Myra Sadker: 1943-1995


“If the cure for cancer was in the mind of a girl, we might never discover it.”
—Myra Sadker

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 school years.

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 achievement. Myra and David SadkerIn 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 breast cancer.