rhetorical analysis

Essay length: 3-4 pages, double-spaced,
12 point font, 1-inch marginsNOTE: what is MORE important than meeting the page
length is making sure you provide full details about the article and elaborate
on all aspects of your chosen article’s argument. This means that just because
you have written at least two full pages does not automatically mean your essay
is “done.”

Don’t just make this essay a summary of
your chosen article–you should have some component of summary, to let the
reader know what the article is about, but you need to especially tell us *how*
the writer conveys their argument, not just tell us *what* the writer said.

This is a rhetorical analysis of a
chosen article: instead of telling us what you liked/didn’t like about this
topic, or make an argument of your own regarding this topic, you should focus
on telling us what this writer does to convey their argument to the audience,
and whether or not they do it effectively.

Myra Sadker and David Sadker, “Hidden
Lessons,” pp. 56-59

Sitting in the same classroom, reading
the same textbook, listening to the same teacher, boys and girls receive very
different educations. From grade school through graduate school female students
are more likely to be invisible members of classrooms. Teachers interact with
males more frequently, ask them better questions, and give them more precise
and helpful feedback. Over the course of years the uneven distribution of
teacher time, energy, attention, and talent, with boys getting the lion’s
share, takes its toll on girls. Since gender bias is not a noisy problem, most
people are unaware of the secret sexist lessons and the quiet losses they
engender.

2

Girls are the majority of our nation’s
schoolchildren, yet they are second-class educational citizens. The problems
they face—loss of self-esteem, decline in achievement, and elimination of
career options—are at the heart of the educational process. Until educational
sexism is eradicated, more than half our children will be shortchanged and
their gifts lost to society.

3

Award-winning author Susan Faludi
discovered that backlash “is most powerful when it goes private, when it lodges
inside a woman’s mind and turns her vision inward, until she imagines the
pressure is all in her head, until she begins to enforce the backlash too—on
herself.”1 Psychological backlash internalized by adult
women is a frightening concept, but what is even more terrifying is a
curriculum of sexist school lessons becoming secret mind games played
against female children, our daughters, and tomorrow’s women.

4

After almost two decades of research
grants and thousands of hours of classroom observation, we remain amazed at the
stubborn persistence of these hidden sexist lessons. When we began our
investigation of gender bias, we looked first in the classrooms of one of
Washington, D.C.’s elite and expensive private schools. Uncertain of exactly
what to look for, we wrote nothing down; we just observed. The classroom was a
whirlwind of activity so fast paced we could easily miss the quick but vital
phrase or gesture, the insidious incident, the tiny inequity that held a world
of meaning. As we watched, we had to push ourselves beyond the blind spots of
socialization and gradually focus on the nature of the interaction between
teacher and student. On the second day we saw our first example of sexism, a
quick, jarring flash within the hectic pace of the school day:

Two second-graders are kneeling beside a large box. They whisper excitedly to each other as they pull out wooden blocks, colored balls, counting sticks. So absorbed are these two small children in examining and sorting the materials, they are visibly startled by the teacher’s impatient voice as she hovers over them. “Ann! Julia! Get your cottonpickin’ hands out of the math box. Move over so the boys can get in there and do their work.”

5

Isolated here on the page of a book,
this incident is not difficult to interpret. It becomes even more disturbing if
you think of it with the teacher making a racial distinction. Picture Ann and
Julia as African American children moved away so white children can gain access
to the math materials. If Ann and Julia’s parents had observed this exchange,
they might justifiably wonder whether their tuition dollars were well spent.
But few parents actually watch teachers in action, and fewer still have learned
to interpret the meaning behind fast-paced classroom events.

6

The incident unsettles, but it must be
considered within the context of numerous interactions this harried teacher had
that day. While she talked to the two girls, she was also keeping a wary eye on
fourteen other active children. Unless you actually shadowed the teacher, stood
right next to her as we did, you might not have seen or heard the event. After
all, it lasted only a few seconds.

7

It took us almost a year to develop an
observation system that would register the hundreds of daily classroom
interactions, teasing out the gender bias embedded in them. Trained raters
coded classrooms in math, reading, English, and social studies. They observed
students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. They saw lessons taught
by women and by men, by teachers of different races. In short, they analyzed
America’s classrooms. By the end of the year we had thousands of observation
sheets, and after another year of statistical analysis, we discovered a
syntax of sexism so elusive that most teachers and students were completely unaware
of its influence.

8

Recently a producer of NBC’s Dateline contacted us to learn more about our discovery that girls don’t
receive their fair share of education. Jane Pauley, the show’s anchorwoman,
wanted to visit classrooms, capture these covert sexist lessons on videotape,
and expose them before a television audience. The task was to extricate sound
bites of sexism from a fifth-grade classroom where the teacher, chosen to be
the subject of the exposé, was aware she was being scrutinized for sex bias.

9

Dateline had been taping in her class for two days when we received a
concerned phone call. “This is a fair teacher,” the producer said. “How can we
show sexism on our show when there’s no gender bias in this teacher’s class?”
We drove to the NBC studio in Washington, D.C., and found two Dateline staffers, intelligent women concerned about fair treatment in
school, sitting on the floor in a darkened room staring at the videotape of a
fifth-grade class. “We’ve been playing this over and over. The teacher is
terrific. There’s no bias in her teaching. Come watch.”

10

After about twenty minutes of viewing,
we realized it was a case of déjà vu: The episodal sexist themes and recurring
incidents were all too familiar. The teacher was terrific, but she was more
effective for half of the students than she was for the other. She was, in
fact, a classic example of the hundreds of skillful well-intentioned
professionals we have seen who inadvertently teach boys better than girls.

11

We had forgotten how difficult it was to
recognize subtle sexism before you learn how to look. It was as if the Dateline staff members were wearing blinders. We halted the tape, pointed
out the sexist behaviors, related them to incidents in our research, and played
the tape again. There is a classic “aha!” effect in education when people
finally “get it.” Once the hidden lessons of unconscious bias are understood,
classrooms never look the same again to the trained observer.

12

Much of the unintentional gender bias in
that fifth-grade class could not be shown in the short time allowed by
television, but the sound bites of sexism were also there. Dateline chose to show a segregated math group: boys sitting on the
teacher’s right side and girls on her left. After giving the math book to a
girl to hold open at the page of examples, the teacher turned her back to the
girls and focused on the boys, teaching them actively and directly.
Occasionally she turned to the girls’ side, but only to read the examples in
the book. This teacher, although aware that she was being observed for sexism,
had unwittingly transformed the girls into passive spectators, an audience for
the boys. All but one, that is: The girl holding the math book had become a
prop.

13

Dateline also showed a lively discussion in the school library. With both
girls’ hands and boys’ hands waving for attention, the librarian chose
boy after boy to speak. In one interaction she peered through the forest of
girls’ hands waving directly in front of her to acknowledge the raised hand of
a boy in the back of the room. Startled by the teacher’s attention, the boy
muttered, “I was just stretching.”

14

The next day we discussed the show with
future teachers, our students at The American University. They were bewildered.
“Those teachers really were sexist. They didn’t mean to be, but they were. How
could that happen—with the cameras and everyone watching?” When we took those
students into classrooms to discover the hidden lessons for themselves, they
began to understand. It is difficult to detect sexism unless you know precisely
how to observe. And if a lifetime of socialization makes it difficult to spot
gender bias even when you’re looking for it, how much harder it is to avoid the
traps when you are the one doing the teaching.