Monday, December 19, 2011

The Girl Brain - a Myth?

Interesting article this morning on the phenomenon of same-sex education and how it is perpetuating myths about the brains of girls v. boys.

I find the article and the premise behind same-sex schools very nearly offensive. Assignments are gender- based (writing assignments like favorite truck for boys or dream wedding for girls), styles of classrooms are stereotypical (boys are rowdy and active and girls are calm and subdued), and claims are made about how girls listen better and are more empathetic while boys have a more "systematic" brains.

This is stereotyping at its scientifically manipulated finest. Schools and institutions are gleaning bits of fact and mixing it in liberally with the same stereotypes that women have been fighting for years, reinforcing them (e.g., all girls dream of their wedding and all boys like to play sports).

"...a major tenant of the segregated classroom is the idea that boys naturally relate to objects and understanding systems and math and science, while girls gravitate towards relationships and caring.  Girls are not natural leaders or risk takers, and don’t take naturally to math, it’s argued."

Not that there isn't value to single-sex classrooms and schools, but go ahead and segregate the sexes for real reasons. Maybe some girls have been so shamed about their love for science or math that they are hesitant to excel (evidence: Abercrombie and Fitch's t-shirt for girls that says "Allergic to algebra" and Barbie's famous gaffe in which she was programmed to say, in a super-ditzy voice, "Math is hard!"); maybe some boys are not particularly athletic and would like to be in a school that celebrates their academic achievements not physical prowess (part of a running joke in Meet the Parents is the fact that the main male character is a nurse, while the controlling father-in-law is a much more manly spy, another harmful stereotype for boys.)

The majority of the scientific claims for gender grouping are baseless and not replicated, and we are harming both genders when we use invalid science as an excuse for the way we educate. It seems right because it fits existing stereotypes of both genders, but the flaws in these studies are fatal.

"...assuming gender differences, as same-sex classrooms do, can actually create those differences. Too often, even girls with an early interest in math are discouraged by adults who have bought into the idea that girls don’t have a natural aptitude for math and science... There is no well-designed research showing that single-sex (SS) education improves students’ academic performance, but there is evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism."

We are perpetuating damaging myths for both genders and trying to legitimize it by using fake, inaccurate science. School and life is hard enough without this!

For more reading on this subject, please also visit the eye-opening paper published in September which refutes, with science, the "research-based" logic behind single-sex schooling.

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