the cure for cancer was in the mind of a girl, we might never discover
Born in very modest circumstances in Augusta,
Maine, Myra discovered at an early age that the world in general,
and schools in particular, did not treat boys and girls the same.
As a college student, these early lessons became costly ones as
the scholarship that she earned went to a young man who, the professor
explained, "would one day need to support a family." The
young man's wealth, as contrasted with Myra's humble background,
was not considered. Later, as a doctoral student and then as a professor,
Myra was constantly unmasking the sexism that shrouded academia.
She found that regardless of whether her name
appeared first or second on her coauthored articles, her colleagues
referred to her work by using her male co-author's name. At faculty
meetings, her comments often fell on deaf ears, despite the merit
of her ideas. Myra saw the connection: the voicelessness of professional
women could be traced to the silencing of young girls in the early
Myra was not one to let bias go unchallenged,
especially the insidious and subtle gender bias that occurs in our
classrooms every day. Myra pioneered the research that documented
gender bias in America's schools. From grade school through graduate
school, from inner cities to rural towns, Myra uncovered not only
blatant gender discrimination in textbooks and sports funding, but
also subtle inequities that shaped the way students were taught.
Using careful research protocols, she discovered
that girls were instructed with less focus and precision than boys.
Good, bad or indifferent, boys got more of one of the most valuable
classroom resources: the teacher's time and talent. Sitting in the
same classrooms, girls were being consistently, if unintentionally,
shortchanged. Myra's work alerted Americans to the silent erosion
of female potential, their ideas and future careers, the casualties
of sexism in school.
Myra showed that boys and young men also pay the
costs of sexism in school. She found that boys are often the center
of the classroom spotlight, receiving more frequent, active, direct
and precise instruction, and taking with them a markedly different
education than their female counterparts. Combined with gender pressures
from outside of school, sexism often blinds boys to understanding
their future roles as husbands and fathers, missed opportunities
which contribute to high rates of divorce and child abandonment.
Boys are more rigidly socialized into "male
appropriate" behaviors than girls, and, as a result, engage
in riskier actions, find themselves more prone to accidents and
adolescent violence, and are tracked into restricted careers. This
gender bias, which takes root in the classroom, often branches out
to the workplace, where the lessons of subtle sexism still silence
and short-change women and often generate unhealthy and pressured
roles for both women and men.
Through her writings and lectures, Myra alerted
Americans to the academic, psychological, physical and career costs
of sexism. She wrote the first book for teachers on the issue of
sexism in 1973, Sexism in School and Society, a trailblazing
1994, she and her husband David authored the first popular book
on sexism: Failing at Fairness: How America's Schools Cheat Girls.
Through her research and writing, Myra brought her cause for educational
equity to a national audience. Myra and David Sadker spoke in more
than forty states and overseas, giving hundreds of presentations
and workshops for teachers and parents concerned with the devastating
impact of sexism in the classroom. In scores of articles and in
over a dozen federally supported research grants, they documented
and disseminated this persistent barrier to educational equity.
The Sadkers also spoke out on this issue on a
variety of television shows ranging from "Oprah Winfrey"
to "Dateline," from the "Today Show" to National
Public Radio's "All Things Considered," helping parents
fight the debilitating impact of sexism on their children. Even
in the face of a political "backlash," Myra Sadker never
wavered in her efforts on behalf of youth. To prevent girls from
being silenced, Myra became their voice. Her lifelong research increased
parent and teacher awareness of the problems girls and boys face
in school. The Myra Sadker Foundation continues this research by
supporting efforts dedicated to liberating the possibilities that
exist in the minds and hearts of children.
While battling for the rights of children, Myra
served as a professor and Dean of the School of Education at American
University for over twenty years.
Myra Sadker died while undergoing treatment for