• by Adela Solís, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • March 1996 • Dr. Adela Solis

Equity in education is achieved, in part, by removing barriers to the linguistic, cultural and educational development of minority children (Ramsey and Lopez, 1989). Equity in education programs are facilitated, to a large extent, by civil rights laws and legal mandates that deny discriminatory action against students. For example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin. The Women’s Educational Equity Act (Title IX of the Education Amendments) of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender. These initiatives are guided at the most fundamental level by humanistic theory and principles, such as the whole person approach which embraces the goal of making children develop as humanistic and whole individuals and accomplishing this by having them live and learn in such an environment (Curran, 1972).

ESL: The Whole Person Approach is a guide for teacher trainers that concerns itself with promoting equity in education for minority girls of Spanish-speaking backgrounds. An underlying premise of the book is that, although protection against gender discrimination has existed for more than 20 years, the goal of providing equal educational opportunity to young minority females lags behind other equity efforts. This might be due to a common assumption that these girls’ rights are protected, and thus their needs served by virtue of their being a member of another protected group. For example, Black girls benefit from equity efforts under race desegregation and Hispanic girls benefit from equity efforts for national origin desegregation.

History and experience has demonstrated, however, that, girls not only do not benefit from remedies designed for their minority group’s relief, but that, in fact, practices within the programs tend to ignore, deprive and even harm them (Melville, 1980). Exacerbating this problem is the persistence of sex-role behaviors that are carried into the classroom and are based on belief systems within the cultural group that are blind to the effects of these behaviors on girls’ ability to fulfill their educational aspirations.

In the book, the authors note the existence of this phenomenon especially within multicultural bilingual education and ESL programs. They point out that gender equity efforts exist along side other equity initiatives, but they often do not touch each other. The authors are of the opinion that these efforts should be integrated to achieve maximum equal educational opportunity benefits for all minority group members, “A final frontier in the process [of achieving equity] is the barrier of sexism” (Ramsey and Lopez, 1989).

The central purpose of the guide, then, is to demonstrate how sex equity can be addressed within elementary bilingual and ESL programs utilizing concepts of the whole person approach. The target audience is trainers of teachers of limited-English-proficient (LEP) students in elementary schools. Although written in 1989, the book is not prevalent in teacher training literature or in bilingual, multicultural literature. Yet, studies show that girls in schools today are still lacking in educational opportunities that lead to learning motivation and career aspirations. This can be seen particularly in the absence of individualism in girls’ writing responses (Cleary, 1996). It is also seen in their absence in programs of math and science, as has been documented in IDRA’s gender equity work.

Also, the curricula does not sufficiently address female images and role models that are key in girls’ ability to develop a vision of their “present and future selves” (McCracken and Appleby, 1992; Ramsey and Lopez, 1989). Most importantly, we can see that different socialization roles for boys and girls occur without exception in the family and community attitudes and behaviors that are brought to the classroom by the children. That this occurs within bilingual, multicultural contexts is unfortunate and undesirable, given the goals of multiculturalism that strive for equity for everyone in the classroom. One way to address this problem would be to add equity themes in teacher training, as the book suggests. The intent of this review is to promote this idea of the 1980s in the 1990s.

The guide seeks to accomplish two goals: (1) to introduce concepts and issues of sex equity into the schooling process in general and bilingual multicultural education in particular and (2) to relate the theory of the whole person approach both to language learning and the goals of sex equitable bilingual multicultural education. The question of how teachers can treat linguistic minority children equitably as they gain competence in English is a central one. The approach to meeting these goals is by offering, “through a review of the literature and a series of training modules, a basic introduction to sex equitable teaching approaches that are relevant to Spanish-speaking girls in bilingual communities” (Ramsey and Lopez, 1989).

Part One of the guide provides background theory and a discussion of the issues. First, there is a short article on multicultural education by Trinidad Lopez that defines multicultural education, underscoring that its underlying principles embrace, or should embrace, sensitivity to gender:

“Multicultural education is founded on the premise that curriculum focusing on students’ cultural heritage both facilitates the process of valuing one’s own culture and increases cross cultural understanding and tolerance. Where sex equity is concerned, multicultural education embraces the belief that gender – like ethnicity, language or religion – must be respected and seriously considered in the process of educating all children” (Ramsey and Lopez, 1989).

Second, there is an article entitled “A Humanistic Approach to Language Teaching for Sex Equity” by Cynthia Ramsey that describes the humanistic approach, the foundation of the sex equity approach promoted in the book. This theory is based on the Curran language teaching models known as counseling-learning and community language learning that guide teaching and learning through the affective domain and nurture situations involving the need for security, understanding, confidence and independence (1972). Curran’s models seek to give the learner the ability to take a stand through committed choices. According to Curran, taking a stand implies deciding to invest in something that involves one’s own person, as in the definition of its derivative word, status. In humanistic terms, one’s status as a person is the same as what one stands for. The implication is that no one can stand for you, although someone can understand you. This process is mediated through communication in which a type of sympathetic response to the speaker’s inner world is practiced. Since sex-role behavior is part of every culture, the same search for understanding applies to values attached to feminine and masculine behavior.

Another short article, “Feminism in a Cultural Context: La Chicana” by Jennie V. Chavez Montoya provides a rationale for sex equity in education from the point of view of Hispanic female issues. The author points out that each word in “Chicana Feminist” emphasizes freedom of opportunity for the individual and asserts that multicultural education must assume responsibility to include gender consciousness in the curriculum just as it does cultural consciousness (Ramsey and Lopez, 1989).

Part Two of the book includes teacher training activities for the two workshops that comprise the guide. The activities follow a consistent format including title, description, objectives, materials required and detailed instructions for presenting the activity. Included with each activity are examples of handouts that will aid in providing the training.

The first workshop proceeds from basic concepts related specifically to sex equity to a general analysis of culture that deals with sex roles as part of cultural behavior. The workshop’s first three activities introduce the teacher training model to participants in order to give them an idea of the scope of the entire training experience. Then there is an overview of the basic concepts that apply to bilingual multicultural education. This prepares the teachers for a commercial slide-tape presentation (which must be obtained from the publisher or from a source library). This presentation, Images of Females and Males in Elementary Schools and Textbooks, provides statistical evidence of sex bias regarding minority females. The fourth activity specifically centers on an analysis of stereotyping in bilingual/ESL materials. Other activities aim at developing skills relevant to understanding what goes on in the classroom that relates to cultural behavior, including sex-role behavior, that is viewed as culturally determined.

Workshop Two comprises four activities that present teaching methods, approaches and activities for ESL. There is an introductory activity presenting criteria for evaluating whole-learner materials, which then serves as a basis for an art activity, an activity based on oral history, and supplementary language arts games. A final activity involves materials development. It is designed to synthesize the learning that has taken place in the second workshop. Teachers apply whole-learner criteria as they develop a lesson plan and activities that combine language arts objectives with sex equity objectives.

The notion of sex equity must be recognized given statistics and personal knowledge about Hispanic girls’ motivational aspirations and their lack of participation in academics, particularly in the hard sciences and mathematics.

An IDRA project, Engineering, Science and Math Increases Job Aspirations (ES-MIJA), increases the opportunities of Hispanic sixth-grade girls by increasing their awareness of science- and math-related careers and by encouraging their enrollment in advanced mathematics courses with an introduction to engineering. Through this project, IDRA has documented the following facts about the lack of opportunity for women and young Hispanic girls and its impact on later life that make the need for sensitivity to this group a crucial one:

  • Even though boys and girls show little difference in ability and interest in math during the early years, these differences become more apparent in early adolescence.
  • Traditionally, few women and girls choose careers in science and math.
  • Evidence shows that females are often discouraged from enrolling in advanced math, science and technical fields by educators, such as teachers and counselors.
  • Gender differences in mathematics performance are in large part accumulated effects of sex role stereotypes in family, school and society.
  • Young girls are at risk of dropping out of school when their differences are not acknowledged or addressed by the public school system, and trends for Hispanics show that they are dropping out. 1992 data show that 33 percent to 50 percent of Hispanic students are dropping out, which is twice as many as Anglo students (De Luna, 1994).

These facts and observations have lead to the following conclusion: Young girls will lose out on future careers in mathematics and other areas as long as stereotypes about their interests and abilities persist.

Use of the ESL: The Whole Person Approach background readings and workshop modules by teacher trainers would greatly increase chances that equity efforts in schools that serve LEP students will become more comprehensive and thus more meaningful for both male and female Hispanic children.


Cleary, Linda Miller. “‘I Think I Know What My Teachers Want Now’: Gender and Writing Motivation.” English Journal, Vol. 85, Number 1, January 1996.

Curran, C.A. Counseling-Learning: A Whole Person Model for Education (New York: Grune and Stratton, 1972).

De Luna, Anna. “Invisible Girls: The Other Half of America’s Dropout Problem,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 1994).

McCracken, Nancy Mellin and Bruce C. Appleby. Gender Issues in the Teaching of English (Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Boyton/Cook Publishers, Inc., 1992).

Melville, M. (editor). Twice a Minority: Mexican American Women (St. Louis: Mosby, 1980).

Ramsey, Cynthia and Trinidad Lopez (editors). ESL The Whole Person Approach (Albuquerque, New Mexico: National Institute for Multicultural Education, 1989). Note: Copies of this book can be obtained from the Women’s Educational Equity Act Program (WEEA) Publishing Center, 1-800-225-3088.

Adela Solís is a senior education associate in IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be sent to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©1996, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 1996 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]