. And unfortunately, we do a lot of things. I'm a big believer that we've got it a little backwards. In other words, that I think that we think we're in this new age where kids are really thinking about themselves differently about gender right now. And I think actually kids have been thinking about themselves differently with gender for a very long time. And what's happened is, is that our understandings of the kind of gender experimentation that they're doing at a very young age, is we haven't caught up to it. And we haven't been observant of it for a number of reasons. Part of it is that gender blindness, right, we're not seeing what's going on with them. But kids are experimenting with gender all the time. Right. And, you know, it's the adults, unfortunately, who tend to have the either parents or teachers at times in terms of how they described them, or how they're working with them, put them into a gender box. You know, and as kids get older, and that experimentation starts turning into, really what I find to be foundational aspects of who they are from a gender perspective, whether they consider themselves cisgender, or whether considered they see themselves as gay or non binary, or whatever it is, which now we have a language for which I think it's incredibly helpful. I think what happens is, is that it makes the adults in the building very nervous. And we have the adults have not really figured out how to navigate this well, mainly because we're also triangulated with families, and what families are doing what children are doing, you know, sometimes school can be the place where kids come. And they as Brene, Brown says they come in and they, you know, hang up their anxieties like they hang up their backpack, right, because school is a really safe place for them. And they feel that way. But sometimes school can also be a traumatizing environment, which I talk about in the book. And it's, it's, I think it's really our job more than anything else, to make kids feel as if they are not going to a be put into some kind of gender box. That's one thing. And then really lay the cultural foundations so that whoever walks through our door in any way that they're experimenting, feels accepted, and loved and cared about, and that there's going to be adults who really embrace them for really who they are. And, and I think that that's the work that we need to do right now in our schools. It's a very, I don't know what your son's experience was in school. And you know, you probably have a lot of stories about that. But when I speak to kids, I've had six kids and 35 years in education. I've had six kids who I know of who have transitioned. And they stay in touch with about three of them. And, you know, they've talked to me about what their experiences have been like at school and what, what what they went through and they they knew about their transitioning process, some of them sort of six or seven years old. Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, we find ourselves with contentious times, but I think there's also an opportunity to make schools really loving and caring and kind places where kids can, you know, come in and really feel like they have safe spaces to exist and learn and grow. Yeah,

Heather Hester:

Agreed. Agreed. Oh, my goodness. I think that's a beautiful place for us to to To end for today, I am so delighted that you have been here that you've taken time, I want to give the name of your book again, for everyone, I'm actually going to hold it up for everyone to see.

Jason Ablin:

Do that to that. You're gonna do that

Heather Hester:

the gender equation in schools how to create equity and fairness for all students, I will have the link for how you can get this book in the show notes, and all social media and I just highly encourage you to read this book because it really is a game changer. And an A mind opener. So it aligns a lot more with work that we are doing than you may realize. So I love I love it. So Jason, is there anything else that you would like to share or two to end with before we we say goodbye.

Jason Ablin:

I just love the partnership. I love the collaboration and the conversations and I just super appreciate being asked to be on the show. And thank you so much. Thank you so much.

Heather Hester:

You are so welcome.

Heather Hester:

And now it's time for your parenting LGBTQ and a this episode's LGBTQ and a comes from an email I recently received. The senator asked a number of really, really great questions that were nuanced and situation specific. However, the one I wanted to share with you today is this. Should parents ask their kids if they are LGBTQ? The answer is no. Part of your child's journey is deciding when they are ready to come out to you. If you ask them and out them, you are taking away a growth opportunity, an opportunity for them to be brave and share with you who they authentically are. Even if you've known for years, it is so so important to let them figure it out on their own. And when they share it with you please say congratulations, I am so happy for you. Not I've always known. The ladder just takes all of the joy out of the process for them. Now, if you want to have a conversation with your kids that you've love, all of them every bit of them exactly as they are in this moment. Go right ahead. Even our teenagers like to hear that.



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