Scientists are constantly studying the human brain. They’ve long been fascinated with the differences between the sexes, even more so when they are able to actually prove a behavioral theory with biology. Some recent studies have been about the developmental and learning differences between boys and girls.

An article in Newsweek (Sept. 19, p. 59), discusses a school in Kentucky in which these studies have been taken seriously. The school has segregated first and second graders by sex in order to teach directly to these differences. The school has had success with this experiment and plans on implementing it across all its elementary classrooms.

The classes offer such things as frequent exercise breaks for boys (since they tend to fidget more) and a carpeted area in the girls’ rooms so that they can sit down and share their feelings. The boys’ multiple-choice tests are strictly timed since they’re more competitive. The girls have timed tests too, but with more time (presumably since girls aren’t as competitive). The boys’ teachers tend to speak a lot louder since boys don’t hear as well as girls and the lights in the boys’ rooms are brighter because they don’t see as well as girls (according to the studies the school used).

Perhaps the success at this school is due to smaller classroom size? Or maybe the teachers are trying harder to make this work and so it does? Maybe teaching in one prescribed style is much easier on the teachers than trying various methods of educating in a hit-or-miss method? One of the theories that this school bases its educational principles on is that since school is mostly taught by women; it is unfairly biased towards female-learning methods.

There might be some truth to that statement, except that what I remember from elementary school points to the differences between the students, not between the sexes. I learn by doing and by reading. I’ve seen others who also learn by doing. I’ve seen kids who learn by listening because they’re too lazy to actually read. (There are other methods of learning, but I can’t remember them right now.) All these individual learning styles seemed to have to do with individual personality and home environment. And every teacher had to adapt their teaching-style as much as possible to make sure the lessons got through to everyone.

My high school has a long-standing tradition of female valedictorians. I always felt it was due to the fact that most males didn’t care as much about learning as about football. It wasn’t a sex difference, per se, but misplaced priorities. I firmly believe that the differences between each individual person are greater than the differences between any group, including sex differences. For instance, I fail to understand how sharing my feelings will help my education or why I should feel this urge to share just because I’m female. I know for a fact that group therapy with any of my classmates would have scarred me for life.

It is obvious that boys and girls mature at different rates, with girls usually leading. This should lead to different teaching styles for children based on maturity level, instead of strict sex-segregation. Yes, I’m amused at the notion that boys are blind, deaf and dumb creatures that need to be coddled through public education. Mirth aside, this sort of thinking is very dangerous. It allows for convenient excuses instead of real effort. It does no good to promote one half of our society while squashing the abilities of the other half. Mankind has tried that and it doesn’t work. That’s not what equality is about.

A large part of the school’s teaching methods are based on the studied effects of testosterone surging through boys’ bodies. It isn’t hard to extend this thinking in other ways. If boys are that much a victim of their hormones, then perhaps they shouldn’t be allowed to drive (they can’t concentrate for long periods of time and are easily distracted, according to the school). Since they’re so competitive and physical, they should not be allowed to lead a nation since they might get into a fit of testosterone-driven pique and go to war. If they’re such slaves to their hormones, perhaps they should be placed under strict watch and spend most of their days performing calming activities in quiet rooms. After all, we wouldn’t want them to get out of control and do something rash, like shoot someone, then blame it on their testosterone cycle (yes, Virginia, men do have cycles).

Does this remind anyone of the Victorian attitudes towards women? It seems the roles are now reversed and we have to really work hard to accommodate the poor little slow hormone-ruled boys who just can’t keep up with the girls. Boys are the new dumb.

Claims of social victim-hood always ends up robbing the power from the victims. It also allows that group to wiggle out of any self-responsibility. (Yes, there are many places in the world where the people are victims of corrupt governments. That is not the type of victim-hood I’m talking about.) Indulgent excuses, based on science, voodoo or whatever; does no one any good. The intentions of this school might be good, but it would be easy it would be to snowball the underlying assumptions into yet another problem our society doesn’t need.

Unless, of course, boys are really eager to be the second sex for a while.

4 thoughts on “gender-based education

  1. I did my master’s research in this area: I wanted to see if separating boys and girls at the middle school level had any affect on state math assessment scores.

    In doing my research, I came across many articles which supported separating the sexes after puberty since that the focus of class time was the material, not the cute boy/girl sitting next to you.

    Research is still pretty thin on academic results, but at the secondary level schools have seen serious improvements in regards to discipline problems.

  2. I think your post is great, however I do think that you down played the affect that gender has in the classroom. I have been a teacher, curriculum specialist, summer camp direct, designed educational products for national companies and I am currently pursuing a PhD in clinical psychology with an emphasis on education. Gender based education is my research platform and there are very noticeable differences (which) you stated on how boys and girls develop. These differences begin in the womb with brain formation, studies have shown differences in various areas of the brain which have a direct affect on gender development. You stated that girls mature faster, which is one of the traits that can be attributed to brain development. I am also a mom of 4 (1 girl and 3 boys) and they are like night and day and from my own observations and experiences with my children and countless others gender does matter. You also made reference to the fact that maybe boys should not be allowed to drive since they are easily distracted and have short attention spans, and I would have to agree. I encourage you to do some research on teenage male drivers and car accidents (excluding drugs and alcohol as the cause for the accident), the numbers are alarming. So boys may need a provisional license instead of being given complete freedom. If gender has no affect on education why are boys and girls diagnosed with various attention deficit disorders 3:1 and the typical characteristics of young boys are listed in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as part of the diagnosis criteria for various forms of Attention-Deficit Disorders, as well as other social/emotional disorders. 80% of all the stimulant prescription in the US are written to males, off the top of my head I cannot remember how much of that is for children under 18 but I assure you it is more than half. The ability to sit, listen, communicate effectively, retain and recite information happens for girls much sooner than boys. Based on your statements girls mature faster than boys, which in its self is a gender based difference that affects how a child learns. Sorry for any mistakes posting from my phone with out spell or grammar check lol.

  3. Latasha,

    Thanks for your input.

    Some of my comments were made based on what that article said and I was just extrapolating from there and maybe being a bit silly (like the male-driver thing). I am aware that males have more accidents and take more risks when they’re younger.

    No, I’ve never had children and am not a teacher. I’ve intereacted with the children of a couple of ex-boyfriends. Girls are different from boys, but I’m not sure the difference warrants sex-segregated teaching. I re-read what I said and I still think teaching based on maturity-levels or learning styles would be more effective because there are always exceptions (boys who are quite mature, girls who have ADD).

    Gender-differences are interesting to me though most of my attention is directed to what society does with gender as opposed to biological differences. I do think that learning is not given enough status in the US and that’s leading to major problems — for boys and girls. To me, the status of teachers and the value of education is a bigger issue. Is sex-segregated teaching a detail of that education? Quite possibly. I haven’t followed up on that article so I don’t know what their success rate is now.

    On the other hand, you have sex-segregated teaching in other countries but they still teach in the old-fashioned style you and I were probably taught in.


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