Paying attention to gender

A previous article one of my newspaper articles from about a year ago proposed the education of boys and girls in separate classrooms at least by middle school. Growing biological evidence seems to support this concept in even earlier grades. For genetic differences affect more than the reproductive system and muscular development. Boys and girls are wired differently, so attending to those brain differences can optimize learning. Dr. Leonard Sax, MD, Ph.D. sets forth a variety of reasons for separate education. His book, What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences, discusses a number of startling gender differences that affect learning.

Here are a few critical differences: 1) In girls, “the language areas of the brain develop before the areas used for spatial relations and for geometry. In boys, it’s the other way around. A curriculum that ignores those differences will produce boys who can’t write and girls who think they’re dumb at math.” 2) Girls process emotion and language in the same part of the brain, while boys those regions are separate. 3) Girls have more acute hearing than boys. 4) The sexes react differently to stress: boys learn better, but girls’ learning is impaired.

According to Dr. Sax, “Since the mid-1970′s, educators have made a virtue of ignoring gender differences. The assumption was that by teaching girls and boys the same subjects in the same way at the same age, gender gaps in achievement would be eradicated. That approach has failed.” Elementary classrooms, with their soft-spoken female teachers, do not benefit half of the students. Perhaps the gender difference accounts for the high number of boys diagnosed with ADD. Furthermore, boys’ high school graduation rates are below girls’ rates, a statistic that Dr Sax uses to prove that the co-ed education system favors girls.

A recent article in the New York Times highlighted a school that is offering parents the opportunity to place their children in single sex classrooms. Not only do the boys have male teachers, but they also have different environments. “The walls of the boys’ classroom are painted blue, the light bulbs emit a cool white light and the thermostat is set to 69 degrees. In the girls’ room, by contrast, the walls are yellow, the light bulbs emit a warm yellow light and the temperature is kept six degrees warmer, as per the instructions of Leonard Sax.”

In 2006 “as part of No Child Left Behind, the federal law that authorizes programs aimed at improving accountability and test scores in public schools, the Department of Education passed new regulations making it easier for districts to create single-sex classrooms and schools.” Thus, single sex classrooms are proliferating in the public schools.

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